European Comission

Building an international, multi-language website for the European Commission and its many partners, all in less than six months: a major challenge, but one which AMPLEXOR and partner Namahn knew they could execute.

Introduction

As the executive arm of the European Union, the Commission has a prominent role in raising awareness around important social and economic themes. To be more effective, each year it devotes its energy to one major theme. In 2015, that theme was ‘Development’. 


Development was a logical choice as 2015 was the final year in which to reach the Millennium Development Goals that were defined by the United Nations. The eight Millennium Development Goals were identified by the UN as essential objectives to end poverty worldwide. They include goals such as combating major diseases and improving education.


The Commission decided that to support their work around the theme of development, they would need an online platform allowing a large amount of organisations to collaborate in several ways. Part of the challenge was certainly the huge diversity of stakeholders, which included partners, member states and NGO’s in several countries.


At the same time, the European Commission and its partners wanted a website to show European taxpayers that every euro spent on development benefits both people living in some of the world’s poorest countries and the EU citizens themselves. This website would allow visitors to read interesting stories about development, get updates on the latest EU news, participate in events and search articles in all languages.
The target group of the site would be practically all European citizens, but also specifically school pupils and students in all member states. The many partners and organisations of the EU were also expected to be avid users.


As the European Union stresses the importance of accessibility, the website needed to adhere to WCAG 2.0-standards. This extensive requirement list makes it possible for people with disabilities to access all information on European Union websites.


Last – but certainly not least – as the site would have to target all citizens of the European Union, it needed to support no less than 23 languages with high quality content.

The challenge

Obviously this was a major undertaking, but the DirectorateGeneral for International Cooperation and Development was confident that AMPLEXOR could handle it well, which is why we were asked to design and build the yearly theme site on the europa.eu portal, and the supporting platform for content providers. Considering the complexity, AMPLEXOR partnered up with the Leuven, Belgium-based design consultancy Namahn.


The challenges AMPLEXOR and Namahn faced included: 

  • Having content available in 23 languages
  • Getting the website operational within 5 months
  • Allowing content entry on the website by different partners
  • Complying with publishing standards by Information Providers Guide (IPG)
  • Adhering to security standards
  • Complying with WCAG 2.0 standards
  • Providing an excellent usability during content entry
  • Building a backend with a wellstructured content architecture.

What is the information providers guide?

Everyone who develops and publishes material on EU websites, including webmasters, editors, content providers, web developers and contractors must adhere to the Information Providers Guide (IPG). The guide covers all aspects of publishing on the EUROPA site, describing the relevant editorial, technical and presentation standards in force. The rules set out in the IPG are compulsory in order to ensure a coherent and user-friendly service. As such, they require some customizations in Drupal in order for these rules to be implemented.


Looking at the many facets of this major project, we straightaway concluded that we would need a strict methodology and project management and it was clear that the strict deadlines required nothing less. So how did we move ahead?

The right approach

AMPLEXOR and Nahamn organised the development in several phases and in each phase it was very important to gather the correct information and input from all the relevant stakeholders.

For example, in the design phase we organized a number of workshops and interviews to define the
information architecture. Over a timeframe of a week, we interacted with partners to gather all necessary information, after which we returned to the drawing board to improve the concepts. Further workshops and biweekly refinement meetings ensured that all partners could give feedback about changes to the design.


In a framing workshop further issues were identified by utilizing a context map of all involved systems and personas with their user journeys. Classification workshops were held to define the sitemap and a content model. During design workshops our sketches were turned into wireflows to detailed wireframes.


Style tiles were created based on the official style guide and used to further refine the wireframes into a graphical design prototype. Using these tiles we could ensure that the site would be graphically consistent with the visual style of the other European websites.


To provide technical solutions for new ideas, AMPLEXOR implemented a Proof of Concept and created a product breakdown structure (PBS) to describe the solution. This was done for several ideas and requirements, such as partner contributions, multilingual search, and requirements stemming from the Information Providers Guide of the European Union.
We spent quite a lot of time on this phase to ensure the implementation would go as smoothly as possible. A solid and well thought out information architecture is key in achieving this.

Because of the amount of internal and external stakeholders and the tight timeframe, continuous communication was crucial
Maarten Segers Technical Lead at AMPLEXOR

Maarten Segers Technical Lead at AMPLEXOR

The workshops were vital in distilling good ideas and transforming them into working concepts. Undoubtedly, if we had not gathered as much valuable input initially, we would have run into trouble later on when we were closer to delivery in the testing phase.
Dimitri Honlet Project Manager at AMPLEXOR

Dimitri Honlet Project Manager at AMPLEXOR

Implementing the concepts

Using the scrum methodology we divided the implementation phase into seven ‘sprints’, each structured in a standard way. This approach guaranteed everyone stayed up-todate on the status of the project, all issues during development were addressed and platform functionalities demonstrated and tested.


Each sprint consisted of the same five meetings and each with its own, clearly defined objectives.

  • During the planning sprint, refined tasks from the backlog were added to start a new sprint
  • In sprint refinement, functionalities from the backlog are further refined
  • The daily stand-up provided a status update and allowed discussion about delivered items, to-do’s, and impediments hindering the development
  • The demo sprint is crucial. Delivered functionalities are demonstrated and feedback is taken into account and added to the backlog for following sprints
  • In a retro sprint we discussed with partners what was successful and the improvements which could be made in later sprints.


This agile approach was decisive to achieve maximum value before hitting the deadline. Remember, we only had 5 months before the platform and site had to go live.


Because of the limited time frame – but also due to the great functionality it offers - we based the project on the Drupal-platform. We mainly used out-of-the-box components, with the necessary further development done by a team of three developers and a technical lead. During development it was also very important to take European requirements into account, which for example stated that URLs should be in English and that the site would be hosted on the European Union infrastructure. Additionally, certain third party tools could not be used and required custom implementations.

Delivering

After extensive testing and demo’ing, the platform and website went online on 9 February 2015 – perfectly within deadline. The excellent relationship with Namahn, who were instrumental in creating a good information architecture, and our agile approach made it possible to meet the tight deadline whilst fulfilling all requirements of the European Commission. It was a challenge, but we met it head-on!

Since the start of our collaboration in 2010, we have been able to count on very good, reliable results. We appreciate the high level of expertise, professionalism and stability of the AMPLEXOR teams.
Internal and External Communication Unit at EuropeAid

Internal and External Communication Unit EuropeAid

Table of Contents

Building an international website in 23 languages for the European Commission and its many partners, all in less than six months: a major challenge.

Download this case study to learn more about how AMPLEXOR approached this project:

  • Using of out-of-the-box Drupal components to save time
  • Compliance with European government requirements
  • Content entry by different partners in multiple languages with excellent usability

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