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Our partnership with Code for Canada

This past fall, we brought on one of the first two cohorts of Code for Canada (C4C) fellows, the other joining our colleagues in the Government of Ontario. This post outlines how to make the most out of a potential partnership!

Code for Canada, a primer

Code for Canada (C4C) is a national non-profit that connects government innovators with the tech and design community, with three main program areas: a fellowship program, a community network that supports the growth and formation of civic tech groups across Canada, and a suite of education and training workshops.

How the fellowship works

The fellowship program brings together seasoned digital professionals who are passionate about making an impact and embeds them into government. Fellows work shoulder-to-shoulder with government partners over 10 months to deliver a digital product, exchanging knowledge and expertise in digital methods along the way.

At the start of the fellowship, Code for Canada runs onboarding training for both fellows and government teams in Toronto. It’s intended to familiarize the fellows with how government works, have them meet their partners, and work on mini-product sprints to help them hit the ground running.

Each team of fellows is made up of three experts: a developer, a user experience designer and a product manager. At CDS, the fellows are working with our partners at Veterans Affairs Canada to make it easier for Veterans to determine what benefits they may be eligible for. Given how we begin all of our products with a significant discovery phase, we paired the C4C fellows, Leon, Raluca and Dan, with one of our design researchers, Mithula, from the start.

The total cost is $450,000, which includes the three fellows’ salaries and benefits, onboarding training, coaching throughout the program, and showcase events. This amount accounts for approximate travel costs for core product partners to attend onboarding and the final showcase in Toronto.

How we brought the fellows on board

We used the Government of Canada’s interchange program as the mechanism to bring the fellows in, whereby the fellows remain employees of C4C and are then “transferred” to CDS. Using interchange works well to onboard external talent for a tour of duty.

We did, however, require an exemption to the Directive on Interchange, which requires participants to have worked for their employer for six months prior to the transfer. We collaborated with colleagues from the Chief Information Officer and Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer branches here at Treasury Board Secretariat to secure this exemption for federal departments wishing to work with C4C. This was recently communicated to federal Chief Information Officers (CIOs) by our Government of Canada CIO, Alex Benay.

Building a successful partnership

So how do you make the most of the partnership? Here are the keys from our perspective:

  • Do you have the right project?

    • The fellows need to be involved from the start of a project, to be able to do their own research and fully understand the problem trying to be solved. Bringing them in to develop an IT solution that’s predefined probably isn’t the right fit.
  • Are you ready to have them join?
    • The nine-month placement will go by quickly, which means you’ll need to ensure they can hit the ground running. Clearing the path in advance and having the right tools in place is essential.
  • Will you be able to surround them with similar talent and an agile environment?
    • You’ll need to ensure there are colleagues available to complement their skillsets, and to help them navigate the environment. The length of the fellowship also means decisions required during projects will need to be made relatively quickly.
  • Does the fellowship model work for you?

    • Make sure you’ve identified the staffing mechanism you’ll use to bring the fellows on board, keeping in mind it’s a three-person package.

Working with C4C has been an exciting opportunity as we share common goals of building better public services and improving digital capacity across government! Participating in the fellowship program is a great opportunity to strengthen the multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving in your organization. Dan, Raluca and Leon have each brought unique expertise and perspectives to CDS that are integral to designing and delivering user-centered services!

Get in touch with us or with C4C to learn more about our experience or how you can get involved!