Presenting to a group in a meeting.
A research tool created by Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies program at the University of Notre Dame, The Peace Accords Matrix (PAM) is a robust source of qualitative and quantitative data on peace agreements around the globe. The database allows researchers, scholars, negotiators, and policymakers to understand peace accords not only by providing comparative information on accords, but also their implementation over time.
Here’s the scenario: two groups are in serious conflict and are trying to come to a resolution. A peace negotiator is involved to help them articulate their needs, and hopefully come to a point of resolution. Is there standard language for a particular aspect of the agreement? What else has been negotiated and utilized by others in the past?
PAM answers these very questions and more with its robust, contextual database of accords (an agreement or treaty) and related provisions (a condition or requirement in the accord) that assist negotiators and researchers in helping the parties involved in conflicts. The hope is that this data can be used by a negotiator to provide a frame of reference on how others have dealt with similar issues for parties who are in conflict.
But with a lot of related data comes no shortage of user experience and design challenges. And in this modern age of data visualization and responsive Web design, the current PAM website was due for an upgrade.
The Kroc Institute not only wanted a design and development overhaul, they wanted to ensure the search tools were configured in such a way to provide researchers and negotiators with the absolute best results based on the query.
This was an interesting problem to solve. The project not only deals with the main accords, but a number of provisions as well. There are also references for a number of these bits of data, each of which links to its respective footnote location (sometimes linking elsewhere). Finally, accords aren't implemented overnight; some take years to be fully implemented. As such, PAM also needed to track the progress of each accord, displaying this prominently as a way to ‘score’ the effectiveness of a particular accord over a 10-year period. All of these facets are also related.
Since we had worked with the Kroc Institute in the past, we were already familiar with the organization’s goals and intentions. Further, the client was comfortable working in Drupal, and the platform was well-suited for their needs related to PAM. We also knew we had an interesting problem to solve with regard to search, and how the accords and provisions worked together, but it’s important to remember this isn't your average, everyday data. It can literally affect change, and create peace.
We not only configured the search functionality with Drupal's Search API module to best handle its unique use-case, we focused on the data and the search functionality at the outset to help inform the site’s redesign.
When you come to the site now you're presented with a singular homepage feature: search. After all, this is what the users of PAM need, and we ensured it was quick and easy to use. This clear, concise aesthetic and deliberately pared-down style continued throughout the redesign, helping maintain a clear visual hierarchy.
In addition, we ensured the format of the accords, provisions, and the associated implementation narrative brought the most important information to the forefront as to provide context for the user. This would allow them to quickly see a high-level view as they developed a new accord and set of provisions for a current conflict, or help visualize connection points for research.
While mobile-first was not initially a client requirement, we recommended this be a standard part of the site rebuild both from a best practice standpoint as well as related to the case of users in the field who may be using a smartphone or tablet to access the PAM project.
We also built a truly living style guide that provided the actual 1:1 CSS for Drupal and defined the markup for Drupal to match. The end result is a design system that is can be more easily implemented, iterated, and extended over the entire life of the project.
The client took responsibility for handling content migration internally, so we heavily customized the Multifield module to help make the process as easy as possible for them. We recognized early in the project that while wrangling all of this data is important now, new accords and provisions will come along, and those from the past will make progress and need to be updated.
The previous website’s data was difficult to find and clunky compared to today’s solutions. With our expertise in articulating clear goals related to design, development, information architecture and user experience, all of this vitally important data is now much more discoverable. We removed some of the technological hurdles so researchers, negotiators, and scholars alike can find what they're looking for quickly and easily, regardless of the device they're using, and get back to fostering peace around the world.