The most important topics & technologies

A few weeks ago, we explained a new format we’re calling Circlesquare, designed to provoke interactive, directed discussion around how different technologies affect various domains of digital government.

We received 92 responses; the order of the answers was randomized, and we didn’t collect any personal information. While most were fine with the topics and domains we’d chosen, a few added their own suggestions. We also discovered some interesting patterns in the data (more on that below.)

We asked people to choose four of the ten technologies we thought mattered the most:

Number of votes for each topic. Respondents chose a total of four per person.

We also asked people which departments or domains were most affected by a move to digital government:

Number of votes for each domain. Respondents chose a total of four per person.

A bit more analysis

I’m an analytics junkie, so I couldn’t resist digging into the data a bit further. Here are some of the things I discovered:

Responses clump together

Respondents tended to choose “hawkish” topics like national security, justice, defense, citizenship, and immigration reform; or “social” topics like ESDC, healthcare, and the environment. This isn’t surprising given political landscapes in the modern era.

What was interesting was the lack of a clear pattern between these topic clusters and technologies. Respondents felt that AI, data science, and other topics applied equally to both national defense and the delivery of social services, for example.

Spotting the contrarians

I’ve run a lot of surveys in my time. One thing you realize is that the people who provide their own answer (choosing “other” instead of going with the default choices you’ve offered) tend to be somewhat contrarian. For example, if you offer “crime and policing” as a response, and they manually enter “justice” as a new topic, it’s a sign that they didn’t feel you were addressing their specific concerns enough.

This is a known trick for people who run focus groups—the outliers and “others” are often the basis for good open-ended questions. It’s also a subjective decision on the part of the analyst whether these should be grouped into existing responses, or left as new categories.

Some of the exceptions we saw in the data included:

  • People who care about library sciences and archives. We had a category for open data and data access, but it isn’t clear how well this addresses archiving and things like museums.
  • One respondent mentioned “UX & design” specifically. We didn’t include this for two reasons: Partly because it’s not a technology, nor a particular government domain; but more importantly, because CanUX happens shortly before FWD50, and it’s a well-established Ottawa-based event that does an amazing job of covering user interfaces, design, and user experience.
  • One respondent proposed that “Digital isn’t always the answer” be a topic category. While FWD50 is definitely a digital government conference, much of the content in the 50 Days track focuses on policies and practices such as Lean approaches and cultural change. But the Circlesquare is specifically about the intersection of tech and domain.
  • Several respondents mentioned variants of Payments as a technology we’d overlooked, and Domestic Justice and Policing, and Industry, Research, and Innovation as topic areas we’d missed.

What’s next?

With this feedback in hand, we’re going to consult our advisory board and look at the people we have participating and pick the four technology “corners” and four domain “segments” for the Circlesquare format. We’ll be announcing this, along with our initial speaker lineup, in the coming days.