WHISPers Gateway’s Look and Feel Redefined After SGCI Usability and Developer Support Consultations

"All our goals were met, and we were impressed by the developer’s wide range of capabilities. It was an added bonus that he was easy to collaborate with because all the work was well-documented and organized.”

Dr. Kim Miller
Wildlife Disease Specialist, USGS

By Nayiri Mullinix 

At SGCI, we understand the pain points of gateway developers, so when we designed our consulting services, we did so in a way that would allow one consultation to seamlessly feed into another. Our recent engagement with the Informatics Team at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center regarding the Wildlife Health Information Sharing Partnership event reporting system (WHISPers) project presents a great example of how this works. 

WHISPers is a partner-driven, web-based gateway for sharing basic information about historic and ongoing wildlife mortality and morbidity events. The Informatics Team came to SGCI for support after collecting user feedback that indicated the need for a more user-friendly interface. Having set their minds on improving and growing WHISPers, the project team began with a usability consultation. 

The usability consultants compiled a report with specific recommendations on how the platform could be improved. For example, they suggested making it clear how users can sign up to use the gateway, as well as bringing the search options onto the main page instead of only being available via a popup window. Once the usability consultants had reviewed these and other issues with the project team, an SGCI developer was able to implement the changes. Reflecting on this experience, Dr. Kim Miller, a Wildlife Disease Specialist at USGS, said, “The user experience review of WHISPers was invaluable in helping us redefine the gateway's look and feel. The feedback not only drove the developer support but will be instrumental in shaping requirements for future UI/UX development efforts.”

Knowing that there would be additional changes and improvements in the future, the SGCI developer set up the environment in a way that allows the WHISPers team to make the future necessary bug fixes and other maintenance code changes themselves. Neil Baertlein, Technical Information Specialist at USGS, sees this as an asset, saying, “We had a great experience with the SGCI developer who worked on our project. All our goals were met, and we were impressed by the developer’s wide range of capabilities. It was an added bonus that he was easy to collaborate with because all the work was well-documented and organized.” Miller added, “Our developer documented his work and went "above and beyond'' to include coding that will make future development more efficient.”

The SGCI developer, Marcus Christie of the Pervasive Technology Institute at Indiana University, said, “The usability consultation informed and focused the development work. For me, as a developer, having the User Interface (UI) mockups and narrative explanations of the recommendations from the SGCI usability experts made it much easier to implement the UI changes. I learned a great deal from the WHISPers team about the main purpose of the WHISPers application and what their users expect out of the application. While most of the development work came out of the usability consultation, the WHISPers team had also gathered user feedback and we were able to make some additional usability improvements that came from this feedback. In our regular meetings, the WHISPers team was very helpful in answering my questions and helping me to navigate different implementation choices, which made for a productive collaboration.”

Over the course of the engagement, the WHISPers project team learned about other learning opportunities from SGCI. “In addition to taking advantage of the user experience review and developer support, our Informatics Team also participated in the June 2020 virtual Jumpstart Your Sustainability Plan mini-course. We could not be more pleased with all of our experiences with the SGCI, and we hope there are opportunities for future collaboration,“ said Miller.