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Unleash talent and four other tips for changing government

After two years building CDS, I wanted to share a few thoughts on what I’ve learned. With our partners, we’re changing how government designs and delivers services, but there’s a long way to go. Here’s how we can get there:

Make doing the right thing the easy thing

For example, if we want to go cloud first, buying cloud needs to be as easy as buying pens. If we want people to work in the open, let’s empower them to tweet. When someone says no, let’s ask why. Let’s try to understand where they’re coming from and find ways to say yes. Sometimes “blockers” are just management practice or interpretation — not policy or legislation.

Understand people’s needs

In our 2016 consultations, we heard it was essential to put user needs at the heart of everything that we do. It’s just as relevant today. There’s no point building somebody a Cadillac when what they really need is a skateboard.

Connect decisions and people

Let’s close the gap between those who make decisions and those who feel the consequences. Seeing a client struggle to use a service can teach us more than months of briefings. Michelle Lattimore, an early partner of CDS’s as the former Director General of Client Experience at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, speaks powerfully about making this type of connection with your users. If you’re responsible for a call centre, spend a morning there listening and learning.

Make culture a priority

Modern service delivery calls for multidisciplinary teams to tackle complex problems. Bringing all these perspectives to the table and working together means that culture needs to be top of mind, all of the time. Let’s be compassionate leaders, create space to hear all voices, and champion the notion of “strong opinions, loosely held.” It’ll go a long way in creating a respectful, healthy work environment.

Unleash talent in new ways

Let’s get creative in how we bring the brightest minds to government. When we recruit, let’s look for skills over credentials and create career paths so that good people stay. Interchange is a powerful mechanism for bringing folks into the public service — don’t be afraid to use it. And not everyone wants to move to Ottawa-Gatineau — find ways to make remote work a great experience. Finally, large requests for proposals (RFPs) can be impenetrable for smaller organizations. Use smaller contracts to help small firms to contribute and allow for more course correction.

Biographical note: Pascale Elvas was a founder and Senior Director at the Canadian Digital Service. In December 2018, she started a new challenge with the Treasury Board Secretariat. She is standing up a secretariat to help 75 departments review their practices for collecting and using sex and gender information — an area in which Canada can be a world leader in inclusive service design. The review will touch on everything from digital (interoperability and identity management), to service delivery (by phone, in person, online), to social policy (what data is really needed and what it is being used for?).