2020: the decade of digital government

Hillary Hartley
Dec 18, 2019 · 6 min read
Banner image representing #OntarioDigital

A high-impact future depends on a well-documented past.

Every digital team knows the tremendous value of a retrospective — creating a safe space to reflect on and discuss what worked well and what didn’t, so that we continuously improve for the future.

As the decade winds down, it’s time to celebrate the many moments that lifted us, challenged us and excited us as we worked to create the conditions for government that is there for you, where you need it, and when you need it (aka, digital, data-driven and more empathetic government!).

2019 was an exceptional Year of Delivery for the Ontario Digital Service and our partners across the public sector. The digital government and civic technology movement is flourishing in communities nation-wide, so a quick nod to everyone who logs in to a public sector network and makes digital change possible, even when it’s hard.

Here at the Government of Ontario, our team set a strong foundation for user-centred government, encoding data-driven and people-first practices into law, and, simultaneously, built the scaffolding that frames a better future for quicker, more iterative policy and product development that will help Ontario become a truly digital society.

We are shifting the culture of service delivery from the inside out.

This isn’t a solo mission. It’s the result of a thousand tiny actions taken together that have a truly additive effect on our organization.

As I look back on the year that was, and think ahead to what I believe will be the Decade of Digital Government — an unprecedented period of human-centred design across the whole of the public sector — I have so much admiration for all the people who took up that torch, and ran forward to build the future we want to see.


Here are 7 bright spots of 2019, and our aspirations for 2020.

People care about data

Its focus was to ask people, businesses and communities how we should protect people’s data from growing risks and explore new opportunities for data use and economic growth.

Public listening sessions were held in Toronto, Stratford, Ottawa, Peterborough, Sarnia, Sault Ste Marie and Thunder Bay. As we continue to analyze public feedback, a few themes stand out: privacy matters, digital literacy supports are needed, and private-sector organizations are interested in more collaboration opportunities.

By the numbers

  • 300+ total in-person attendees from industry, civil society, academia and the public
  • 45+ long-form submissions from industry
  • 750+ survey responses

Simpler, faster, better services are the law

This law harmonizes the domains of digital, data and technology, knocks down barriers that keep us from operating as a modern organization, and encodes Ontario’s commitment to placing people at the centre of every government program, service and policy. In addition, it anchors the role of a provincial Chief Digital and Data Officer to set standards for digital delivery, open data principles, and data sharing practices across the public sector. This strengthens the service design guidance rooted in our digital service standard, and puts the emphasis on people, not technology.

By the numbers

  • 21 acts, including 5 regulations, amended
  • 1 Simpler, Faster, Better Services Act passed

Collaboration powers internet-era teams

Small, empowered, multidisciplinary teams are the core units of delivery inside digital organizations. With product managers at the helm, these teams bring together people from various parts of government to tackle a single challenge, together. The result? Products that people can easily use, like the new Environmental Registry of Ontario, which moved from beta to live in 2019.

2020 will be a year of many more product launches, across sectors like health, justice and social assistance — in collaboration with our ministry partners. We will also develop and test more early prototypes from our lab at Communitech in Kitchener-Waterloo, and you’ll start to see redesigns of some of the government’s most popular services, such as registering vehicles and online notifications.

By the numbers

  • 150+ user research sessions
  • 37+ design sprints
  • 11 prototyping lab projects

21st century teams need 21st century skills

To operate as a digital-first organization, teams need access to digital tools and techniques that enable them to deliver great services. Everything from user research practices to agile development and lean methods.

By the numbers

  • 270+ user research sessions held at our user research lab — pairing user researchers with government program teams
  • 26 collaborative, peer-to-peer digital-first assessments completed, ensuring that we help teams build great digital products, from the start
  • Dozens of active learning partnerships with other ministries, governments, academic institutions and civic tech communities
  • 1,300 learners engaged in training programs to sharpen digital skills
  • 1,000+ new Lean White Belt graduates, bringing the total number of OPS staff with lean or agile training to around 3,000
  • Monthly drop-in training sessions on Google Analytics for OPS teams
  • 1,700+ people registered in a free, new learning bootcamp, co-created with digital teams across Canada, to introduce a first-of-its-kind 101 course on digital for public servants in Canada.

Go API-first

APIs, short for “Application Programming Interfaces,” have become ubiquitous. They serve as the interpreters that allow two completely different digital services or programs to talk to each other. It’s incumbent on government to lay the groundwork for future iterations of systems of code from day one. This sets a foundation for platform thinking in government.

Public data for the win

The new catalogue is designed to make it easier to create visualizations, filter and search datasets, and access data faster and more accurately. We’ve started with the government’s 25 most popular data sets, with more to come as we receive user feedback.

Selfie taken of participants at an OPS-wide “Lean Reconvene”.

Lean enables smarter operations

A new program to scale lean practices across government is improving back-office productivity and capacity. Lean demands that we interrogate and improve our current processes before we digitize them; this helps ensure an efficient, seamless end-to-end service experience.

Since applying lean methods to the Accessible Parking Permit process, back-office productivity increased by 23 per cent. As a result, by early December, 300 more Ontarians were getting their permits sooner, every day.

Lean practitioners across the OPS are currently supporting 143 lean projects.


Looking ahead to the next decade

To build that future, our forward focus includes:

Accelerating user-centred delivery

Interoperability (aka Government as a Platform)

Performance measurement

Better use of data

Empowering digital talent

Diversity, inclusion and belonging

Servant leadership

Here’s to the next decade. Onward!

Ontario Digital

Digital, the Ontario government, and all things in between. Learn more at http://ontario.ca/digital

Hillary Hartley

Written by

Geek passionate about making government better with digital. Day job @ONgov. Night job picking up Lego.

Ontario Digital

Digital, the Ontario government, and all things in between. Learn more at http://ontario.ca/digital

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