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“Think big, start small”

The UK’s Government Digital Service has a brilliant list of ten design principles. I still remember the first time I saw it. “Start with user needs”, it read, “not government needs.” Oh my goodness, I thought: this is a real UK government website! That’s …amazing!

Last week we officially launched the Canadian Digital Service. It’s really exciting, and kind of nerve-wracking, to actually exist. People have put a lot of trust in our team to get to this point. As someone reading this blog, you’re putting your trust in us too, and we really want to live up to that. We’re here to help build better government services, and to experiment and to try to do things differently. There’s a lot of things we won’t get right the first time, but we hope you’ll let us know when we go off track, and celebrate with us when things work out. It’s going to be a really exciting journey.

Learn from others

Our friends at Code for Canada published a really nice blog post celebrating our launch, and they mentioned the benefit we have by “not being the first”. Like the design principles that GDS published, there’s so many incredible resources that digital teams around the world have shared.  GDS has a phenomenal blog that’s been running for more than five years now.  In the United States, 18F and the USDS both have great blogs, as does Australia’s Digital Transformation Agency.  The Ontario Digital Service’s blog was particularly inspiring as we were laying the groundwork for CDS, since we could learn about their early experiences in real-time.

Open source code developed and shared by these teams is also a great resource - we’re already using 18F’s laptop install tools to set up our development computers more quickly, and we’re seeing what we can re-use and learn from other projects these teams have built.  

Late last year and early this year, our team travelled across Canada to learn from the technology community, academic researchers, provincial and municipal governments, students, and entrepreneurs about their perspectives on digital government. Hearing first-hand from people’s experiences both working with government, and using government services, was a really valuable source of insights and inspiration as CDS was being created. You can read all about what we learned here.

Do good work

At the end of the day, our success depends on us being able to deliver projects that make a difference for people. To start with user needs, as GDS would say, and to build digital solutions that make it easier, faster, and friendlier to use government services. We’ve got a mandate to partner with departments and to build working prototypes of user-centric services, as well as to help build digital capacity and provide advice.

We’ll be sharing more about what our approach to this looks like in the weeks ahead, but we’re really excited about the partner departments that have already reached out to us, and the potential projects in the pipeline.

Stay humble

We’ve all been pretty thrilled about the past week, and to see so many positive reactions to CDS’ launch. The background work to get the team off the ground has been going on for more than a year, and so to finally “be real” is really exciting. I think it’s important for us to remember, though: we’re not the first to do innovative digital work within the Canadian government, not by a long shot. The open-source Web Experience Toolkit made it possible to build accessible and mobile-friendly websites quickly and easily. The GCtools team builds internal collaboration systems for the federal government, and has more than 120,000 users on their open-source GCconnex platform. A whole community of software developers within the public service use an internal Gitlab platform to collaborate and share code.

In pockets throughout the government, individual public servants are doing really inspiring work in software development, design, and data analysis. We’re excited to shine a light on awesome work that others are doing, and to work and learn together.

In the weeks ahead, we’ll be using this blog to share what we’re working on, and what we’re learning as CDS gets off the launchpad. If you have thoughts or feedback, we’d love to hear from you! Please don’t hesitate to get in touch - you can find us on Twitter or reach out to anyone on the team.