Long Live the Web Experience Toolkit



April 07, 2011

In December 2008, OpenConcept set up a Drupal site to demonstrate that we could meet the requirements of the Treasury Board Secretariat's Common Look & Feel (CLF) 2.0. We went further than this by releasing the code first to people within the Government of Canada & second we made it available through Intellectual Resources Canada (IRCan)'s repository. We provided a demonstration site to dispel Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt about open source & government, but also to engage with the government community to extend & improve this theme.

After two and a half years of voluntary effort, we've decided to lay this site down along with our involvement in maintaining the Zen based theme upon which it was built.  It certainly been a learning experience and an opportunity for us to experiment, but never really realized the collaborative potential that we hoped it would.   

One of the first challenges was that the CLF has been largely used as a branding document, it seems that there were some who feared that there would be confusion that this was indeed a Government of Canada website, so we swapped out the maple leaf with an oak leaf & made a few other similar changes with other elements of the brand.  CLF 2.0 is strikingly better looking than CLF 1.0, but it's really amazing how little else on the web looks like it.  


We put forward the theme, licensed under the GPL, hoping that it would be a building block that others would contribute to the development.  The theme we used was the base for PWGSC's Buy & Sell, but there were many enhancements that were made while the site was being developed.  There are likely other sites in the GoC which have used our work. 

The big challenge remains that there doesn't seem to be a culture of contributing back to other people's projects within government.  We've had people in government degrade our initiative to people in other departments.  We've even received almost hate mail from "anonymous" people from government computer systems who have abusively criticized our work, but we haven't had people contribute enhancements to it.  

We're going to leave up the theme on IRCan's Redmine instance, hopefully someone else will take on the challenge to maintain the code.  We will be continuing to work with the CLF Office, as the small team there does understand collaboration. We'll continue to blog about the government's use of the Internet (including security and accessibility). Hopefully someone else will put up a sandbox implementation of Drupal that people can safely evaluate and contribute.

We're putting down our implementation of a Drupal 6 Zen install so that we can work with the Web Experience Toolkit (WET) and especially the Drupal Variant. My hope is that we will have a community collaborate around building a Drupal sub-theme which is able to both take advantage of the Drupal community as well as produce something that meets the needs of the government community. If this initiative can help to bridge the gap between the great developers inside & outside government we will be that much closer to producing accessible, usable websites for Canadians. 

With all of the work that has gone on in the Drupal community around accessibility & usability in Drupal 7, we'd love to see a Genesis sub-theme evolve which provides both an xHTML version & HTML5 options to implement the CLF 2.0. Hopefully it can also be the basis to provide a discussion around mobile themes for government agencies as well.  

About The Author

Mike Gifford is the founder of OpenConcept Consulting Inc, which he started in 1999. Since then, he has been particularly active in developing and extending open source content management systems to allow people to get closer to their content. Before starting OpenConcept, Mike had worked for a number of national NGOs including Oxfam Canada and Friends of the Earth.