Greenpeace takes open-source approach to finish web transformation

Non-profit environmental group Greenpeace is collaborating with Red Hat to finish the delivery of its global web redesign

Greenpeace is working with open source software firm Red Hat to scale and revamp its grassroots engagement platform, Planet 4.

The project marks a complete re-design of Greenpeace.org’s backend content management systems (CMS), which are now designed to put content on the web and provide a vehicle for driving grassroots environmental action.

“The vision is to help people take action on behalf of the planet,” said Laura Hilliger, a concept architect at Greenpeace who is a leading member of the Planet 4 project. “We want to provide a space that helps people understand how our ecological endeavours are successful, and to show that Greenpeace’s work is successful because of people working collectively.”

She met Red Hat representatives after work was already underway on the project in May 2018, which culminated in consultants, technical architects and designers from the company coming in to do a “design sprint” with Greenpeace exactly a year later.

This helped Red Hat better understand Planet 4 users and how they interact with the platform, as well as the challenges of integration and effectively visualising data.

Hilliger said variations in the tech stacks deployed across Greenpeace’s 27 national and regional offices, on top of its 50-plus websites and platforms, had created a complex data landscape that made integrations difficult. This disparity similarly presented issues with scaling the platform to a global level.

“We have a complicated data landscape, with different offices in different countries using different processes and tools, and the concept of Planet 4 is to actually use data to show the public how we’re winning campaigns and start visualising where we are with a particular campaign,” she said.

“One of the things the design sprint helped with was allowing the Greenpeace team to see some options for the technical architecture around integrations themselves, such as how we can do integrations in a way where we can easily switch out a third-party platform.”

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So far, the project has resulted in 83% of Greenpeace's domains already being transferred to Planet 4.

Hilliger has been involved in the open source community for a number of years, and said that when she joined Greenpeace in 2015, it was already working on a strategy to make the organisation more transparent and guide it away from being a “traditionally secretive” non-profit organisation.

“To deal with some of the global environmental problems that we’re looking at in this day and age, we have to be more adaptable, more flexible and bring more people into the work,” she said.

“I think that for an organisation like Greenpeace, turning to the open source community, and helping it understand how their skills can address other kinds of global issues and key problems, is beneficial both for the non-profit world, which has limited resources, as well as the open community, which is eager to use its skills and competencies to do something good.”

Number of employees

Since it started, Planet 4 has had few full time employees. Although there have been times where up to 12 people have been working on the project, the majority of contribution has been part time between other Greenpeace initiatives

According to Matt Browner-Hamlin, head of engagement strategy and planning at Greenpeace, taking an open-source approach also helped the organisation overcome its resource limitations.

“We’re often working with limited resources, especially when it comes to technical capability,” he said. “After collaborating with Red Hat, we’re better positioned to realise the vision of Planet 4 as a powerful engagement platform.

“Taking an open-source approach has helped us by enabling our large, diverse teams of people to work collaboratively on the same platform. With Red Hat’s help, Planet 4 could push the boundaries of what’s possible in technology.”

Hilliger said the collaboration with Red Hat is still “at the beginning”, with the two organisations continuing to work together on ways of further bringing the environmental community closer to Greenpeace’s work. 

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