Story: Te Ara – a history

Page 3. Planning the encyclopedia: process, look and feel

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Advisory committees

General editor Jock Phillips decided that the encyclopedia should be supported by three advisory committees.

  • A general committee was set up to advise the general editor and the minister for culture and heritage on the strategic direction, content and approach of the encyclopedia. The chair, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, was appointed by the minister. The other members were chosen by the general editor to represent a range of scholarly disciplines, geographical locations and interests. There was also a representative of the Ministry of Education (Murray Brown) and the chairs of the two other committees.
  • Te Ara Wānanga was intended to obtain Māori input into the project. Careful work went into ensuring good representation from iwi around the country. Ranginui Walker chaired the committee.
  • The Pātaka committee was designed to provide input into the use of resources (images, videos, audio and the like). It included representatives of the major repositories (such as libraries, archives and museums) and was chaired by Allison Dobbie, general manager of Auckland Public Libraries.

Internal management team

Following Phillips’s appointment as general editor, Ross Somerville was appointed as production manager to plan the technology and editing principles of the encyclopedia. In addition Claudia Orange, Nancy Swarbrick and Shirley Williams, who had worked on the Dictionary of New Zealand biography (DNZB), were co-opted into the project as regional editor, managing editor (in charge of the writing team) and manager of resources respectively. With the assistance of the Māori committee, Rangi McGarvey was appointed editor Māori. This group of six met regularly to plan:

  • the nature of links to the DNZB website
  • the criteria for the print and web further sources in each entry
  • the number and definition of the regions in the Places theme
  • the workflow for an entry
  • a guide for contributors.

Phillips was overall Reference Group manager until September 2011, when he was succeeded by Janine Faulknor (but remained senior editor).

Appointments of staff

There was one further task to do before Te Ara began in earnest: appoint a team to build the site. This was an exhaustive and exhausting process. Advertising was supplemented with approaches to particular communities – to attract a good designer the team visited the Whanganui School of Design; for people to help research images and other resources, they wrote to museums throughout the country; and university departments were approached for writers. The response was heartening – over 250 people applied to be writers.

Then came the choosing of the people. Every shortlisted applicant for every position was given a realistic test – writers had to prepare a draft entry, resourcers were given a page of text and asked to find appropriate supporting material and editors were given pieces to edit. This gave the team confidence that they had capable people – and so it proved. The success of Te Ara has been utterly dependent upon staff who believed passionately in the project, had high standards and worked extraordinarily well together.


Before the provision of design and technology for the encyclopedia went out to RFP (request for proposal), some background work had to be completed. There were two important stages.

  • At an all-day workshop in November 2002 the management team of the encyclopedia worked with Kim Wicksteed to develop a brand identity. It was suggested that a short Māori name for the encyclopedia would be appropriate.
  • At the second hui of the Māori committee in December 2002 various short names were discussed. Eventually there was a consensus on Te Ara (the pathway).

Design and technology

In November 2002 registrations of interest were requested for hosting the site, a content management system and web design. There were 22 responses; five were shortlisted. They were given a request for tender (RFT) document, and asked to prepare a prototype. Preparation of the RFT document was an exhaustive exercise, requiring every step in the process to be spelled out, along with the exact nature of an entry. As a result of the exercise Shift were chosen as designers, working with Optimation as technology partners. A contract was signed by the prime minister on 14 May 2003.

Look and feel

The contract included further brand work by Designworks, who subsequently produced the distinctive Te Ara logo, plus a strapline, ‘What’s the story?’ Shift then built on the work of Designworks to develop mood boards expressing the look and feel of the site.

How to cite this page:

the Te Ara team, 'Te Ara – a history - Planning the encyclopedia: process, look and feel', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 May 2022)