One year in… a retrospective

Editor’s note: Hillary Hartley is Ontario’s first Chief Digital Officer and Deputy Minister Responsible for Digital Government. Find out what it’s like to be the first person to hold this role in the provincial government, to lead a passionate team of digital changemakers and to battle snow in April, after saying so long to the sunny shores of San Francisco.

This is the first in a series about the people of public service, working at the Ontario Digital Service.


One year ago, I was asked to join a group of folks pursuing the tasks of making the Ontario government work better for its people. The role of Chief Digital Officer was new to the public service, and I was new to Canada. It’s been an incredible journey.

I’m excited to share a short interview I did with our Engagement Team.

A photo of the ODS team at a Blue Jays baseball game last summer.

1. Last April, you were named Ontario’s first Chief Digital Officer with a bold mandate to lead digital change, across government. How’s year one gone?

I’m in awe every day of this team, the work they do, and the support they give one another. Read through the (abbreviated) list of accomplishments below, and you’ll know I’m bursting at the seams with pride in how year one of the Ontario Digital Service (ODS) has gone.

Celebrating the arrival of new ODS managers in April 2018.

2. Is there a ‘most memorable moment’ that stands out for you?

There have been so many wonderful moments this past year, but the one that immediately came to mind was my first meeting with the team. I came to visit before my official start date and was greeted with a warm welcome, incredibly thoughtful gifts, and enthusiastic response to me calling myself their “shit umbrella.” Someone created an emoji that day, and by the time I arrived on the job people had printed stickers!

Hillary giving opening remarks at CodeAcross 2018.

3. A major part of your job is bringing the ways of digital to the world of government. In terms of style and approach, are you more Professor X, Professor Dumbledore or Yoda?

I think I aspire to a combination of Dumbledore and Yoda. Yoda, the wise teacher and overall badass, was always available for words of inspiration or to get into the fight if needed. Dumbledore was often a bit more behind the scenes, working to create the conditions for success for his students. Plus, the Elder Wand would certainly come in handy once in a while.

ODS team members meeting at the ODS HQ.

4. Let’s talk team. You said in your first blog post, “we’re going to do great things, together.” What are some of the achievements you’re most proud of so far?

At the end of the day, ours is a change management mission; and I believe we won’t make a dent in that mission unless we’ve created an environment where people feel they belong and can thrive. I’m absolutely most proud of the fact that ODS is a place where I think people really feel supported in being their whole selves.

When I talk about our 10 priorities I always boil them down to four broad categories: services, platforms, procurement, and talent & training. I’m super proud that we’ve shipped incredible solutions and hit major milestones in all four quadrants over this past year.

Our partners in the Ministry of Advanced Education & Skills Development (MAESD), Ministry of Environment & Climate Change (MOECC), Ministry of Health & Long Term Care (MOHLTC), and ServiceOntario have all created better, more efficient services for Ontarians.

The Digital Service Standard is being adopted, has moved into beta, and our team is doing service assessments on a regular basis. The Service Design & User Experience Vendor of Record will help us get more ministries doing better discovery and service design. And we’ve been able to create an organization, grow our team, and build reusable artifacts to help other ministries hire digital specialists.

5. What is the biggest myth you’re trying to bust about digital?

It’s not exactly a myth, but I’ve been trying to move away from the word “digital” for years now. I know — I took a job with Digital in the title. But it’s too limiting; people automatically think about websites. And what we’re trying to do is bigger than simply creating useful websites. We’re trying to get program and policy owners across ministries to think differently about how they approach their services, using the tools and practices of the internet-era to respond to people’s raised expectations (hat tip, @tomskitomski).

Hillary talking about inclusion at the 2018 World Incubation Summit.

6. What stands out about the Ontario Public Service compared to other places you’ve worked?

It’s been incredible to work for someone who is willing to listen and engage on hard and uncomfortable topics like inequity and discrimination. The work that Secretary Orsini has championed for the OPS around diversity and inclusion (read the OPS Inclusion & Diversity Blueprint) is unprecedented in my experience, and it will absolutely make the OPS an even better place to work.

Hillary watching ODS team members present at the ODS Division Day, October 2017.

7. Final word(s). Describe the people you work with in three words.

Bold, passionate, and funny.

The ODS Team, at an all-staff retreat in October 2017.

An abbreviated list of ODS accomplishments:

The ODS is enabling the province to achieve its digital goals, through 10 key program priorities. Here are some highlights from our first year:

  1. In partnership with the MOHLTC, launched Ontario.ca/health with new information and tools to make it easier for people to navigate the health care system. In addition, launched a new medication coverage checker tool to support the government’s OHIP+ transformation policy, resulting in 3,800+ searches daily and becoming the 11th most visited page on Ontario.ca with nearly 250,000 page views between Nov 6, 2017 to Jan 19, 2018.
  2. In partnership with the MAESD, launched an improved OSAP application and calculator. The calculator has been used over 1.2 million times since its launch in Spring 2017, making it easier for people to understand and apply, resulting in a 16% increase in applicants over the previous year.
  3. In partnership with ServiceOntario, launched a service on Ontario.ca to make it easier for Ontarians to renew their Health Card and Driver’s Licence online in a single, streamlined application.
  4. In partnership with the Ministry of Labour (MOL), re-designed the public holiday pay calculator to support new legislative changes to the Employment Standards Act. The product has received positive feedback and a request from the Government of Saskatchewan to share the concept and source code.
  5. In partnership with the Ministry of Environment & Climate Change (MOECC), followed the new Digital Service Standard and built a new Environmental Registry of Ontario from the ground up. As the existing registry fades away and the new one rises to take its place, the team is currently collecting feedback from users and building out new features on a freshly launched beta site.
  6. Hosted Budget Talks for the fourth consecutive year – an interactive online platform that gives people a stronger voice in their government. The 5 top voted ideas receiving funding this year were announced in the 2018 Ontario Budget.
  7. In July 2017, published an alpha version of the Digital Service Standard on Ontario.ca and GitHub to open up the product to user feedback. Developed a new intake and support model for the DSS to enable digital experts to provide specialist advice to partners on digital products and services. To help ministries meet the Standard, we’ve also created products like our User Research Method Cards, a Service Design Playbook, the Inclusive Design Toolkit, and our alpha User Research Guide.
  8. Launched the Digital Action Plan earlier this year, which acts as the roadmap for the Ontario Digital Service in delivering on our key priorities. It shares our vision for an enabled digital public service where work is oriented around people’s needs, and teams embrace digital ways of developing and delivering, across government.
  9. Co-founded Code for Canada, a new not-for-profit organization focused on deploying high-skilled fellowship teams of technologists and designers into government to help solve public sector challenges. The first Code for Canada fellowship team is actively embedded in MAESD, working collaboratively with public servants on improvements to adult education.
  10. Opened the first provincial government lab focused on bringing user research and service design practices into government at the Communitech Innovation Hub in Kitchener-Waterloo.
  11. Enhanced the Ontario.ca platform to include consultation tools to improve how people engage with the government and tools to make it easier for ministries to manage their content online.
  12. ODS is in the process of implementing the use of a new platform to automate the management and deployment of our applications and infrastructure.
  13. In partnership with Ontario Shared Services-Supply Chain Ontario, IT Source, and Legal, ODS is establishing a new Service Design & User Experience Vendor of Record. The initial focus will be on services related to experience design (user research, user experience design, web design, and service design) that align with the Digital Service Standards first two phases of product development (discovery and alpha).