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    Case Study: Feed the Future Website

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    Client
    United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
    Project Title
    Feed the Future Website
    Duration
    5 months (July–November 2011)
    Team

    KDMD Team:

    • Senior web strategist: Colleen Popson
    • Designer: Laura Lin
    • Web developer: Dan Smith
    • Web developer: Nick Fitzsimmons
    • Bureau of Food Security program manager: Meaghan Murphy
    • Project manager: Corbett Hix
    • User experience consultant: Vera Rhodes
    Description

    Ed. note: This case study is a selection from the 2012 “Justified” competition, in which an esteemed jury identified submissions that demonstrate the value of design in a clear, compelling and accessible way. It serves as an example of how to explain design thinking to clients, students, peers and the public in general, based on specific metrics.

    Client Brief: Feed the Future is the United States Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. It supports country-driven approaches to address the root causes of hunger and poverty and forge long-term solutions to chronic food insecurity and undernutrition. Drawing upon resources and expertise of agencies across the U.S. Government, this Presidential Initiative is helping countries transform their own agriculture sectors to grow enough food sustainably to feed their people. The Feed the Future website has been developed and managed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to illustrate the advocacy and communications agenda of the Initiative. The goal of the site is to illuminate the issues of food security and global hunger and to demonstrate progress towards agricultural sustainability.

    Overview of Market: Feed the Future is the United States’ contribution to a collaborative global effort that supports country-owned processes and plans for improving food security and promoting transparency. Through Feed the Future, the U.S. Government is renewing its commitment to agriculture and economic growth, focusing on harnessing the power of the private sector and research to transform agricultural development. Feed the Future represents a $3.5 billion pledge to work with partner countries, development partners and other stakeholders to tackle global food security challenges.

    These collective efforts advance global stability and prosperity by improving the most basic of human conditions: the need that families and individuals have for a reliable source of quality food and sufficient resources to purchase it. These efforts, in turn, ultimately advance international security and benefit the American people. While there are certainly other initiative websites that aim to raise awareness around issues of food security and global hunger (e.g., ONE, FWD), Feed the Future is unique in that it represents the whole of the United States Government, providing information that is transparent and accessible to a broad audience, from the private sector to international political leaders and local stakeholders.

    Budget

    $100,000

    Research

    A significant amount of research and background analysis informed the development of the Feed the Future website. A series of websites were reviewed in preparation for the design process (see list below), which helped the team better understand the context and players in the field, and better frame the niche for the Feed the Future website:

    Additionally, the KDMD team had the benefit of developing the Agrilinks website (www.agrilinks.kdid.org), which provided a great deal of knowledge about the field of agriculture and food security, as well as imagery and messaging that resonated with these stakeholders. Between the independent research and the development process, the team was well-informed and well-positioned to create an exceptional website that pleased the client and resonated with the larger audience in positive, engaging ways.

    Challenges

    The design and development of the Feed the Future website was not without its challenges. From the start, there was a lack of clarity among partners and stakeholders. As an “all of government” Presidential Initiative led by USAID, the site had to appeal to and reflect a wide audience, while simultaneously reflecting the goals and strategies of multiple agencies. Anyone in Washington, DC can attest to the fact that this challenge alone can become an impossible feat.

    Both the content and the design of the site had to find a delicate balance, being broad enough without losing the identity of the Initiative. This opened the door for a plethora of interagency implications around messaging, coordinating timelines, managing expectations, ensuring inclusivity and respecting the realities of staff resources and their capacity for decision making. At the same time, it was critical to take a site that was trying to be everything to everyone and clarify the target audience and goals, to ensure that the content and design could be customized to foster maximum impact. This led to a very real tension between the desire to get ideas across in a visual way and the sensitive nature of interagency government work: What’s published online represents the American people and it had to be right.

    Besides the stakeholder and audience coordination challenges, there were a number of hurdles to overcome with the existing site itself. The information provided on the site was stagnate and stale; a troubling issue for an initiative that positioned itself as forward-thinking and dynamic. The look and feel of the logo and the entire site needed to be upgraded to reflect positive imagery and a sense of impact and success. The original logo was confusing (incorporating “see,” “feed” and “change”) and the typography was weak. The revised logo needed to be neutral but still stand out, and it had to exhibit some continuity with the old logo while representing the symbolism of each of the Initiative partners.

    Content also needed to be generated and displayed in live and engaging ways. There was an abundance of data that needed to be visualized in a clean, clear manner. The navigation required organization and categorization that facilitated ease of use and brevity. Content had to be determined through a strategic, transparent process to ensure that the best information was being shared in the best ways for a global audience. Above all, the site needed to demonstrate the transparency of Feed the Future’s approach and progress in every way, from the content to the organization and design.

     

    Strategy

    The KDMD team applies a similar process and strategy to all web development projects, one that includes a thorough discovery phase, architecture and design, content development, site build and continuous feedback and validation. This flexible process allows us to make sure we have the appropriate requirements and assumptions in place before we begin the design and development, with input along the way that ensures responsiveness to change, and justification and buy-in for the final product.

