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published: March 2004
Demonstration: Your Colleagues - 2
In March 2002 the Canadian Museum of Nature launched The Nature of the Rideau River Web site. Comprising more than 100 richly illustrated pages, the bilingual site is the culmination of a community-based research project that was conducted in 1998-2000.
The Rideau River Biodiversity Project was started in 1998 to assess the biodiversity of this eastern-Ontario river. Some 30 researchers from nine different disciplines studied the water quality, the plants and the animals of the river.
Local communities played a significant role in the project. By participating in community advisory committees, attending workshops and volunteering with the researchers, citizens were able to share their concerns, questions and their own knowledge of and appreciation for the Rideau River.
The Web Site
With the completion of the study, the Museum faced the challenge of publishing the results in a meaningful, appealing and cost-efficient way. The researchers planned to publish results in scientific journals, but the Museum wanted to offer something to the larger community whose participation was so critical to the success of the project. The product had to be a hybrid of both popular and well illustrated material and detailed scientific content that would be useful to future monitoring activites.
The Museum decided to develop a Web site that highlights the health of the river and its wonderful diversity of life, with the intention of nurturing a strong sense of the community's relationship to the river. The research results are complemented by background information on the research project and the history and geography of the river as well as suggestions for activities. There is also a bibliography of relevant print and online resources.
In developing this Web site, the Museum's Web team employed new strategies, including the use of a focus group to test the information architecture and preliminary content. As a result of the focus group we reoriented our approach from that of a scientific status report to a celebration of the river's ecosystem where one can learn about the river's inhabitants, not only its problems.
Another first for the Museum's Web team was the contracting-out of the design and production of the site. We managed the project; handled the information design, writing and translation; participated in the graphic design; and did some additional production after the site was launched. The greatest challenge resulted from contracting out the production; we did not define the standards precisely enough in the beginning, and so remedial quality control had to be applied to the deliverables from the contractors.
We have learned some important lessons about contracting-out and information design and we would be glad to share our experience in developing this Web site with the participants of Museums and the Web 2003.