Photo of Let’s Get Digital event, by Katy Lalonde.

Let’s Get Digital: What We Learned

Editor’s Note: The Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship co-hosted the Let’s Get Digital event in October 2016. The following is a recap of the event and a summary of the discussion from the Brookfield team. They will present their findings and field questions at the next Digital Government Office Hours.


What happens when you bring together people who are interested in digital from across industry, community, non-profit organizations and government for an evening of activities like Family Feud, Cards Against Mundanity, and a design jam?

A whole lot of ideas are unleashed.

In October 2016, the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E) co-hosted Let’s Get Digital with Ontario’s Digital team, with the intent of tapping into the minds of digital talent and learn how government could attract people and fresh ideas into the public service to bring about meaningful change.

Attracting in-demand digital talent to work in government is a key part of the province’s transformation effort. Together, with developing new ways to improve and deliver online services for people, designed around user needs, Ontario’s Digital team is working to equip the province to lead in the digital era. This very topic was discussed at Let’s Get Digital, and today we’re excited to share a summary of the things we heard and learned at the event.

Photo of Let’s Get Digital event, by Ebony Sager.

Strong foundation with room to improve

The attendees of the event were a diverse group: 28% from the private sector, 39% from the public service, and 20% from the nonprofit sector. We’ll be publishing a full report in the next few days, but for now, here’s a summary of what we heard:

Attracting Talent

The Ontario government’s hiring process can seem lengthy and not always transparent, but there was general acknowledgement that rigor in the hiring process is necessary. The Ontario government can sometimes struggle with a perception as an uninteresting and slow place to work that is held back by perceived political risk. However, attendees echoed that government has a powerful and convincing message: prospective employees can improve the lives of Ontarians while enjoying good benefits and stability.

Photo of Let’s Get Digital event, by Huda Idrees.

Organizational Culture

Participants mentioned that they perceive the culture of “asking permission” as pervasive in the OPS; taken to extremes, this could stifle creativity and productivity. There was also a concern that a mismatched incentive structure could hinder innovation because performance incentives have not been transformed to meet the changing digital climate. Finally, there was an acknowledgment that the public service is excellent at helping civil servants recognize and specialize their skills; often, this means that there is a focus on depth rather than breadth, especially if work becomes siloed.

Communication

Attendees of the event mentioned that the direct mandate of the Digital team was largely unknown or unclear, and some public servants were unsure of how it will impact their day-to-day work. Most attendees were very interested in learning more about the work being done by the team, and shared a desire for the team to expand its communications efforts, both externally and internally.

Photos of Let’s Get Digital event, by Honey Dacanay.

A new to-do list

Based on the insights we learned above, the Brookfield team developed some recommendations that we hope will help the Digital team take advantage of the immense opportunity ahead of it.

  • Improve training and development by soliciting feedback from the public service on areas in digital in which they want to expand their skillset; develop courses to build skills relevant to citizen-centered policy-making and service delivery.
  • Use technology to encourage collaboration by evaluating how well the OPS’ existing platforms facilitate inter-ministerial collaboration.
  • Reform IT procurement so that it supports and encourages the success of digital service delivery.
  • Expand communications efforts by better clarifying Ontario’s digital mandate and the impact that the mandate will have on the work of the public service; continue to seek input on the work of the Digital team from the public and from the civil service, with an increased focus on marginalized communities.
  • Engage and retain digital talent differently by emphasizing specific projects related to a position (rather than simply a job description) and by expounding on the intrinsic value of serving the public; contribute to a broader reform effort that revises the public service’s recruitment and retention efforts for a digital era.
  • Encourage a focus on the end-user by working with all areas of government to help them understand the notion of, and importance of, user-centered design; work with all areas of the public service to align incentives to performance and user satisfaction.

The ability to iterate and innovate is essential in today’s digital world in order to better serve citizens. Ontario’s Digital team has a world of opportunity at their fingertips, and we look forward to more opportunities to all work together to make government services better for everyone in the province.

You can download the full report on the BII+E website.

The BII+E will be presenting these insights and recommendations, along with other details from the report, at the next Digital Government Office Hours on January 20, 2017. We look forward to seeing you all there and hearing your thoughts, comments, and questions.


Matthew Seddon is a Policy Advisor at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.