Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What Does "Beyond the PDF" Look Like?

by Jeff Stanger

Yesterday, the Center for Digital Information hosted "Philanthropy and the Digital Public Dialogue: Challenges and New Opportunities" at the Council on Foundations annual conference in Los Angeles. We convened this session to explore how foundations and the groups they fund are adapting to a changing technology and communication landscape. The rapid evolution of digital technology has enormous consequences for how these groups go about the mission-critical activity of informing, framing and participating in the public and policy dialogue around their issues. Read my preview of the session urging the field to "skate to where the puck is moving," and read the twitter backchannel conversation at #cdicof

Part of the conversation was about CDI's focus on refreshing the traditional product line of reports, white papers, policy briefs and journal articles for modern digital media — an approach I like to call "beyond the PDF document." In addition to convening sessions like yesterday's, monitoring trends and the changing form of information on the new CDI Dashboard, CDI has been rolling up its sleeves over the past few months to experiment with how the sector can go "beyond the PDF" as a matter of routine. The examples didn't fit into the flow of the conversation, so I've profiled them here:

A Large Step Beyond the PDF

CDI has been working with the Bridging the Gap research project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on a digital tool related to foods sold in schools outside of meal programs, a driver of childhood obesity. The project has two objectives: explain the topic to those unfamiliar and allow exploration of Bridging the Gap's rich body of data on state policies related to these foods — five years of data; 99 facets of policy; 50 states and DC; elementary, middle and high school. Our approach has been to "cover" the topic much like a digital journalist might. We're developing a full-featured "information application," combining interactive illustration and infographics, iconography, maps, dynamic charting, and timelines. This project is still in development, but previewed below:

School Foods

Building for the Tablet Computer

The tablet computer is on pace to become the most quickly adopted non-phone technology in history. Tablet penetration doubled in one month from December 2011 (10%) to January 2012 (19%). CDI thinks foundations and social sector organization who produce information ought to be kicking the tires. We've worked with the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to create "Healthy Communities for Retirement," a tablet-optimized digital experience based on a HSPH national survey of pre-retirees and retirees. The tool is built in HTML5, is accessible on the open web, and adapts to standard non-tablet desktop browsers (modern ones). A preview is available at healthycommunities.digitalinfo.org

Healthy Communities for Retirement

A Simple Step Beyond the PDF

Not all digital presentations need to be elaborate. "Expectations vs. Reality" uses a different battery of questions from the same Harvard School of Public Health survey of Americans over 50. With this project, we explored what a relatively simple step "beyond the PDF" might look like. The comparison between the expectations of pre-retirees and the realities experiences by retired people was the major thrust of the survey findings. We used that as a framing mechanism for an interactive tool. Users can browse all of the questions HSPH asked, seeing pre-retirees' expectations and retirees' reality side-by-side. For context, we've used an animated video featuring HSPH researcher Dr. Gillian SteelFisher that highlights key findings. A preview is available at retirement.digitalinfo.org

Expectations vs. Reality

Are these the only things we could have done? Certainly not. Are they the best we could have done? Let us know. We're interested in your input on how well we've gone "beyond the PDF document."

Comments welcome...