Thursday, September 29th, 2022

Brighton, England

Organic Web development enables new public/private artifacts functionality

 
T

he great architect Frank Lloyd Wright tirelessly espoused his values by coining the term organic architecture:

Organic Architecture is an architecture from within outward, in which entity is an ideal … Organic means, in the philosophic sense, entity. Where the whole is [to] the part as the part is to the whole and where the nature of the materials, the nature of the purpose, the nature of the entire performance becomes a necessity.

Also:

We have no longer an outside and an inside as two separate things. Now the outside may come inside and the inside may and does go outside. They are of each other.

CSF’s Clear Purpose accreditation strand page comprised of individual accreditation standard entries (September 2022)  

From within outward; one way of applying this organic principle to worldwide web development is having the very same system handle both the organization’s internal processes and its externally-facing content. Such an approach fits well with programming, as it meets the industry adage of DRY — don’t repeat yourself.

Organic web development thus considered continues to pay dividends over time; we realized some recently for csfla.org, the Christian Schools of Florida web site. In the site-wide header, the very first menu item is School Accreditation, which contains a list of links to CSF’s exhaustive accreditation standards grouped by strand. These public-facing web pages display strands as single documents but are actually composed of discrete standards, each of which is an entry in the CMS (content management system)’s Accreditation Standards content channel. Such first-class existence in the system enables standards to be related to other items, such as to parent or child standards, and to per-school standard compliances, which have their own content channel in the CMS. What we did recently is add a new connection: to artifacts.

Due to the perhaps not-unrelated virtues of frugality and decentralization, CSF has from the get-go been a largely virtual/remote organization; it has no central office, its meetings hosted in turn by various member schools. Nonetheless, during the all-important accreditation process, an appointed peer review team makes an on-site visit to any school that’s up for re-accreditation. The team must also receive evidentiary documentation from the school. However, the more documentation available beforehand to the peer review team, the briefer and less disruptive is the on-site visit. This light touch was deemed even more necessary during the COVID pandemic.

But how to best share and access documents? To be sure there are generalized online file repository services such as Dropbox or Google Drive, and some schools have their own internal repositories (though many don’t). But we went one or two better.

Diving into the system, we added two new content channels:

  • Artifact Slots, a type of artifact, each entry relating to one or more Accreditation Standards
  • Artifacts, an individual artifact, each entry relating to an Artifact Slot and to a School, with a field each for file upload, URL and text

Once populated with content, the public-facing CSF accreditation strands and standards pages display each standard’s artifacts. And any school being reviewed can upload say its Curriculum Guide file to a new Artifact entry that relates to the Curriculum Guide entry in the Artifacts Slots channel. The peer review team member then sees a link to that Curriculum Guide file whenever dealing with a standard that demands the Curriculum Guide as a supporting artifact.

Recall DRY; each artifact need only be uploaded one time, and once in the system it appears wherever needed. People can work asynchronously, the school staff uploading documents at their convenience, the peer review team members reviewing them at theirs. Precious on-site visit time can be dedicated to activities that demand it, such as visual inspections of premises and in-person discussions of documents already reviewed.

Texting from a conference a few days ago, CSF Executive Director Dana James exclaimed to Director of Accreditation Susan Taylor: “We are so ahead of everyone. I’m thankful for your hard work and Ken [Wackes]‘s vision. … Honestly, it’s better than ever.” When a computer system is architected organically — all its content comprised of well-structured items — things can be woven together in surprising new ways whenever a need or benefit is articulated. This is how we got ahead. As such a system grows increasingly more interconnected over time, it becomes a kind of magic.