Impresario Work in Progress

IMPRESARIO [im-pruh-sahr-ee-oh, -sair-]:  any manager, director, or the like.

Informatics (my major of choice) is one of those departments that require you to participate in a sort of culminating project called a capstone. We are tasked with identifying a real-world information problem, and setting out to solve it. Solutions to problems a team identifies can range from mobile applications, interactive web sites, pen and paper designs, entire information systems, or security auditing work. That list is only a short sampling. There are quite a few other things Informatics students at the University of Washington (UW) can leverage to solve information based problems.

My group of four decided to tackle a problem involving National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents. These documents are created when a federal government agency decides to undertake a project that could affect the environment. NEPA documents fall into two categories: Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and Environmental Assessments (EA). As is required by law, these documents are produced, but not necessarily produced to a high standard of quality. These documents can be fairly large (50+ pages), and contain information from multiple people. They are often called up in courts when there is a perceived violation, and that is when their true usefulness shows. Our work is the offshoot from the research done by Daniel, a master’s student in the School of Forest Resources (also at UW) which identifies various shortcomings of these documents.

When they are brought into use in a court setting, juries find these documents difficult to read and understand. Many of these documents even lack basic navigation structures such as page numbers, tables of contents, and the like. While there is an official template for creating these documents, there seems to be too few people following it. NEPA documents are known for being labor-intensive and tedious to create and follow through to the end, which includes a Request For Comments (RFC) period, and publishing.

Our goal is to help alleviate some of these problems and pains.

Enter Impresario, a collaborative standards-enforcing, style-guiding document creation web application. Imagine Google Docs, but meaner. Impresario aims to automatically produce many of the navigation elements required to peruse such a long document, while guiding the authors to create more readable content. Stylistic elements are also taken care of automatically to give a document a uniform look regardless of how many collaborators are involved. One selling point of this system is its ability to grant users read/write/modify privileges on a per-section basis. Impresario also facilitates the RFC period by allowing the public to comment on the document at the section level. Publishing to a PDF format allows for the eventual final printing and storage of a document.

Impresario document editor view

Impresario document editor view

Impresario document overview

Impresario document overview

Impresario mydocs view

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One Comment

  1. Christie
    Posted February 17, 2011 at 5:44 PM | Permalink

    Good idea. :) I think the entire government could use a system like this!

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