    The process for the Feed the Future website development began in July 2011 with a set of stakeholder surveys, interviews and user stories that resulted in a deeper understanding of the objectives, goals, audiences and priorities for the site itself. A usability advisor paid close attention to how people reacted to the the redesign plans and what they hoped to see. User personas were also developed to better understand the needs, interests and behaviors of key stakeholders, and to determine how this knowledge aligned with site objectives. Combined with an analysis of existing and necessary content, site requirements were documented—including tips and recommendations for site development—and used to inform the subsequent phases of the process.

    The architecture and design phase included the creation of a site map and wireframes that demonstrate the site and page structure, navigation and behavior. Branding assessment and recommendations were presented, and templates were designed. This phase also incorporated feedback from a focus group of sample stakeholders.

    Once decisions were made on the site architecture and design, content and management plans were developed. Content was inventoried and mapped, taxonomies were developed and a gap analysis was conducted to discover where additional content needed to be developed. The team quickly learned that getting information from the client was going to be a challenge given the variety of interagency players. Midway through the development process, it became evident that adjustments needed to be made to accommodate client approvals from legislative and public affairs offices, as well as from the USAID administrator, Raj Shah.

    Since this was a high-profile government site, buy-in at the highest levels was essential. The Feed the Future website is graphic heavy, and input on the content as it related to the graphic elements was critical. In fact, it was impossible to move forward without the proper approvals. To navigate this, the team worked closely with our client to think strategically and listen closely—and to deliver the right information, in the right ways, at the right time to receive the maximum feedback that allowed us to continue the development process. In light of this, a development plan was created to foresee future content development needs, roles and requirements, and a management plan helped to facilitate workflow, roles and permissions.

    The final stage of the Feed the Future website development process resulted in the actual site build, which included elements such as hosting, programming and theming, content migration, analytics implementation, quality assurance and a usability focus group with sample stakeholders. Additional components of this strategy—which should not go unmentioned or underappreciated—included the implementation of an outreach and engagement plan to not only promote the site, but encourage users to actively seek information and contribute their feedback.

    Training was held for key content contributors, and ongoing maintenance and support were provided. Ultimately, this thorough level of engagement and planning paid off with a great deal of buy-in and enthusiasm from the highest levels of government.

    Effectiveness

    By all accounts, the Feed the Future website has been a success based on a variety of compelling factors. As a vehicle to leverage the goals of the Initiative itself, the website is a powerful example of mobilizing global change and sustainability through visualization and information sharing. Indeed, the issue of food security and global hunger requires visionary, creative and sustainable solutions, and the website must reinforce these values and demonstrate them in dynamic, accessible ways.

    One concern for all government agencies is the issue of transaction costs; the hours of manpower and resources that it takes to address all the questions, ideas and requests that pour in from every corner of the globe. By creating a well-designed website, transaction costs can be reduced as people are able to find the information they need in a transparent fashion. The website then becomes a “one-stop shop” for up to date information, and a trusted source of news and background details. What had been a static site became an easily managed site where the client is empowered to create their own updates and feature news and videos on demand.

    The interagency coordination efforts that occurred during the discovery phase of the development process means that staff spent less time explaining and more time focused on impact. Additionally, the Feed the Future website was developed on a Drupal (open source) content management platform, meaning “it’s built, used and supported by an active and diverse community of people around the world.” This free platform is improved and shared cooperatively, allowing for growth, transparency, quality and reliability across the system.

    The crux of the Feed the Future initiative, and therefore the ultimate objective of the website, resides in the ability to improve the lives of people around the world. By designing a site that is visually engaging and creating content that is transparent and informative, changemakers have the resources to make decisions that make a difference in reducing global hunger and saving lives.

    Regarding the environmental impact, proper design and use of a website not only enables a platform that is infinitely sustainable, with easy upgrades and improvements, it also reduces paper production and waste by making documents available electronically. All those brochures, studies and catalogs that were once printed and shipped can now be viewed with the click of a button.

    The Feed the Future website has been intentionally designed to cross cultural borders, literally and figuratively. The need to appeal to a global audience is one of the most significant features of the site, which specifically identifies 20 countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean (e.g., Guatemala and Haiti), Africa (e.g., Liberia and Tanzania) and Asia (e.g., Cambodia and Tajikistan). It provides a forum for these countries to learn from one another and enables other stakeholders to better understand the approaches taking place in Feed the Future countries. Through the private sector hub, partnership opportunities are launched between private sector organizations and country-led Feed the Future initiatives.

    The website has also become a model for other U.S. Government sites and information-sharing platforms. From the beginning of the strategic development process, the engagement and decision-making approach for an interagency initiative was successfully democratized. The design of the site has changed the perception of government bureaucracy by softening the look and feel of the traditional media while still remaining official.

    The goal of this effort was to reach people emotionally by projecting a vibrant, active nature. In the short time since its launch, the Feed the Future website is often heralded as an example of what a good government website can look like.

    Additional information

    Feed the Future site analytics: Compared to 2011, prior to relaunching the redesigned website, the Feed the Future website had 2,000 to 7,000 more views per month.

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