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Innovating from the inside out at ESDC

At Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), we’ve really started to embrace the idea of being innovative in how we provide services and information to our clients. What seems to be much harder, at times, is opening our doors internally to new and innovative ways of doing our day-to-day work.

Currently, Service Canada is making concerted efforts to improve the way we serve our clients, which includes a Service Improvement Strategy (SIS) for the Old Age Security (OAS) and Canada Pension Plan (CPP) benefits. A few members of our team on the CPP SIS recently started working with the Canadian Digital Service (CDS) at the Treasury Board Secretariat in an attempt to find some new and innovative solutions to how we deliver CPP Disability benefits to our potential and existing clients. While I have done similar client-centric design sprinting before, this project was different in that we are using more innovative tools internally to come up with the innovative solutions to share externally. Mind blown.

“While I have done similar client-centric design sprinting before, this project was different in that we are using innovative tools more often internally to come up with the innovative solutions to share externally. Mind blown.”

There can be growing pains when adopting new tools and processes, especially in a place like ESDC where we have nearly 25,000 employees across the department. Often, if you need to communicate with someone quickly: Skype. If you need a decision, and formal ‘paper trail’: Email. If you need to share documents: SharePoint. We need consistency in our use of tools, but there is value in exploring new tools that allow us to work in better ways.

But all of a sudden we were thrown into a world of Trello, Slack and FunRetro boards. Very few emails, and not a SharePoint site in view. These tools have allowed for a really interesting way of organizing our work, and an ongoing conversation with the whole team working on this project — a constant feedback loop of questions, documents, and discussions. Missed a day of work? Just scroll up in Slack and find out what was discussed. Can’t remember what task you had prioritized? Look on Trello for the items you are tagged in.

While I had some initial hesitation (and to be honest also frustration and a yearning to resort back to tools I was more used to working with), what I and our team realized was that these tools could be helpful in our day to day lives — and likely, worth the associated growing pains.

Recently, during a team meeting via Webex, I showcased the tools that a few of us on this joint product team have been using back to our larger group at ESDC; going over their basic functionality, and how I thought they could help us on a daily basis to organize our thoughts, our work, and even our conversations.

There was a definite excitement in the room — beyond the flashy appearance, the larger team was encouraged to see a tool that could actually help them work more efficiently, effectively, and collaboratively.

What I think is most exciting is the idea that we don’t always need to find ways to fit a square peg in a round hole. That instead, there are apps and tools available that we can mold to fit our needs more precisely, and are exceptionally adaptable by design. And if innovation in the way we serve our clients is our goal, then wouldn’t it make sense to consider extending that very idea to the way we work internally?