James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy Rice University

Case Study about James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy website development. This institute is one of the leading non-partisan public policy think tanks in the USA. They do important research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy.

James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy

Incepted in 1993, James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy has established itself as one of the leading nonpartisan public policy think tanks in the country. Baker Institute has a strong track record of achievement based on the work of Rice University faculty and the institute's endowed fellows and scholars. They do important research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute also collaborates with experts from academia, government, the media, business, and non-governmental and private organizations.

Located in Houston, Texas, the Baker Institute brings a unique perspective to some of the most important public policy challenges of our time. In conjunction with its more than 20 programs—including its research, speaking series, events, and special projects—the institute attracts many domestic and foreign leaders who provide their views and insights on key issues.

Business Challenge

James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy needed to have a strong multi-featured website that would represent their work, include lots of content and have rich site users management. Originally based upon ColdFusion system, new Baker Institute website was chosen to be powered by Plone. The future site was expected to include several independent subsites, complicated content inter-relations, and quite a lot of  site members. All development process was carried out by Quintagroup in collaboration with Dragon Hill Data Management.

Project Outline

Old Baker Institute website contained hundreds of pages and site's visibility by search engines was rather high, so there was a challenge ahead of Quintagroup not only to create a new and more powerful Baker Institute website, but to keep its Google weight as well. Plone 3.2.2 was used.

Content Migration

Due to the fact that old BI website included many interlinked pages, the challenge ahead of our developers was to create such a migration method that will keep the connections between the content valid. Quintagroup successfully coped with the task, and we managed to complete migration keeping the references between site pages and images.

First of all, Quintagroup developed a custom tool that made it possible to grab all the content (including images) from the old website. Then the content was arranged in such a way that a structure of a new Plone-based site was generated. Content migration was achieved by three specially developed Plone Products, with which Quintagroup managed to:

  • bundle all products for Baker Institute site (biBundle product);
  • filter the necessary content for transfer from old site to a new site, and prepare it for migration to Plone (biCFMPrepare product);
  • import content from the initial base to Plone CMS (biCSVImport product).

Front Page

Baker Institute front page consists of several blocks of information, all linked to the corresponding site sections. This page includes a flash, several listings, some featured topics displayed with images and descriptions, random image to rotate after every page refresh, search box and a clear two-level navigation. All the fields are supposed to be easily edited separately from all other front page sections. So, the page was planned to include differently-structured and separately-edited information.

The decision made was to develop an advanced composite page, that will consist of the number of blocks of information, each possessing a separate menu for editing.

All front page sections were gathered together with the help of CompositePack product into a Composite Page. When CompositePack product was installed to the site, a special tab design appeared in the taskbar. When this tab is selected, all the page sections are separated by add itemmenus. Each section can be edited separately, each possessing a special green edit item drop-down menu, which makes possible one column edit.

Baker Institute composite page has the following specific features:

  • Portlets inserted as parts of composite page (Navigation, Upcoming Events, Our New Research)
  • Two-level navigation menu generated with qPloneDropDownMenu product.
  • Flash content added (Institute Events & News)
  • 'Random photo' portlet
  • 'Featured topics on the web' - a section of front composite page that includes composite page by itself.

Users Management

Baker Institute personnel is subdivided into several categories - called departments: Honorary Chair, Institute director, Fellows & Scholars etc. Each department includes one or several members, i.e. every Baker Institute employee (member) belongs to a certain department. There is a person in each department, called manager, who is responsible for managing the department and all its members.

Such a personnel structure required development of special tool, that allows to handle Baker Institute members. So, biMember Plone product was introduced. This product is based on b-org Plone product, extended with some appropriate fields. It allows to create two content types: department and members of department. Members can exist only within department, there is no possibility to add a member anywhere on the site, only into a department.

  • department - is a group of people (members). Manager of a department can be selected from the list of existing site members on edit department page. Department manager has a right to add members to the department and remove them. A role can be set to all employees in a department. When a certain role is selected, all the department's members will have it, unless another role is selected for a particular member.
  • members - people in the department. Member's page contains his/her personal information, contact details, position and role, a list of publications, portrait and biography.

