Thursday, February 14, 2019

A creative content solution project

Background - Waterloo International is part of the University of Waterloo, and is responsible for, among other things, stewarding international agreements for student exchange, research partnerships, and other strategic partnerships across the globe. At any given time there could be 300-500 agreements in place with universities and research consortiums across the globe.

The Challenge - Find a more user-friendly and useful way to view content about international agreements on the Waterloo International website.  The solution needed to become a visual cue to the vast number of international agreements the university has in place; this helps the university advance it's strategic plan goal of becoming one of the most internationalized universities in Canada.

Previous User Experience - Three separate lists (on 3 separate URLs) that displayed the international agreement information.  This information was very hard to use because it spread across three different pages. Each of the pages was a simple text listing of each agreement. There was no visual appeal and user's got no sense of how many agreements were in place at one time.

Project Requirements
Visual - A map showing "flags/markers" on the countries where agreements exist
Filters - The ability to filter the list by country or agreement type
Organization - All agreements in ONE list instead of three
Back-end - Run using a database so when a change is made to the database it updates on the website automatically
Cost - There are SAS solutions that exist that solve the challenge but they are expensive and do more than needed at this point. A requirement of this project was to find a low cost solution (less than $1,000).

The Solution - After some internet sleuthing, I sourced a Google App, called "Awesome Table," that met all requirements.  The data was already in Excel so we only had to clean up the agreements records and load them into Google Sheets. We added the longitude and latitude for each agreement location (thanks to our co-op students!) so that the map would display all the flags. Filtering was available for any number of fields we wanted so that requirement was easily met. And it was free; fitting perfectly within the budget!

The next challenge was the URL had the original app developer's branding on it which wasn't ideal as this support unit is part of a large university. And the university's website platform did not support the embedded code. To overcome this challenge I setup a free Google Site to host the map.  Not a big deal because Google Sheets was already managing the back-end data so pairing this with a Google Site was seamless.

Problem Solved!
The end result is a clean user-friendly display of the 370+ international agreements for the university.
View the live map. Voila!  Everything came together perfectly and I solved the online content challenge I was presented with.

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