Looking back at 2017 in the ODS

As 2017 comes to a close, we decided it was time to take a look back at some of the highlights of the year, and look ahead to the excitement to come in 2018.

This year was the nascent year of the Ontario Digital Service. We’ve been working on digital for a long time in Ontario, but we formally announced the ODS earlier in 2017 and hired our Chief Digital Officer.

Since then, we’ve introduced the Digital Service Standard, the Service Design Playbook, and our user research method cards. We’ve worked with our partners on projects that help Ontarians, including Ontario.ca/health, the new OHIP+ prescription search tool, the Environmental Registry, the FEATS map, and a consultation on basic income. We also celebrated the 5th birthday of Ontario.ca!

We’ve also been building the ODS at the same time. We’ve created a new organizational structure, outlined our leadership principles, opened the new ODS Lab, launched Code for Canada, released our pledge on inclusion, and announced our plans for a summit on digital inclusion.

We recently asked ODS team members about their favorite parts of 2017 in the ODS — here are a few things they shared:

Snapshots from the ODS 2017 holiday party.
2017 was the year we became the Ontario Digital Service. Being brought together as the ODS gave us an opportunity to really rethink how we work together. I spent a lot of time working on a new org design and helping to bring it to life. What I appreciated the most was the process. Getting to approach organizational design in a very different way — trying something new, working in the open and listening to people from across the organization as we build the model. It was not an easy process (and we aren’t done yet!), but I did learn a lot and had fun trying to figure it out.
Snapshots from the ODS 2017 holiday party.
I have had the great fortune to work in many parts of the organization where people are passionate and committed to service. The ODS team is truly exemplary — both in their commitment to excellence and their adaptability to change. I believe strongly that our diversity is our strength, and that we produce great results because we all have license to be included in the decision making process. On the flip side, the excellence of my team is also one of the biggest challenges of working in the ODS. At times, it can be very difficult to feel like you don’t measure up or belong among top performers. Fortunately, my team is also the most empathetic and supportive group that I’ve ever worked with. I never feel alone or inadequate for very long.
Snapshots from the ODS 2017 holiday party.
My favorite part of the year was being able to lead the design work on the RX Checker Tool (in prep for OHIP+) and seeing it come to life.
Snapshots from the ODS 2017 holiday party.
This summer, I hosted the ODS team at our 2nd annual afternoon backyard BBQ at my house. I had a moment to go upstairs on the roof deck and look down. The yard was full. And the yard was happy. I can’t imagine what we’ll look like next summer! Do I need a bigger yard?
Snapshots from the ODS 2017 holiday party.
I really enjoyed working on Budget Talks with the project team and our Ministry partners. The ODS project team have good laughs & I learned a lot on all fronts — how the ODS team work — the skill, discipline, dedication and commitment to each other that each ODS team member brings from Content, XD, QA, Policy, Dev/Tech; what is involved with online moderation; how a public consultation process can work well; and an insight into broader OPS mechanics.
Snapshots from the ODS 2017 holiday party.
There are million reasons I love working in the ODS but probably top of the list is being surrounded by smart, passionate colleagues who are truly dedicated to the work they do to make Ontarians’ lives easier. Solidifying and starting up our small but mighty ontario.ca/health team in particular was/is a highlight — I’m very proud of the work we did in 2017 (esp. wait times and drug checker) and am so excited about all the great work to come!
Snapshots from the ODS 2017 holiday party.
We moved offices in the spring, and for the first time in my OPS career, I wasn’t working in Whitney Block. It took some time to adjust, but one afternoon, I came back to 595 after a slew of meetings, and it felt just like coming back to my dorm after a long day of classes. Like coming home to my people.
Snapshots from the ODS 2017 holiday party.
In 2017, we’ve had the privilege of bringing a diverse people together to work on the Environmental Registry project. From piloting the new ODS organization model, including the Digital Service Standard itself, as well as running the first alpha (that we know of!) in OPS history, we’ve truly been co-designing something special with our ministry partners. We’re shipping culture everyday and changing the way we all work together.
Snapshots from the ODS 2017 holiday party.
I can’t say how much I appreciate that the different facets of my identity aren’t just tolerated or humoured for legal reasons, but actually embraced. Room is made for me and for everyone else, as we are, no matter which demographic boxes we check, no matter how marginalized we/I might be in other circles. And if we’re not perfect at it, it’s obvious that everyone, from the Deputy down, is making efforts to be fully inclusive, to address micro-aggressions, to have the uncomfortable conversations, to effect social change however we can as an organization whose primary role is not to push diversity, and to learn about one another as people — full, complex individuals. And I work with some of the best people I’ve ever worked with, so I’m grateful to be getting to know them for who they are, and being able to meet them as I really am.
Snapshots from the ODS 2017 holiday party.
Taking an investment of $190 billion over 10 years and helping people understand how and, more importantly, where projects would exist to positively impact their life and community. We released Ontario.ca/BuildON to show where government is building, improving and expanding infrastructure (schools, hospitals, public transit, roads, stormwater and sanitary service, high speed internet, and seniors and community centres). We developed a common dataset and began to centrally track this information; defined a common Lexicon so every project could report valid data such as project status (what does “complete” really mean?) and budget (does the budget only include the construction cost or will it sustain the project for a specific period of time?); ensured sustainability, i.e. when and how frequently can the dataset be updated. We were able to report about 612 projects at launch and are now reporting details about 3,668 projects.
Snapshots from the ODS 2017 holiday party.
At the OIP orientation, all OIP interns were given a book called “The First 90 Days”. Basically, it talks about how the impression you make during the first 90 days at your new job can make/break your career. So, when the 90 days mark hit, I scheduled a short meeting with two of my colleagues: and they had great things to say about me and my work! Having a team who supports me, mentors me, and, even more, who believes in me, is encouraging and empowering.
Snapshots from the ODS 2017 holiday party.
What makes me smile: working here because I’m able to be myself at work. The ODS environment makes you feel comfortable and welcomed. There’s also no judgement, no competitiveness, no ulterior motives — we’re all here with the same mindset and goals.
Snapshots from the ODS 2017 holiday party.
I love hearing the small signals that people are starting to understand ‘digital’. Little things like hearing more people talk about user needs or asking what problem we are trying to solve with something. Recently at a briefing with a Minister, they suggested that we should mandate “discovery” before any funding is given to a project. When Ministers gets the importance of understanding user needs before you start a project, you know you are making progress.
Snapshots from the ODS 2017 holiday party.
Just being here has been reigniting my passion for public service. Being surrounded (virtually) by the proud, strong and supportive team that is the ODS makes me want to come to work and make it better.

We’ve had a fun, impactful, and fulfilling 2017, and we’re looking forward to an even better 2018. We’ll be back in early January to share more about the work we’re doing and how we’re doing it — in the meantime, have a wonderful holiday season, and thanks so much for all your support. We’re all in this together.

Snapshots from the ODS 2017 holiday party.

Sameer Vasta is a digital anthropologist, letter-writer, and hugger extraordinaire. He is the managing editor of the Ontario Digital blog, and avid observer of the world.