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Why Canada needs a Digital Service

For months, I’ve been working behind the scenes to stand up the Canadian Digital Service. Through this process, I’ve done a lot of thinking about why Canada needs a digital service organization and the potential it has to change how we design government services.

I want to make a difference in how we think about service delivery. I’ve been in government for over a decade and have been lucky to have a front row seat for some of the Government’s major reforms. I’ve seen what works, and what doesn’t.

Too often, we try to solve wicked problems, with detailed business cases, multiple gates, loads of oversight and long term contracts. Even though we talk about course correcting along the way, we just can’t. The system isn’t designed for it.

We get locked into drawn out, inflexible processes that inevitably result in solutions that are out of date by the time they are launched. At the same time, we’re reluctant to produce minimum viable products that are less than perfect. And, we talk about experimentation; we talk about ‘failing fast’. I think we need to accept iteration as part of the process and redefine what we consider ‘failing’.

That’s why we created CDS. We need a digital team that can demonstrate the art of the possible. A team that can get a working prototype into people’s hands quickly to see how it works and improve it based on user feedback. We need to put real people’s needs at the centre of how we design government services.  

They say that the only way to make history is to do so carefully. Canada being relatively late in the game allows us to work with and learn from folks like Mike Bracken and Olivia Neal from the U.K.’s Government Digital Service, Lena Trudeau from the U.S.’s 18F, and many others.

I’m so excited to help shape a made-in-Canada approach to digital service delivery – one with collaboration at its roots that demonstrates what can be achieved by learning by doing, and putting people first.