Gov 2.0 guide to Drupal


Drupal is an open source platform and content management system (CMS) for building dynamic web sites. Supported by a vibrant developer community, Drupal is establishing itself as a leader among social software solutions. Having already gained a small but significant share of the domestic and worldwide public sector CMS market, the solution appears on-track for continued growth. The expanding list of high-profile government organizations adopting the solution, along with its recent recognition by industry analyst Gartner as a visionary product in the marketplace, will only accelerate its growth.


One of the most important “features” of Drupal is the breadth and depth of its community. This was made evident recently when DrupalCon 2010 San Francisco attracted over 3,000 attendees. Within this community, there is widespread support for leveraging Drupal to innovate new public sector solutions. In fact, one of the keynotes of this year’s three DrupalCon keynotes (and the only sector-specific one) was entitled “Open Source in Government,” which featured representatives from the White House and New York Senate. The overwhelming sentiment shared by these officials and others is that the strength of the Drupal Community is a key reason why the public sector is embracing the solution. In conjunction with the emergence of Drupal enterprise service providers, the growing Drupal Community extols confidence in the platform and its long-term innovativeness, security, and supportability. (Disclaimer: Michael Walsh served on the DrupalCon keynote panel as the moderator.)

Gov 2.0 Radio interview with Andrew Hoppin (New York Senate) and Michael Walsh (Forum One Communications):


DrupalCon Keynote Discussion with Dave Cole – White House, Andrew Hoppin – New York Senate, and Michael Walsh – Forum One Communications


As an open source solution, Drupal’s success is tied to the Drupal Community’s ability to innovate new modules (plug-ins for Drupal that extend, build, or enhance Drupal core functionality) to address marketplace needs. The modules can take two forms: contributed modules (shared under the same GNU Public License as Drupal) and custom modules. While the public sector benefits from many of the same contributed modules that are in use by other sectors, a number of public sector modules have been created by government for government, and subsequently contributed back to the Drupal Community, as outlined below. These modules now form a growing code base – specific to Drupal – which public sector organizations can quickly leverage for their own requirements. By reducing development costs and improving the efficiency of government web site design and development, modules like these are helping to justify the business case for Drupal for an ever-expanding list of organizations.


Senior members of the Drupal Community have been championing the value of distributions for some time. These “ready to use” solutions offer developers pre-configured Drupal installations, usually including a selection of modules and themes coupled with Drupal core. The value of distributions is that they provide the developer community with extensible solutions that can be rapidly implemented to meet the functional and technical needs of a specific sector/vertical. This supports economies of scale in open source development by eliminating the need for each independent developer or development shop to develop their own baseline solution for the common set of requirements for a given sector/vertical. This allows developers to focus more on derivative innovation and reduces the total cost of feature development and software defect fixes. For these reasons, distributions are a critical component to the growth of Drupal’s adoption, especially in the public sector. As Dries Buytaert says: “Without Drupal distributions, (the Drupal Community) won’t be able to successfully compete with commercial vendors.”

Acquia Drupal

Downloaded over 125,000 times, Acquia Drupal is a social publishing platform developed by Acquia to simplify the development of interactive, community-based publishing web sites that feature both editorial and user-generated content. By selecting only the most important modules for online communities (e.g., blogs, articles, forums, mashups, and web content), Acquia Drupal enables developers to quickly stand-up high-quality web sites that can be easily customized to meet the specific needs of their users. This GPL licensed distribution is available for free download and organizations can turn to Acquia for 24/7 private paid support. (Disclaimer: Forum One Communications has implemented web sites for clients on Acquia Drupal.)


Pressflow is a specialized distribution of Drupal developed by Four Kitchens which features extensive performance, scalability, availability, and testing enhancements required to support high traffic sites. One of the key features of Pressflow is that it supports multi-tier proxy layers. Since no version of Drupal can properly handle this architecture, this is a key benefit of the distribution. To date, Pressflow has been implemented by a number of governments and multilateral organizations, including the United Kingdom and World Bank.

Open Atrium

Downloaded over 90,000 times, Open Atrium is a collaboration platform distribution developed by Development Seed to meet the knowledge management needs of large and mid-sized government organizations. The platform provides “out-of-the-box” team collaboration functionality, including blogs, wikis, microblogs, and content dashboards, that enables web developers to rapidly deploy highly customizable social intranets and extranets. This free and open source solution therefore allows a growing number of organizations to substitute proprietary social business software solutions (such as Salesforce and Jive) with Drupal. Within the U.S. federal government, the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of Veterans Affairs have already adopted the platform. Looking ahead, one of the platform’s key strengths is its supportability, as demonstrated by the growing ecosystem of open source development shops implementing the solution and the recent announcement that the platform will soon feature private paid support. (Disclaimer: Forum One Communications has implemented web sites for clients on Open Atrium.)

Introducing Open Atrium from Development Seed on Vimeo.