All the departments are collected now in PERSONNEL folder. Members can be added to the existing departments or new department can be added for new members.

It is important to differentiate between a 'member' of a department as a content type and 'member' role in a default Plone. Member of department can have any of the following roles on Baker Institute site: member, reviewer, manager etc., while member in default Plone implies just member role.

Content types

Baker Institute website consists of the following sections: regions, opinions/what we're thinking (wwt), programs, press releases, video/webcasts, news, publications, events. All these sections consist of number of items, that are all new content types, different form the default Plone ones. To accomplish the migration of Baker Institute content into Plone CMS Quintagroup developed biContent Plone product, that includes several new types of content. These new content types made possible to render the existing content into Plone CMS. They were developed on the basis of default Plone content types, with some new features implemented.

All the website sections are displayed in different ways, that is why special views were developed for displaying the content on them correctly in a desired manner. Several listings were also developed to display lists of webcasts, events, publications etc.

biContent product includes the following new content types for Baker Institute website:

  • region - every region page includes a list of programs, publications, and events, associated with this region. Such region_view was developed specially to display content pieces that are associated with a certain region. region - is based on topic (smartfolder) content type, it gathers information from the whole site and displays all the items that are associated with a region. New features implemented here are the following:
    • Search results can be limited to certain Number of Items;
    • Tabular rdisplay can be chosen - columns in the table will be controlled by Table Columns area, (select which fields to display).
  • wwt (what we are thinking) - opinion pieces written by researchers, fellows or scholars. All the wwt are placed in the OPINIONS folder. wwt_listing view developed for this folder to display opinions list, where items are ordered by the date and author's name with some professional information are provided. wwt - is based on page content type. New strings here are the following:
    • publication date, external links fields added
    • transcript, opinion piece, FAQ , authors - can be browsed from site.
  • program - every program displays a list of items, associated with it. Special program_view was developed to display programs.
    program - is based on topic (smartfolder) content type, it displays events and publications (titles, authors and date) gathered form the whole site that were associated with this program. 
    Apart from gathered information, program content type has new strings:
    • program description, sponsors, key people - can be added from external resources.
    • key people refs, relation regions - can be selected by browsing on site.
  • Press releases are gathered in BAKER INSTITUTE PRESS RELEASES folder. press_release_listing was developed for press releases list display, they are ordered by the month, and the date.
    press release - developed on the basis of link content type, the possibility to select publication date was added.
  • webcast - video units, gathered in the BAKER INSTITUTE WEBCASTS folder. When you get to the WEBCASTS folder you will see a list of webcasts ordered by the date. Special webcast_listing was developed for reverse chronological webcasts list generation. webcast - is based on link content type. Webcast event date and events fields were added to this content type.
  • publication - when you get to PUBLICATIONS home page, you will see a list of publications, ordered by month. Special publication_listing was developed for this folder, where the author and publication date are indicated apart from publication title and description.
    publication - based on file content type. New strings in this content type are:
    • external publication link and publication date - can be inserted;
    • programs, regions, author refs, publication in parts - can be browsed and their order is changeable;
    • authors - fullname and external URL can be added.
  • Events are all listed on the EVENTS home page in a reverse chronological order. To make such a display possible, a special event_listing view was developed to display Baker Institute list of events, ordered by the month, and date. Events were created as biEvent content types, developed on the basis of Plone default content type event with new strings implemented:
    • type - all BI events can be categorized according to one of the following criteria - type of event: 1) Civic Scientific Lecture Series, 2) Conferences, Workshops, & Panels, 3) ConocoPhillips Excellence in Leadership Energy Lecture Series, 4) Roundtable, 5) Scholars & Students, 6) Statesmen & Distinguished Speakers, and 7) The Shell Distinguished Lecture Series.
    • access type - defines who and in what way can attend an event. Baker Institute events have one of the following type of access: Public, Public/PSVP, Public/PSVP Subscription Closed, By invitation, and By invitation/RSVP. RSVP stands for 'Resource reSerVation Protocol', meaning that initial online subscription is required. In case one of the access types containing PSVP is selected for a certain event, there will be a link to subscription form on that event page.
    • capacity status - shows whether event can still be attended or it is not available any more. It also shows whether there are vacant places for people to attend: Space available, Wait list only, Event  closed, Event postponed, and Event canceled.
    • key people - displays key people, who attend or organize an event. This field can contain links to external objects.
    • key people refs, programs, regions, publications - additional information about the event and its key people. All these can be browsed through site and inserted here. Their order can be changed.
    Baker Institute site supports event subscription - certain biEvents include link to EVENT ACCESS (works only for future events), and depends on event access type (works with those containing 'RSVP') and capacity status (works with 'space available'. In case an event supports subscription, there will be a link RSVP here (in Event Access field) that leads to the corresponding event Online registration form. To attend Baker Institute event a user should fill in this online form, and Event subscription Notification (containing reservation ID) will be sent to his email address. That message should be printed out and brought to the event. All information about the event subscribers is saved for every biEvent. biEvents have Subscribers tab, that include some information (name, email, phone etc.) in the form of a table. This information includes data, that user provided while registering for the biEvent online. All subscribers information can be exported into .csv file by clicking on Export button. As a result you will get a full list with all information in a  .csv format.

