Ontario Digital
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Ontario Digital

Say yes to Ontario’s Digital and Data Innovation Fellowship Program

Last month we launched the Digital and Data Innovation Fellowship Program (DDIF) pilot.

Deadlines for applying have been extended to Friday, Dec. 17. Learn more and apply at ontario.ca/digitalfellows.

Computer screener at a wooden desk which features the homepage of the Digital and Data Innovation Fellowship Program Ontario.ca page.
Digital and Data Innovation Fellowship Program — Ontario.ca/digitalfellows.

Editor’s note: Last week we heard from our Associate Minister, Kaleed Rasheed as we launched the Digital and Data Innovation Fellowship program.

This week we chatted with our Chief Digital and Data Officer, Hillary Hartley, to learn how her own experiences as a Presidential Innovation Fellow, a program focused on attracting smart people from industry to give their time to government and sit at the table with senior leaders, has shaped her own career. Below Hillary highlights why she hopes others will consider applying to Ontario’s Digital and Data Innovation fellowship to make an impact.

Let’s start from the beginning. What motivated you to apply to the Presidential Innovation Fellowship program?

I was working for a private eGovernment company in 2012 and when the Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program launched I knew it was an opportunity for someone in our company to benefit from the experience of working inside the Federal Government. I worked with my boss to find a product manager, designer, or developer to put forward, and that person was eventually selected for the first cohort of Fellows. We kept in touch and tried to think of ways the company (that works primarily with state governments) could be helpful with data or API linkages. As the applications for year two came online, one of the program leaders suggested I apply, and after a first laugh about it I applied.

What are some key takeaways from your experience?

The Fellowship was my first experience as a bureaucrat working inside government (after working alongside various jurisdictions for 15 years), and I loved it. It was different, it was challenging, but it was refreshing. I loved being on the inside trying to make change, instead of giving my best advice and pushing from the outside.

The Fellowship experience focuses on the importance of bringing technologists to the decision-making table when tackling policy issues.

“Do what you would do in the private sector and we’ll blow up the barriers in the way.” — Todd Park, former Chief Technology Officer of the United States to the “PIFs”

The PIF DNA is an important part of my origin story as a bureaucrat and a digital leader. The problem-solving, lean startup mentality was baked in from the beginning. These programs are based on a classic pattern of disruption: taking something from one industry and bringing it to another where it may as well be alien space technology.

Transformation isn’t simply about technology; at its heart are people, practices, and culture. That’s what you bring to your government partners as a Fellow.

How did the program inform your subsequent career path?

Well, I’m officially a public servant now in my bones. It’s so important to have champions and disruptors inside government, not just consultants and advocates working on the outside. Being a PIF led directly to me being here in Ontario today, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

What are you most excited about Ontario’s Digital and Data Innovation Fellowship program?

I view this as an opportunity for fellows to see themselves as entrepreneurs in residence across the Ontario Public Service.

We are actively focused on creating the conditions for digital and data transformation across the Ontario Public Service. To accomplish this, we share best practices and new approaches that help public service teams deliver usable services that help Ontarians succeed in their government interactions. I believe fellows can directly support this mission. I can’t wait to see what we can collectively learn from one another through this program.

Any final thoughts?

“From a little spark may burst a flame.” — Dante Alighieri

Big transformation happens a little bit at a time. Beyond helping us deliver important tools and services, a Fellow’s job is to light sparks. But fair warning, you may end up wanting to stick around and keep the fire burning!

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