Working in the Open: Weeks 21 & 22

One of Code for Canada’s principles is to operate in public. These bi-weekly blog posts put that value into practice, giving readers a window into what we’re doing — and how we do it.

In the last weeknotes, it was the Muppets, this week we’re going Simpsons. If the past two weeks at Code for Canada were a Simpsons character, they would be Milhouse. We’ve definitely been geeking out about the impending arrival of our inaugural fellows, we held our first weekly standups using digital-only tools, and despite a flood of meetings, emails, new opportunities and other requests, we waded through our work with style!

We launched the beta version of our civic tech toolkit! On Sept. 6, we unveiled a cornerstone of our civic tech community network: a new toolkit aimed at helping aspiring organizers start, sustain and grow a regular civic tech hacknight in their city. The response so far has been amazing! The toolkit has quickly become one of the most visited pages on our website, and organizers from Victoria to Saint John’s have joined our community Slack channel. Best of all, civic tech practitioners are taking the advice contained in the toolkit and running with it in places like London and Waterloo Region!

Gabe and Lia just returned from Taiwan, where they attended Civic Tech Fest. While there, they learned from civic tech practitioners from across the globe, met with folks from all 13 Code for All partner organizations (our first Code for All meeting as a governing partner!), and faced down a typhoon. The global civic tech movement is incredibly open source and collaborative (Civic Tech Fest even crowdsourced its conference notes), and we’re excited for Gabe and Lia to take what they learned at the conference and see how it can be applied in Canada!

Members of all 13 Code for All partner organizations got together during Civic Tech Fest in Taipei, Taiwan. Can you spot Gabe and Lia from Code for Canada?

On a side note, Lia — a former urban planner — kept sending us back cool pictures of Taipei’s public realm. In her words: “every few hours I’ve been exclaiming in delight at some thoughtful little feature about the urban design here.” As a bunch of urbanists, the rest of us at Code for Canada got just a little bit jealous 😉.

Taipei looks like an excellent city for pedestrians and cyclists!

Before heading to Taiwan, Gabe spoke with NOW Magazine as part of a series on civic tech in Toronto! He discussed Code for Canada and the work of civic tech groups across the country. Kudos to NOW for shining a spotlight on the impact of civic tech! We know 2018 is going to be a big year for civic tech in Canada, and we hope other media outlets will pick up on the story.

We also held our second Toronto Open House! On Sept. 7, more than 30 people came to our office to learn more about Code for Canada. Gabe, Lia and Meghan shared updates from the past quarter — everything from fellowship recruitment to new partnerships and our growing community network — and got some really valuable feedback that can help guide our work going forward. Thank you to everyone who showed up; it was great to meet you!

Jenny has been hard at work designing our performance reviews. In some organizations, performance reviews can feel like a box to check off, and not a productive experience that helps you work better. That’s definitely not something we want at Code for Canada. We also already have a lot of mechanisms for checking in, from regular ‘one on ones’ to weekly retrospectives, and we’d like performance reviews to feel distinct and uniquely valuable. To that end, we’ve decided to try a software tool called Small Improvements. Not only do we really like the name — the goal of our standup and retrospective process is to help us work just one per cent better each week — the tool also provides a 360-degree review, where staff can review one another and seek feedback from each other, something that really makes sense in a flat(ter) organization like Code for Canada.

Luke had a fascinating conversation about A.I. in government last week with Michael Karlin. Michael works for the Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada and is hard at work developing a policy framework to help guide the effective — and ethical — use of artificial intelligence in the public service. It’s a big job: what does an ethical algorithm look like? And how do we ensure diverse teams work on A.I. projects to avoid problems with bias in machine learning? Future Code for Canada fellows will certainly be working with A.I. when they develop digital public services — it’s a powerful tool that can, and should, be harnessed to help residents — so it’s a topic we’re very interested in. Fortunately for us, Michael is working in the open; you can follow his work on Twitter and on his Medium blog.

Lastly, we really enjoyed Ontario Chief Digital Officer Hillary Hartley’s presentation at Civic Tech Toronto on Sept. 12! Hillary spoke passionately about transforming government and being “an impact junkie” in front of nearly 200 people (the largest crowd ever at Civic Tech Toronto)! She’s bringing a relentless focus on user needs and a willingness to “work out loud” to the Ontario Public Service, and we’re overjoyed to have her working in Canada. Check out her presentation:

That’s it for now! See you in two weeks!