Drupal Commons

Currently under development by Acquia and its partners, Drupal Commons will be a free, open source distribution designed to make the process of building intranet and extranet community sites easier and less costly than commercial social software applications. Slated for official launch this summer, Acquia expects that Drupal Commons will enable the Drupal Community to more easily develop web sites and web applications that require basic social collaboration functionality, including blogs, status updates, and social networking, coupled with seamless document sharing through customized wikis, group discussions, task reminders, and activity streams. Like Acquia Drupal, Drupal Commons will be commercially supported by Acquia.

Real-World Implementations

As the age-old adage goes, “the proof is in the pudding.” Perhaps no better driver exists for the adoption of an emerging software solution than real-world examples of successful implementations for comparable requirements. In the last few years, the list of successful adoptions of Drupal by domestic and worldwide public sector organizations has exploded. This is especially true of federal, state, and local governments in North America and Europe, particularly in the United States, France, and the United Kingdom. To illustrate this point, the showcase below features some of the most important examples of government and multilateral organization web sites and web applications currently powered by Drupal.

White House

In 2009, the White House decided to re-launch WhiteHouse.Gov on Drupal. The decision to power one of the most targeted web sites in the world with an open source content management system garnered significant interest from both media and industry. The White House’s decision and associated media coverage helped validate Drupal as a mainstream CMS solution for all-levels of government.

White House

New York Senate

The implementation of Drupal by the New York Senate demonstrates the potential for Drupal at the state level. Experimenting with the platform, the organization was able to extend the existing platform through new innovations specific to their organizational needs, including OpenLegislation and Whitelist.

New York Senate

United States Army

The U.S. Army‘s Black History Month web site, ForLoveofLiberty.Net, features powerful, audience-centric design (including interactive Flash-based elements) and deep integration with social media sites (including YouTube, Flickr, and Issuu). Designed primarily for students, educators, and veterans, the site serves as a great example of how government organizations can use social publishing to bring history to life and enable public discourse on important topics. (Disclaimer: Forum One Communications developed ForLoveofLiberty.Net for the US Army.)

United States Army

U.S. Department of Education

Drupal is the foundation behind the Department of Education’s main organizational web site. The site demonstrates how a federal department or agency can leverage Drupal to help make information, resources, tools, and funding opportunities more transparent and accessible to citizens.

U.S. Department of Education

French Government

The “Portail du Gouvernement” serves as the official French government portal. Like the White House, it serves as an important example of a trustworthy Drupal implementation by a high-profile government organization. It also demonstrates the ability for Drupal to easily support localized content requirements and customizable design.

French Government

City of London

The Greater London Authority’s web site demonstrates a successful implementation of Drupal at the local-level. This informative web site makes excellent use of the content management features of Drupal but also leverages social features to encourage public participation with their government and community.

City of London

U.S. Department of Commerce

The Department of Commerce chose Drupal to power its site, which was launched in response to the Open Government Directive. The site provides a great example of how government organizations can achieve a simple, yet effective, implementation on Drupal that fosters transparency, accountability, and collaboration.

U.S. Department of Commerce

New Zealand ‘s Ministry for the Environment

NewZealand’s Ministry for the Environment chose Drupal to power its sustainability web site. The features of the site enable users to participate in polls, establish conservation and sustainability goals, discuss topics related to the environment, share ideas, and rate and comment on content. This site is a compelling example of how Drupal can be used by government agencies to shape behavior, change perceptions, and build momentum around important public policy and social issues.

New  Zealand 's Ministry for the Environment

World Bank

Earlier this month, the World Bank launched, an open data initiative aimed at making the 2,000+ World Bank data indicators more transparent and accessible to the public. Using MapBox, OpenLayers and Flot, the World Bank was able to create a powerful data analysis and visualization web application supported by an intuitive user interface. This visually appealing site not only demonstrates the potential of off-the-shelf Drupal modules like Features, Context, and Views 3, but also points to the inherent extensibility of Drupal when properly coupled with other open source solutions. (Disclaimer: Forum One Communications was a subcontractor to the vendor who designed and developed this web site.)

World Bank

United Kingdom Datastore

Whereas many other government sites utilize Drupal’s social and interactive features and emphasize citizen participation, the UK’s site builds on Drupal’s other skill set: content management. The UK leveraged Drupal’s content and database management capabilities to build a publicly accessible data store.

United Kingdom  Datastore

Young Professionals in Foreign Policy

While not specific to the public sector, Young Professional’s in Foreign Policy’s organizational web site is a wonderful example of a Drupal implementation to support large, globally distributed user communities seeking to collaborate on foreign policy issues. The organization’s simple design reflects the tradeoffs international governmental and multilateral organizations can make to enable cost-effective social functionality with Drupal. (Disclaimer: Michael Walsh is the Chair of the Public Diplomacy and Cultural Relations Discussion Group at YPFP.)

Young Professionals in Foreign Policy

About Michael Walsh

Michael Walsh is a well known writer and speaker on open source and proprietary software. In addition to working at Microsoft and in Open Source Communities like MapBox, Michael previously served as a regular contributor to TechNet Magazine. Presently, Michael is completing Post-MA classwork at The Johns Hopkins University SAIS. Feel free to contact him at

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