A Case of Global Understanding

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Although a redesign hadn’t been part of the original restructuring plan, Traugott says the two initiatives "dovetailed" nicely and helped shape the association’s strategic plan for 2005–2007. The plan included five separate components: First, fostering increased member engagement with the association; second, developing a more open system for recruiting volunteer leaders and content contributors; third, organizing by skills, competencies, and areas of knowledge to meet international educators’ professional needs; fourth, creating flexible systems for forming committees, task forces, and networks; and fifth, enhancing synergy among members and structures at the regional, national, and international levels.

Soon thereafter, NAFSA officials initiated a request-for-proposal process seeking a service provider that could help them with a total site redesign that would ultimately reflect publicly the changes going on internally. They received responses "in the double digits," Traugott says, and from that group, NAFSA focused on four candidates: American Eagle Group, E-guana (now Isovera), Siteworx, and System Source. "We were looking for a company that understood the user experience and had a strong design background, but we wanted the development side to be strong too," Traugott explains. He says Siteworx emerged as the front-runner because its developers had a design sensibility and, likewise, its designers knew how the architecture of a site works. "There’s a great synergy there that carries over to the client experience."

NAFSA and Siteworx officially partnered on August 13, 2004. In the months that followed, the Siteworx team walked NAFSA personnel through Siteworx’s "six-step methodology" of collaborative site creation: discovery, design, develop, quality assurance, deploy, and review and maintenance. "It’s a contextual approach to presenting and using content," technical manager Eric Stone says of the process, "and it’s designed to help organizations compete." One of their first tasks, he continues, was to create "a blueprint for the site and then design it to spec."

At the heart of the new site is Axiom, an open source technology-based web content management platform that allows for easy storage, search and retrieval, and modification of content—in NAFSA’s case, more than 1,500 pages of it—and integrates with NAFSA’s iMIS database. Siteworx also worked with NAFSA to develop a more modern design, a more intuitive navigation system, indexed search functionality, and professional networks for different specialties based on users’ job disciplines. Organized into five "knowledge communities"—Education Abroad; International Education Leadership; International Student and Scholar Services; Recruitment, Admissions, and Preparation; and Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship—those networks (the basis of the earlier microsites) provide member directories organized by professional specialty, practice resources, discussion forums, document libraries, and other community-based tools that facilitate the transfer of knowledge between NAFSA members. The development and design process also included performance testing by 18 focus groups to ensure that the newly structured site would deliver the resources members were seeking in the ways they wanted to access them.

Since its debut on September 26, 2006, the new www.nafsa.org has flourished. Year-over-year traffic jumped a whopping 257% in 2006 to 1.5 million unique visits. (By comparison, the number of unique visits had fallen 10% between 2004 and 2005.) The number of page views experienced a similar boost, jumping from 1.5 million in 2005 to 5 million in 2006. Industry accolades followed as well: The site won six awards in 2006 alone, including honors for design and general excellence from the Society of National Association Publications (SNAP) and an APEX award of excellence in the Web Design and Illustration category.

The increased attention the site has generated is paying off in other ways too. According to Traugott, "NAFSAns" now consider the site to be one of their most valuable benefits of membership. "It jumped from the bottom of the list to second" in a 2006 follow-up to a 2002 survey, he says, adding, "That’s a sign that the site truly has changed. It’s become something useful and valuable rather than something frustrating and out-of-date."

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