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FWDThinking Series Episode 5, Part 2 - Canada’s Journey Toward Digital Government

FWDThinking Series 10-08-2020

FWDThinking is a partnership between the CSPS Digital Academy and FWD50 organizers. This episode is Part 2 of a conversation about Canada’s digital government journey.

This year, Canada is chairing the annual Digital Nations Summit. As part of the lead-up to both the summit and the FWD50 conference, host Alistair Croll interviewed the Honourable Joyce Murray, Minister of Digital Government.

Read the full transcript.

A few interview highlights and quotes:

  • [2:57] On Canada's journey - "So we started our government in 2016, started to dedicate significant funding and attention to the digital transformation. And we have made a great start with great people, dedicated to making these improvements. So what's next? Well, first we have to modernize dated applications and infrastructure so we have a solid foundation. We also have to build digital tools so Canadians can access the service they need- services they need, and this means tools based on their needs, not on what government wants to provide and tools that are easy to find the roots."
  • [8:02] On the importance of digital, especially during COVID-19 - "What happened in the pandemic is, we accelerated so incredibly, partly because the cost of not doing something quickly was way higher than usual and public servants were willing to accept the greater risk, and so were Canadians. And so some of the things we rolled out work perfect from the beginning. So I think the public servants have seen that there is a tolerance for taking a bit more risk when the payoff is bigger. And I don't think that we will go back to the very careful, slow risk averse approach in the past. I think that this learning will have really, implanted in our psyches as public servants, of which I am one. I am here to serve the public and it certainly has opened my eyes."
  • [12:00] On digital learning and shifting mindsets - "I want to see more, more training happening. Actually, when I was- early on, as the standalone digital government minister, I went into my office of newly hired staff in Ottawa in December. And the first thing I was hearing is "We did the digital training and it was so exciting, it was just eyeopening". So, I think that we need to harness the tools that we have in the Canada School for Public Service is an important one. There's a mindset with digital. To some degree, it's training, but to some degree, I think even just working with people who were trained in that mindset, and that's the mindset of the person comes first. The Canadian is at the center of what we do. The shift from the mindset of my department, my minister, and my work, to the Canadian."
  • [16:56] On data sharing and collaboration: "What's changed is we now have technology that enables us to do an even better job by collaborating and by sharing data. But a lot of the processes and even the laws prevent that data sharing with the idea that it needs to be constricted in a department to keep it safer. We know that there are ways of ensuring privacy and safety while having the data available across departments. So now we need to start actualizing that in what we do. I can point at a couple of examples from COVID, Alistair, that I think demonstrates that kind of sharing, and one of them is the Canadian Digital Service created using open source code, created a system called Notify that was about having secure and easy to provide notifications by ministries on whatever the key issues that they are wanting to interact with the public. I think there's some two and a half million notifications have gone out using Notify, across many, many [00:18:00] ministries who were clearly willing to work together with the digital government to provide a better service to Canadians."
  • [30:23} On the importance of digital principles and standards: "The shift to seeing the person at the center of what they do, I think, is a key part of this and that is a mental shift that we need to make because we have our processes and our teams and so on. So that's what I would challenge people to do is to really think about that as a person and how we serve that person needs to be really thinking about how they can access the service and what is their perspective, not what's convenient or comfortable for us. I think that many public [00:31:00] servants do do that. But that's one key in the digital principles. So the second, the thing I would say is if you're embarking on an IT project of any time, and you want to make sure that you were using digital principles, please check with our ministry if you have any questions, and we will be happy to provide support and coaching and advice."


Honey Dacanay

Director, Digital Academy | Bureaucracy hacker, connector of people and ideas