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Civic leave: embedding private-sector talent in government tech

It takes a variety of skilled people to create and deliver quality government digital services. Here at CDS, we use multi-disciplinary teams to build simple and effective services for Canadians. This requires a team with diverse skills and backgrounds and expertise from different sectors or even countries.

While there are many dedicated public servants committed to delivering and improving services in the Canadian government, there are also people in the private sector who want to lend their expertise to what we’re building at CDS. Pivoting into a career in the public service isn’t the only way to do that.

Civic Leave is one way for companies and their employees to contribute to government service delivery. We’ve based our approach on the model of civic leave piloted in the U.S., where Microsoft and Google employees had the opportunity to do a tour of service with the United States Digital Service or 18F. Civic Leave is an opportunity for a private sector employee to share their expertise by taking a tour of service with the public sector or civil society.

The program benefits the employee, the partner organization, and the government. Partner employees get to jump into a new environment, learn new skills, and gain experience while giving back and sharing their craft with the public. At the end of these assignments, employees return to their organizations with new skills, a better understanding of how to work with the public sector, and a new appreciation for public service and their own organizations.

This is what’s powerful about the Civic Leave program. It gives talent from the private sector an opportunity to positively impact the lives of their fellow citizens in a way that many find deeply rewarding. Interacting with the government is often mandatory, but they can help that experience be great.

Here at CDS, we piloted our Civic Leave program with a senior data engineer at Shopify in January of 2018. The Shopify staffer worked on a CDS delivery team for 3 months, gaining insight on how to deliver digital products within a government environment, learning more about implementing bilingualism, accessibility, and other aspects of inclusive services in a government context, and having an opportunity to shape how government delivers digital services beyond his time with CDS. Recently, a software developer from Google has joined us for a tour in our Kitchener-Waterloo office.

The Civic leave program is an opportunity to get tech workers into government to see what the public service is really like, how to build digital government that serves all citizens, and to challenge some of the assumptions that may be out there.

You don’t have to be a life-long public servant to make a real impact on the lives of Canadians. If you want to lend your digital skills in a Civic Leave tour of service at CDS, get in touch. Companies are welcome to approach us directly, too. If you’re looking to work with CDS and take advantage of all the benefits civic leave offers your employees, please let us know.