Living Up to a Legacy of Glass Pockets
(Deanna Lee is chief communications and digital strategies officer at Carnegie Corporation of New York.)
What does a website redesign have to do with “glass pockets?” For Carnegie Corporation of New York—whose mission is to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding—it goes far beyond a general use of the Internet to transmit information. “Glass pockets” is a defining principle of who we are, and thus a defining principle that has guided our entire web redesign process.
First, some background. In the 1950s, Carnegie Corporation chair Russell Leffingwell testified before Congress that “foundation[s] should have glass pockets,” allowing anyone to easily look inside them and understand their value to society. A legacy of transparency connected to dissemination continued through Corporation president John Gardner, who advocated for energetic dissemination of activities, to current president Vartan Gregorian, who has emphasized our “legacy of glass pockets” as an ideal and a guidepost for “communicating as clearly and in as much depth as possible how the Corporation conceives of its mission.”
Today’s digital landscape means that we can realize this—reaching and engaging more people, with more information about what we do—as never before. We think of web channels, tools, and design, not as new, “disruptive” technologies, but rather as evolving (and exciting!) opportunities to realize a 100-plus year-old mission.
And so, the redesign process for Carnegie.org began with a largely internal branding exercise to further define our longstanding mission. With the great folks at Story Worldwide, we articulated a core narrative with “pillars” or key principles, including a sense of stewardship to the legacy of Andrew Carnegie, a focus on expert knowledge, a “selfless” emphasis on program grantees and their work, and a commitment to serving as a convener of grantees in like areas of knowledge, and of knowledge-based communities. These organizational principles were central to how design firm Blenderbox went on to imagine and develop the website layout and user experience.
At the same time, we conducted surveys and interviews with multiple stakeholders and audiences about the old site. As Chris Cardona of the Ford Foundation has written on the Glasspockets blog, we have to be open to failure, and be willing to look at what works and what doesn’t. Also important, as emphasized in Glasspockets’ transparency indicators, is sharing the results.
What wasn’t working? People said they did not have a clear sense of our program areas. With information and stories ranging from international peace and security to voting rights to standards in K-16 education all “mixed together,” they found it difficult to delve into their areas of interest. Also, grantees wanted to be able to connect with peers, and to learn about each other’s activities.
This is why the new Carnegie.org immediately presents a clear depiction of our core program areas (arranged, in homage to Andrew Carnegie, like library book spines).
Each program folds out into a preview of a mini-site, with separate subdomains or “hubs” for Education…Democracy…International Peace and Security…and Higher Education and Research in Africa.
Enter a program hub, and a simple layout shows the overarching goal of the program and its focus areas (or, in terms of Glasspockets indicators, grantmaking priorities).
Beyond that, each program boasts its own flavor and kinds of content that emphasize those mission pillars—expert knowledge, convening, an emphasis on grantees, and stewardship of our history:
International Peace and Security currently features commentary on this policy question of the day: Should the U.S. cooperate with Russia on Syria and ISIS? Answers are “convened” as a compendium of multiple grantee experts, scholars, and policymakers—a forum bringing together leading worldwide thinkers and opinions.
Education features an interactive, multimedia presentation (we call it a Fable) on STEM education—showcasing our historical work on math and science education, including Carnegie Commission reports that set the framework for today’s Next Generation Science Standards, and visual case studies of grantees like Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.
Democracy’s Fable takes an extensive look at the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Plus, at a time when nearly one in four Americans is not registered to vote, we wanted to convene communities and engage the public with our grantees’ work.
Good digital strategy also employs community, in the form of partnerships. We’re pleased to have worked with TINT to convene live social media compilations, including the feeds of more than 40 partners of National Voter Registration Day. And, a Genius version of the Voting Rights Act allows for annotations by experts at the Brennan Center for Justice and others.
Finally, we at the Corporation are, first and foremost, stewards of Andrew Carnegie’s legacy. Nearly 10 percent of visitors to our old site came for biographical information about him. To meet their needs more fully and to meet our mission, our Andrew Carnegie Fable includes embeddable elements key for students preparing multimedia presentations, with timelines, quotations, audio and film of Carnegie, infographics on his wealth, and connections to our family of 26 Carnegie institutions worldwide.
This is just the beginning. We’ll soon unveil features allowing program officers to share their experiences, video forums, and more. It all comes down to glass pockets—using information and the presentation of information to openly share how we meet our mission responsibilities of serving as convener and champion of expert knowledge and change-making grantees. Carnegie.org aims to clearly present our intent, our priorities, and our work, and most of all to be a living—and evolving—expression of our mission to advance and diffuse knowledge and understanding.