Durham Region celebrates new website

Photo provided by Melissa Westover

(From left) Sherri Munns, Director of corporate communications, Elise Hawley, Social Media Co-ordinator, Melissa Westover, Social Media Co-ordinator Jennifer Santos, Communications Manager.

The iconic song, “Celebration”  by Kool and The Gang, thunders throughout the Durham Region headquarters, early on a Wednesday morning. Why? Because the regional government has finally launched its new website.

The new Durham.ca was launched Dec. 13, after more than a year of planning and producing.

“The process of developing was no small task,” says Don Beateon, Commissioner of Corporate Services and Durham College alumnus.

The $300,000 project started in August, 2016 with public surveys and focus group meetings. From there, the region teamed up with web designing company eSolutions, the public and all eight area municipalities (Ajax, Brock, Clarington, Oshawa, Pickering, Scugog, Uxbridge and Whitby).

“For us, it was a big step in collaborating with the lower tier municipalities,” says Mark McKnight, Manager of Application and GIS services in the Corporate Services Information Technology (CS-IT) department.

The new website is “service-oriented” and not divided department-by-department as it was before. The website has also changed its language to be more user-friendly, with an example being “waste management” is now “garbage and recycling.”

Beaton says the key elements of the new website are accessibility, flexibility and mobility. There are live news updates and the site is usable on mobile devices and computers. It also has a one-of-a kind interactive map with A-Z services.

“Members of the public can find any service, whether it’s regional or a local-tier service on that map.”

The interactive map was an undertaking that eSolutions President Karen Mayfield says is the first they’ve done at a regional level. The company has done this on a municipal website, but never on one as large as a regional one.

“It doesn’t matter where you are or what (municipal) site you’re on, you can connect to those services,” says Mayfield.

The web content team cut down the original website’s content to about 500 pages, from more than 4,000, according to Beaton. Thousands of PDF documents were also made accessible for the new site.

The website aims to give the public exactly what it is seeking.

“We did a survey and found what they were looking for. They weren’t looking for budget documents. They weren’t looking for financial statements,” says Beaton. “They were looking for ‘what affects me as a member of the community’.”

Carrie Grimley, Business Analyst in the CS-IT department, says the project was “energizing and rewarding.” She emphasizes the importance of the website as a tool for keeping the public informed and engaged.

“Websites are the people part. They make sure everyone is engaged,” says Grimley.

“This has been a transformative experience for us,” says Beaton.