Last week, CivSource spoke with Tom Erickson the CEO of Acquia, a Drupal distribution company co-founded by the original Drupal creator Dries Buytaert. CivSource asked Erickson about the use of Drupal at the state and local level and what’s next for Acquia.
Erickson worked with Rob Klause of Siteworx to deploy whitehouse.gov – one of the more well known uses of Drupal for government in recent memory. He pointed out that Drupal’s rapid and easy set up can also be successful at the state and local level. Through Acquia, he’s helped the New York state Senate and the city of London deploy their own Drupal instances.
According to Erickson with Drupal, governments and organizations can collaborate more effectively and also reach out to their constituents more easily. He pointed to a recent initiative in London, where the city used Drupal to inform the public about its goal of increased racial equality by publishing a white paper online that outlined the steps they were taking as well as conducting an online survey to gather the feelings of the public on the issue.
“The notion that you can have an open dialogue with citizens is becoming the norm,” Erickson says. He points out that while some state and local governments may be concerned about the push for openness and whether or not that will leave them vulnerable, it’s actually the opposite. Governments that release data can end up strengthening their relationship with their citizens. Additionally, people tend to do more interesting things with the data then the government otherwise would.
Acquia offers Drupal support products designed to help create collaborative environments through their two primary offerings Drupal Gardens and Drupal Commons. Drupal Gardens essentially allows users to design their Drupal site through a series of templates which guides them through the deployment process. The templates are created through a combination of offerings from Acquia and the Gardens community. Drupal Gardens is currently in private beta and will be released as a public beta this summer.
Drupal Commons is, according to Erickson, an “OS for collaboration.” Commons offers a cadre of collaboration tools like forums, blogging and microblogging for users. Users working inside Commons can also contribute feedback about improvements to the infrastructure and feature set directly back to Acquia.
Erickson says by using open source tools like Drupal, governments may also find that managing citizen engagement online is economical. For a basic site, governments and organizations can use Acquia for free. If they want to expand or start with something bigger, the cost goes up to $20 per month.
As Acquia moves into the next phases with Drupal Gardens and Drupal Commons, The company is working to find partners in governments and organizations to explore how Drupal can be used to meet their needs.