BIPP website includes RSS feed links to the corresponding site sections at the bottom area. Every section has a RSS feed based on smartfolder that gather all certain content  types from the whole site.

Subsite Theming

Baker Institute website contains two subsites titled The Americas Project and Energy Forum. These are examples of BI programs, but developed as independent subsites. They have their own designs and functions developed, different from the root Baker Institute's. In contrast to other programs that are documents with key people, program description, associated publications, and associated events fields added as reference fields, The Americas Project and Energy Forum subsites have their own navigation, and contain number of documents and subfolders.


1. Roles

Baker Institute members can have different permissions on site. Some of them can add, edit or delete content, some of them have access to the whole site, while the other have limited access. All the possible member actions are controlled by the role a member has. So, members of the Baker Institute website can have one of the following roles: usual Plone - member, reviewer, manager, and new ones - OrderManager, PortalManager, and boss.

  • Member - has a login to the website, has access to only part of the site - his/her personal member page, and his/her own folder, where a member can create new content. All the content created by member has private_member_work state, and can be submitted for approval - then it gets pending state.
  • Reviewer - has more permissions than a member but less than a manager. Reviewers have access to the content with pending workflow status, can edit, review, and submit content for the final review, then it gets final_review state. If not approved, the content will be rejected to a member for further revision.
  • Manager - can change the member’s personal or group folder configuration or alter a member’s user account. A manager can move the content throughout the site, edit, delete it. Manager can not review the content unless a manager possesses reviewer role.
  • Boss - has all the possible privileges on the site. Only boss can publish the content so that it gets published status.
  • OrderManager -  can view and manage GetPaid product configuration, that is used for Authorize.net account setup and order management.
  • RolesManager - has access to site security, i.e can manage departments and members, set roles and permissions.

If compared with default Plone roles, Baker Institute manager has less rights than default Plone manager, while BI boss is as powerful as default Plone manager.

2. Workflow States

Content on the Baker Institute site goes through four publishing states before becoming visible to the visitors:

  • private_member_work - private content can only be viewed by a logged-in user, it cannot be found by search or be accessed even with a direct link. Private content can be submitted for approval - then it gets pending state.
  • pending - content that was submitted for approval: it goes into a holding bin before reaching a published state, and then goes up to someone with a reviewer role to accept or decline the content.
  • final_review - content that was approved by the reviewer gets this state. Then it goes to be published by boss.
  • published - content is reachable by all site visitors. When content is published it can be found through the search and a direct link, or become part of your site navigation. It is the most visible state that content can be in.


Quintagroup prepared and realized migration of Baker Institute website from ColdFusion-based system into Plone CMS. It was a complicated development process with much attention paid to saving site's search engine visibility. As a result, all the old Baker Institute website content migrated to Plone. Quintagroup managed to keep old site URLs alive, i.e. new pages' URLs either remained identical to old URLs or the corresponding redirects were activated to keep all the old site page URLs active. Migration process consisted of several stages, that resulted in building a sophisticated and powerful Plone-based site. We developed many custom content types with rich functionalities and views. Highly-complicated workflow and user management process was implemented.

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