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Hello, World Canada

Hello! CDS is just over one year old, and having had the honor honour of serving with this team for six months now, I’m well overdue to write a few words here.

Let me start with this: I wake up every day excited about what we do and what lies ahead.

The Treasury Board Submission (what’s that?) leading to our creation in 2017 was titled, “Establish the Canadian Digital Service (CDS) to change the way the federal government designs and delivers digital services.” CDS committed to partnering with departments and agencies to deliver digital services; helping build the Government of Canada’s internal capacity for delivering digital services; and advising departments about digital design, delivery, investments, standards, and toolkits.

We believe Canada deserves a modern approach to service design and delivery that reduces the risk of product failure, lowers costs, ensures user privacy and system security, and, above all, improves people’s lives by putting their needs and concerns front and center. Every experience Canadians have with their government should meet or exceed their reasonable modern expectations that digital services be safe, fast, easy, transparent, and accessible.

We believe that the best strategy for change is to help, elevate and empower our government partners to deliver great examples of digital services. By providing examples of how to, in Clerk Wernick’s words, “solve real problems using agile methods and modern technology [by] working with partners to determine the right digital solutions to better serve Canadians,” we “help replicate innovations that work across federal organizations.”

We also believe that exemplars are only meaningful and replicable if we work transparently. We want to “show the whole iceberg,” documenting and sharing the methods and practices we apply, the designs and code we create with our partners, data generated by the services we help deliver, and ongoing, blameless, success-oriented retrospective assessments of our outcomes and our work. Transparency at its best creates reusable templates for success and earns the trust of both our partners and the public. We believe transparency is both a prerequisite and catalyst for the culture change for which both Auditor General Ferguson and the Clerk recently advocated.

Moreover, we believe this approach reflects the Government of Canada’s expectations for all public servants. Canada’s Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector expects of us Respect for Democracy, Respect for People, Integrity, Stewardship, and Excellence. We believe all five of these core values are reflected in an approach to digital services that respects and empowers users, saves taxpayer dollars by delivering more for less, works in the open, and, in the Clerk’s words, embodies “challenging the conventional ways of doing things and embracing change.”

Our team met earlier this year to review and discuss this mission and the values we aspire to cultivate as a digital services team in government, and to coalesce around a set of objectives.

What the team had to say was both clear-eyed and inspirational. They agreed that we should always expect ourselves and each other to:

  • Build trust through delivery
  • Build trust through respect, openness, and inclusivity
  • Approach everyone, and every task, with humility
  • Be bold
  • Do what has impact
  • Do what is difficult
  • Empower each other
  • Work autonomously
  • Maintain clarity of purpose
  • Maintain relentless optimism
  • Continuously learn and improve

And the team agreed that we would:

  • Put early, continuous delivery first
  • Conduct blameless retrospectives on all that we do
  • Show the Whole Iceberg”: document our work, our tools, and our outcomes
  • Meaningfully measure our impact
  • Demonstrate respect for time and money
  • Build capacity by finding (or making) the best tools for our work
  • Build capacity by understanding and, when necessary, challenging conventions
  • Practice service-oriented design, and encourage organizations to align for services
  • Mind the Plumbing
  • Be helpers, not interlopers
  • Recruit and retain the best digital talent Canada has to offer
  • Recognize, partner with and empower the Government of Canada’s already-considerable digital champions

Finally, we set some audacious “stretch” objectives for our still-nascent (50+ and counting) team this year: to continuously improve several aspects of our digital delivery capabilities; to deliver a high-impact, transactional, end-to-end service exemplar with a partner; to deliver three more successful product beta exemplars, two of which serve vulnerable populations; and to help five more department or agency partners with service delivery, capacity building and/or digital acquisitions.

We invite you to follow along with us. We know it won’t always be an easy journey, but we know it’s going to be worthwhile. And if you’re up to the challenge, come join us!