The Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms control is a DC-based organization that conducts research and advocacy to curb the proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. One of the Wisconsin Project’s key resources is a subscription database called the Risk Report which contains profiles on thousands of companies, organizations, individuals with links to the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, missiles, and advanced military technology. The Risk Report is used internationally by governments, companies and individuals. It is the only comprehensive, curated database focused exclusively on proliferation that is used as a tool to manage strategic trade.
Originally created in 1995, the database has grown significantly — both in the sheer volume of information housed on the system as well as the user base that relies on it for making strategic decisions. Without a significant upgrade or redesign since 1995, the experience of using the database and the mechanisms powering it had become antiquated — frustrating users who need to quickly find the information they are seeking AND stifling internal staff who needed to work around the quirks of an old content management system to keep the database up to date.
Some of the key issues for the Wisconsin Project team:
- Data entry and records enrichment took several minutes when it should have been instantaneous
- Only one administrative person knew how to make updates because the system was so peculiar
- The back-end system was housed in an outdated software program that a dwindling number of vendors could support
- An offline process was being used to handle the content editing
- Thousands of hours were spent conducting in-person trainings, since the system was not intuitive
Some of the key issues for end users:
- The entire database was accessed through one advanced search page, an unusual and antiquated experience for a paid subscription product
- There was no information within the database to explain what the database contains or how to use it most effectively
- The search mechanism was very primitive, largely underwhelming modern users who expect more powerful searching tools that can quickly narrow in on subjects or records of interest
With the issues of the past documented and the best in new technology and UX approaches at our fingertips, we were ready to envision and model out a new, future thinking Risk Report that would equally satisfy and support end users and the administrative team.
We started with an extensive discovery phase, including several collaborative sessions with the Wisconsin Project team during which we defined the data model, taxonomies, search criteria, user flows, and visual style that would drive the experience. The key areas we covered included:
- Which content would be produced by the Wisconsin Project team vs procured from elsewhere (e.g. foreign government watchlists)
- Identifying and assessing each of the external data sources
- Determining how the data from each external source would be imported into the Risk Report (e.g. manually vs via API) and which fields would display to end users vs those we would store in the back-end for administrative purposes
- How often each data type (internal and external) would be updated
- The ideal workflow process that would improve and enhance the Wisconsin Project team’s publishing cycle — and help ensure the accuracy of content updates
- System enhancements that the Wisconsin Project team already had in mind, but weren’t included in the initial scope, so we could keep future plans in mind as we constructed the foundational elements of the application
With this foundational information collected, we were then able to architect, design, and build the two main components of the system:
The Editor is the internal web application, built in Drupal, that allows the Wisconsin Project staff to create and publish the Risk Report data. Given the highly sensitive nature of the information displayed on the Risk Report, it is key that any new records or enhancements to existing records are vetted through a multi-step review process.
Building this process into the Drupal CMS represents a huge improvement to the Wisconsin Project team’s publishing flow. Not only can they better track where content is in the approval process, but they have a singular location for tracking each step of that process (rather than the historic method of tracking the right person with the right version saved on their machine).
The Report Tool
The Report Tool is the web application for licensed users of the Risk Report to search and view the actual data that the Risk Report contains. The original Risk Report had just one screen upon login that was focused on field and browse based search. There was no context to explain the depth and breadth of the data housed in the Risk Report - so users needed in depth training sessions to learn how to use it and needed to rely heavily on memory or industry expertise to find the record(s) they were seeking.
The new report tool, built using the AngularJS framework, welcomes you like a consumer facing website — with a homepage that conveys the value of the Risk Report and an overview of what it contains, a navigation that directs users to each content area, unique searches within each content area, and a powerful global search powered by Elasticsearch.
The new Risk Report was launched in July 2018 and has been welcomed enthusiastically by end users and the internal team. Training times are decreasing dramatically and the feedback from users has been overwhelming positive. We are continuing to work with the administrative team to integrate enhancements to the Risk Report — and looking forward to doing so as users provide feedback and recommendations to improve the system.