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February 18, 2014

Facilitating Drupal Adoption in Higher Education

Thought by FFW,

UPDATE: The recording of "Best Practices for Drupal Adoption" is now available on Acquia's site!

Tomorrow, February 19, our Drupal Evangelist Ray Saltini will lead a webinar entitled, "Best Practices for Drupal Adoption." This webinar is co-produced with Acquia, and features special guest Catherine Cuff, Director of Information Technology from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. They'll discuss the steps you can take throughout the lifecycle of your Drupal project, from pre-RFP, to implementation, post-launch, and beyond. The webinar will highlight the training and adoption support FFW is providing to The Woodrow Wilson School (WWS) after the relaunch of their site on Drupal this past fall.

The story of Drupal at WWS is becoming a familiar one throughout higher education. Gone are the days of wrangling Drupal to meet the needs of the university or college, and wondering if it can do so successfully. Drupal's presence in higher education is now well-established, with top institutions like Princeton, Stanford, Harvard, and Columbia all looking to the platform for websites, intranets, vast multi-site platforms, and web-based applications. As Drupal grows in higher ed, so, too, do the tools and insights available to those seeking to make the switch.

The Adoption Challenge

While the technology and knowledge surrounding Drupal may be primed for widespread use by universities, adoption at the people level can remain a challenge. Institutions of higher learning exhibit characteristics that can hinder the success of a major technology implementation:

  • User groups are particularly large and diverse in skills and needs
  • Many users have limited use cases and only peripheral engagement with the system
  • Users and departments may be fragmented and resistant to change

This does not mean that a platform change should not be undertaken. These challenges can be mitigated with adoption-focused steps taken throughout the project lifecycle.

Project Lifecycle Highs and Lows

FFW Drupal Development Project Lifecycle

Launching a new web platform is a long-term undertaking that can cause a rollercoaster of sentiment among those involved. From initial excitement about the possibilities to extreme frustration with problems and disruptions, the process can be stressful for everyone involved from pre-RFP inception to the months after launch. These swings in sentiment can be exhausting, causing reduced satisfaction or even project abandonment.

With effective adoption strategies throughout the project process, however, this rollercoaster can be tamed, creating a smoother process with less dramatic shifts.

Goals of Lifecycle Adoption Programs

The goal of a comprehensive adoption program is to level out the highs and lows of the project lifecycle. Through ongoing education, the program is designed to reduce organizational disruption and increase stakeholder satisfaction. Techniques include:

  • Establishing realistic expectations during inception, commitment, and discovery
  • Maintaining sensitivity to users and thoughtfully referencing user personas during discovery and implementation
  • Incorporating incremental learning at all stages, including pre-RFP
  • Providing needs-centric training to end users through post-launch and enlightenment
  • Supplying ongoing resources and support in enlightenment and beyond

A Higher Ed Adoption Story: The Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University

FFW Drupal Development Higher EducationIn the winter of 2012, The Woodrow Wilson School (WWS) decided on Drupal to replace their aging proprietary content management system. Before getting too deep into the project, they called in FFW for pre-implementation Drupal training. This training gave the WWS team an overview of what to expect from Drupal, what their hosting options were, how to navigate and participate in the Drupal community, and other practical tips for starting their transition to Drupal.

From that foundation, the team went on to work with their chosen implementation vendor, and the dual-site platform launched successfully in the fall of 2013. As the launch date neared, the WWS team recognized that while the technology may have been ready, their end users were not. Working together again, FFW and WWS developed a post-launch adoption program incorporating:

  • Administration usability enhancements
  • Detailed content type documentation
  • Task-centric classroom training
  • A persistent help library
  • A collection of on-demand training modules

Through this program, not only were current staff brought up to speed on the new system and the reasons for implementing it, but WWS retains a pool of documentation and training resources it can use to support system users, on-board new staff members, and provide refresher training whenever it is needed.

Catherine Cuff, Director of Information Technology says, "Learning and adopting Drupal can be a daunting experience. To be effective, you will need to leverage all of your resources. Thankfully, the Drupal community is a supportive one where you will find an abundance of solutions."

See you Tomorrow?

Join us for our webinar to hear directly from WWS's Catherine Cuff and our own adoption expert Ray Saltini. You'll get to know more about how lifecycle adoption programs can smooth your organization's transition to Drupal, and how such a program is benefitting the WWS team. The webinar starts at 1pm ET and is available free of charge. We hope to see you there!


Considering Drupal for your own institution? Our two-day Site Building with Drupal 7 class is a great place to get your start with creating Drupal sites. Higher education staff and students are eligible to attend at a sharply discounted rate of $99 per day. After registering, we'll contact you to verify your higher education status. Happy Drupaling!