Six reasons we’re excited by the launch of the Canadian Digital Service

In case you missed it, there was some exciting digital government news in Canada Tuesday. The Canadian Digital Service (CDS) launched, meaning Canada has joined other nations, including the US and the UK, that have a federal department dedicated to digital.

The CDS’ mandate is huge, but easy to grasp: improve public service delivery by facilitating the adoption of new digital tools like agile development and human-centred design.

We at Code for Canada were thrilled when the CDS was first announced in the 2017 budget, and we’re even more excited to see the initiative get off the ground.

Here’s why:

1. It’s the right time. Canada is already one of the most connected nations on Earth. Canadians spend more time online each month than any other G7 nation, according to ComScore. And data shows smartphone adoption is pushing past 80 per cent. With these new habits come new expectations; Canadians are demanding public services that are as easy to use as their favourite apps, and they expect to engage with their governments as easily as they do with one another. The Government of Canada must meet those expectations, and the Canadian Digital Service is a major step towards doing so.

2. It’s the right team. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting many CDS staff (you can find a few of them every Tuesday night at Ottawa Civic Tech!) and we’ll be working closely with them going forward, as they’re hosting our first team of federal fellows! They’re a passionate and talented group that’s committed to using digital to serve residents better and make a positive impact in the lives of Canadians. We’re confident they can show other politicians and public servants what’s possible when technology and government work in unison!

3. They’re not the first. Sure, it may have been nice to brag about how Canada was blazing a digital government trail, but the truth is that sometimes, it’s better to wait. The Canadian Digital Service is in a great position, because it can learn and borrow from similar organizations like 18F and the USDS in America, or the Government Digital Service in the UK. Here at Code for Canada, we know first-hand the value of following a successful example. Learning and borrowing from organizations like Code for America and Code for Australia shortened our runway, allowing us to launch faster and more confidently than we would have in a vacuum.

4. There’s real buy-in. Digital initiatives inside of government often live or die by the commitment and support they receive from senior officials. In the past, digital innovation in Canada — and across the world — suffered from ‘shiny object syndrome,’ or an unwillingness to back up talk of digital innovation with the commensurate resources. Not anymore. Whether it’s Minister Scott Brison’s emphasis on service delivery and “putting users first,” or federal Chief Information Officer Alex Benay championing new procurement models, there’s a new corps of top-level Canadian bureaucrats and politicians who really get digital.

5. They’ll have outside help. As we saw by the number of people who applied for the Code for Canada fellowship, technologists and designers across the country are looking to put their skills to use serving the public. There’s also a growing number of civic tech community groups in Canada, where residents are using technology to understand and address local issues. If the Canadian Digital Service can engage these tech professionals and grassroots groups, they could be a vital resource. After all, together they represent a path towards understanding user needs, and the skills and expertise required to meet them.

6. They’ve got a pretty cool logo. Maybe we’re just suckers for minimalism, but this is one of our favourite pieces of government graphic design. Kudos!

For more information about the new Canadian Digital Service, visit digital.canada.ca.