Case study ● Support

LevelUp

In 2016, we worked with the LevelUp community of digital safety trainers to reimagine and redesign the LevelUp website. We helped transform it from a closed, convoluted resource to a sleek, mobile-friendly open platform, and supported the site as it transitioned to community ownership.

Valuable inputs, unclear outputs

LevelUp is, at its core, an educational resource that features advice from digital safety trainers from around the world. In the last three years, more than fifty people have helped research and design LevelUp’s content, which ranges from the Basics of Safer Browsing to Creating Safe Spaces. Despite this clear goal and well-researched content, the site was confusing to navigate and use effectively. It wasn’t designed to show content to be read online, and only veterans of the site could make sense of the information architecture.

LevelUp singlehandedly answers the question “how do I provide an EFFECTIVE digital security training?” and is, thus, an equally invaluable resource to both veteran trainers and newbies.

- Dirk Slater, Fabriders

Resources get dusty when the platform is closed

The platform was opaque and complicated to administer and as a result much of the fantastic curriculum on LevelUp wasn’t updated regularly. Trainers in the community wanted to improve it and ensure the advice was relevant, but they had no idea where to start or who to talk to.

Internews, the non-profit organisation that managed the site, came to us with one crucial request – to open the platform and transition responsibility for maintaining it to the digital safety training community as a whole. If the content management was open, anyone could quickly edit a typo or replace an outdated tool suggestion.

Ch-ch-changes: Our Process

ER_PEOPLE

Survey digital safety trainers from around the world to identify needs and wants

ER_Opinion

Choose a platform and talk with resource managers in comparable communities.

ER_Tactic

Design a user experience.

To ensure that the LevelUp redesign addressed the training community’s concerns, we needed to understand how they used the current site. We sent a survey to the larger training community and interviewed trainers from different regions. These interviews brought three key considerations to our attention: trainers usually consult LevelUp before a training; the homepage doesn’t provide sufficient guidance to new users; and trainers are unclear on how to update and contribute to the content. There was no space for knowledge-sharing or interaction on the site. These conversations with trainers who actively use the content proved crucial to choosing the right platform and designing a more accessible website.

The next step was helping Internews choose a platform. We connected with content owners from similar projects (Security in a Box, Umbrella App, and Surveillance Self-Defense) to discuss how the different resources could interoperate with each other – see more on this here. To allow users to edit and remix the content, we built the website on Github. The LevelUp content is written in Markdown, which makes edits and community contributions easier to manage than the previous Drupal backend. We used the translation service Transifex for localisation – it’s free for open source projects and takes advantage of an existing user base of translators.

The third step was crafting a user experience design that met the varied needs of the community. We designed a new way to traverse the content and organised the content into different sections to help both new and experienced users.

Clear documentation is critical to making any technical resource sustainable in the long term. Now that the project is no longer managed by a single organisation, we knew that users would need accessible, thorough documentation to keep the site fresh and accurate. We only handed off the project after providing detailed guidance on how to edit and add new content to the platform.

Listening and learning

We learned a lot in this redesign process: how people use the site, when and why trainers consult the content and what they hoped for the future of LevelUp. In the end, one of the most important lessons was that we were neither capable, nor responsible, for fixing every issue raised and each individual concern in the process. Making a shared resource means making compromises and reducing the scope and expectation of what can be accomplished in a short time. No matter how thoughtful a design process can be, there will always be something that is missing. In the future, for projects like LevelUp, we will make sure that our promises are reasonable given the often uncertain future of projects like these.

One of the main reasons LevelUp content is still relevant today is that it was written by talented trainers who have learned from past experiences and sought to make a more sustainable resource. The training community brought LevelUp into this world, and its fate still rests upon the continued engagement of this community. We are sincerely thankful to all of the people who helped make LevelUp what it is today and brought much needed guidance to the redesign process.

The Engine Room were great collaborators for our work in understanding and supporting the LevelUp community, particularly with their ‘listening’ approach to website redesign.

- Dirk Slater, Fabriders

Open-endings

There are many unanswered questions about LevelUp’s future. Who will host the site once Internews steps down in June 2016? How will the community manage and update the content? Will Github present an insurmountable technical barrier for new contributors? The newly designed site will hopefully encourage trainers to connect and share their knowledge, and the openness of the platform should allow LevelUp to integrate new techniques and solutions as they arise. We hope that our efforts to create standards and design resources with the users in mind will help sites like LevelUp to continue – and thrive while doing so.

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