The Challenge

Timaru District Council is located in South Canterbury on the east coast of New Zealand's South Island, with a population of 42,867. Though small, like any local government organisation, Timaru is required to provide a useful, usable and standards-compliant web presence to meet the digital needs of their ratepayers. The challenge for Timaru, being small, is to accomplish that with far less resource and budget than other much larger councils. Timaru really needed a platform that would deliver maximum bang for their buck and to partner with an agency who know how to work smarter.

When they came to us, Timaru's website was dated in its design, underpowered in its functionality and alarmingly exposed, sitting on a version of Joomla afflicted with some serious security holes.

They aspired to standardise their web environment, modernise their design, deliver accessible, useful and usable content/functionality and become a centralised shared service platform for their community and surrounding area.

Underpinning these aspirations was a desire to increase community engagement, work smarter and collaborate with other council and community organisations. Squiz NZ were initially engaged to deliver the following services:

  • User Experience
  • Responsive design
  • Development

After a security breach on Timaru's Joomla platform, Squiz were then asked to design and build a reusable sub site template, that could be used for Timaru District Library, South Canterbury Museum and any further sub sites.

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The Solution

An agile approach

Using Squiz Agile, our adaptation of Scrum, we were able to resolve Timaru's challenges in the following ways:

  • UX research combined with analytics data gathered from Timaru's existing websites lead to actionable insights and evidence-backed solution design.
  • Flexible, collaborative and transparent development processes kept the project team involved at every point allowing for informed decisions to be made through the project.
  • 'Constantly delivering' allowed credibility to build and trust to form between both teams.
  • 'Constantly showing' features/functionality as they evolved allowed the client's familiarity with the build and appreciation of the possibilities to grow with the project.
  • Putting their very capable developer through Matrix training early, allowed him to share the development workload, accelerating the build and extending what could be achieved within the project.

Putting the user experience first

Our UX team employed various methodologies such as online surveys, reverse card sorting and first-click testing to include the community in the project. That way, we could ensure that residents were involved in building a site that was intuitive and useful to them. Additionally, the website has been designed to be accessible and meet NZ eGoverment standards to ensure content is accessible for all.

Building a modern, responsive site

A 'Flat UI' design aesthetic was followed in redesigning the site and effort put into leveraging CSS3 transitions and animations to enhance the user experience. The site is responsive and robust on all devices. Particular effort was put into a mobile menu that lets you drill up and down through the structure of the site.

Complete integration with Matrix

Using JavaScript Rest Resources, Squiz Matrix CMS is able to query an intermediary API (created by TDC) which pulls data from Timaru's internal regulatory application and returns a JSON object. This is then used to markup the HTML to display the information. This integration empowers residents to make payments online for things such as rates, parking tickets and dog registration.

Integration also powers the MyTDC online accounts that ratepayers can sign up for, allowing them to view all their council-related information such as properties-owned, dogs registered and any applications being processed.

Record searches made simple

Using the integration approach outlined above, we make it easy for users to search and view important documents such as cemetery records, property and rates records and application records. Cemetery, district plan, facilities and property web maps are interwoven with the above record searches.

A bucketload of new functionality

To make the experience even better for both the council and their ratepayers, we worked together to build new tools that allow people to apply online for jobs and consultations. There's also a way to search for meeting minutes and agendas, along with a fully-functional meetings calendar.

Shared services

Timaru wanted to share the love by enabling other organisations in their area such as Timaru Port and the adjacent Waimate District Council to host their websites on TDC's Squiz Matrix platform under a shared services model.

The Result

The Timaru District Council's original goal had been "To make the Council's website into a modern, future-proofed website that will encourage our community to interact with the Council through this medium."

We're pleased to say that we achieved that goal and more, with added functionality and integration that delivers a better user experience for local residents. The experience is also better for those at the council, who have more control over their site than ever before. Non-technical users can publish and update content with ease through our simple editing interface, while tech-heads are loving the flexibility of the Matrix back-end.

" has been a real pleasure working with you guys, certainly one of my best experiences with an external company. We feel that the liaison, communication and collaboration has been excellent and a credit to you and how you manage your projects, along with the obviously very skilled people at your end working with us." Mark Low, Timaru District Council Corporate Planning Manager.

But we don't want to take all the credit: great projects are a collaborative effort, requiring both a good vendor and good client. While only a small team Timaru punch well above their weight, constantly surprising us with both their level of skill and extent of their vision.

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