Feds assemble new digital team to improve service offerings

Canadian Digital Service aims to nudge culture of public service IT programs


Ottawa’s largest employer is attempting to replicate the nimble and innovative thinking of a startup by assembling a team of designers, developers, UX researchers and data specialists to develop digital solutions that improve the way the federal government serves Canadians.

Last week, the government officially launched the Canadian Digital Service, a new team that will deliver public-facing digital tools.

The tools may take the form of apps for figuring out how a tax deduction might help you, or where best to apply for a certain program.

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Executive director Anatole Papadopoulos said it’s an approach to creating tools that focuses on the user—in this case, Canadians.

“Our focus is public facing and we’re going to be doing that work with departments,” he said. “It will be putting users first when it comes to understanding their needs.”

That focus means the new service won’t be the panacea to fix big government software problems like the Phoenix payroll program, but Papadopoulos said he hopes it will change cultures right across government in time.

The biggest difference in the new program is that all of the service’s work will be out in the open.

“We will be blogging about our work. We will be on social media talking about our work, the lessons, successes, failures we encounter,” said Papadopoulos.

He said that they hope will not only help other people working in projects in and outside of government, but also bring a new culture to the way projects are done.

“We hope that some of our learning and the experience we have — testing new approaches, new tools — will be helpful to others.”

He said the idea of working, and potentially even failing, in the open can be a tough sell, but he said all of government is moving in this direction.

“That part can be challenging, but we are part of a broader move toward open government and a lot more transparency about how we operate.”  

The approach is much more similar to how start-up companies operate and Papadopoulos said they’re optimistic the culture of the new digital service along with the opportunity government offers will attract people to government work.

The service falls under the umbrella of the treasury board and in the first blog post on the agencies new site, Minister Scott Brison said the project is about moving the government forward.

“As I have often said, in this world you’re either digital or you’re dead. We can’t be a Blockbuster government serving a Netflix citizenry.”

This article originally appeared in Metro News.

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