Members of the ODS Lab team chat with other co-op students from Communitech (Photo credit: Xiaopu Fung).

The ODS Lab is officially open

Katherine Benjamin
4 min readAug 9, 2017

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This morning, we’re excited to announce the official opening of the Ontario Digital Service (ODS) Lab at the Communitech Hub.

The ODS Lab is a creative space for service design innovation in the Ontario Public Service. It is home to a small expert team who are pioneering user-centred digital service design and delivery approaches to government services.

The ODS is working to create better, faster, and simpler government services for everyone: one of the ways we will deliver on this goal is by using the ODS Lab to give public servants the opportunities, training, and resources necessary to incorporate user-centred approaches into their work.

Snapshots from the ODS Lab.

One of our favourite features of the new Lab is the Empathy Lounge, a custom-designed user-research facility that can be used by teams across the Government of Ontario. In addition to conducting user research, the Empathy Lounge will also be a space to help encourage deeper empathy in the services we design by collaborating with people from across the public service.

We know that many people prefer to use government digital services from the comfort of their home, and so we created a space that would replicate the real-world setting where our users actually use our products. The Empathy Lounge is designed to feel comfortable, put people at ease, and facilitate natural, organic and candid discussions.

Inside the Empathy Lounge in the ODS Lab (Photo credit: Xiaopu Fung)

We’ve been working on setting up the Lab for a few months now, so we’re very excited to officially open it today. A lot of work has gone into making it what it is so far, and we’ll continue to iterate, adapt, and refine the space and our approach to work as the weeks and months go on.

In the run-up to today’s opening, I have heard a lot of questions about running usability testing through the Lab. While we will be doing some testing on existing live digital products, the core focus of the Lab will be to apply service design approaches rather than simply testing services.

This means working with teams to understand the key problems that need to be solved before focusing on any sort of technical solution. Not all problems need a digital solution, but for those challenges that do need digital innovations, the Lab has the in-house expertise to take the outputs of user research sessions and turn them into prototypes than we can quick validate with real users in the Lab.

Our approach will be influenced and informed by methodologies from a range of academic disciplines: participatory development, co-production, design thinking, grounded theory, and user-centred design, to name a few. More simply, we use approaches that best match with the complexity of the problems we are trying to solve; we continue to learn, adapt, and change, without being blindly adherent to a single framework, methodology or process.

The Ontario Digital Service Lab team.

As the Lab Leader at the new ODS Lab, it is an absolute delight to work with seven brilliant women in our inaugural team, and to support efforts to encourage and foster more women in technology and design.

Collectively, the members of our current team speak more than seven languages and have lived in more than ten countries; this unique mix of backgrounds and experience is a tremendous asset when developing digital services designed to reflect the diversity of the people we serve.

We’re all very excited about today’s official opening of the ODS Lab, and we’re even more excited for the work we’re going to be doing from here, across the public service.

If you have any questions, feel free to find me on Twitter; if you find yourself in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, please do stop by Communitech and the Lab to meet the team and see the space.

Katherine Benjamin is the Lab Lead at the new Ontario Digital Service Lab at the Communitech Hub.

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Katherine Benjamin
Ontario Digital Service

Deputy CTO for Digital Services @NYC_CTO . Using shiny digital things to make stuff better. Service Design @EmilyCarrU . Prev @Ayogo @ONgov @NHSEngland