Let's Get Digital Government

Let's Get Digital: Transforming Public Services to Focus on Users​, Citizens

By Jesse Darling
October 4, 2016

Imagine a 150-year-old organization tasked with delivering products and services for customers with different needs across diverse geographies. This organization has withstood the test of time, but chances are, it has picked up some bad habits along the way. Lengthy approval processes, hierarchical management structures, archaic IT systems and outdated business models are significant barriers when competing against startups and entrepreneurial companies who understand their customers and leverage technology to deliver superior products and services.

To stay relevant, this organization must adapt to changing consumer and societal demands. Now more than ever, there is a need to reimagine traditional business models to enable a digital transformation. It is important to acknowledge that digital is not just about technology. Digital impacts all aspects of an organization – from the way products and services are purchased and delivered to the way problem solving and risk taking are incentivized and rewarded.

Over the past few months we have begun to see this type of transformation in one of the oldest Canadian organizations – the Ontario Government. “Office hours” are being hosted on restaurant rooftops, weekly blogs are being published on Medium that are not written like a press release, and a small, but mighty team has been created to operate like a startup in order to deliver better outcomes to Ontarians.

This renewed approach to collaboration, communications and service delivery is a direct result of the Digital Government mandate. At its core, digital government is about transforming how government interacts with people. No big deal, right?

Wrong.

Digital Government has an ambitious mandate: to leverage digital technology to provide faster and simpler services built around user needs. These services must be iterated on based on user feedback and their performance must be continually measured to ensure Ontarians are served efficiently. To do this, Digital Government must work with peers and colleagues to increase the appetite for innovation in all corners of Queen’s Park. There is no linear path forward and resistance is a embedded at every decision-point.

It is hard to make change anywhere. But it is exceptionally hard to drive change in any large, complex organization. Especially one that provides health care, builds infrastructure, delivers social assistance programs, and so on.

Tasked with the enormous responsibility of delivering critical services, it is no surprise that government is inherently risk averse. While the world’s greatest innovators and entrepreneurs celebrate risk-taking and acknowledge failure, government is not given the same freedom.

The first step that the government needs to take in order to fulfill Digital Government’s mandate is to innovate internal processes and systems. By changing existing systems and organizational culture, the Ontario government will set the conditions for building a better public service – one that is equipped to respond to the complexities of the 21st century.

Which is why the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship is excited to co-host Let’s Get Digital with the newly formed Digital Government Team. On October 17th, digital leaders across industry, community, non-profit, and government will come together to shape the future of Ontario’s first Digital Government Action Plan. This plan will be a roadmap for how the Ontario Government can drive innovation, better leverage data, and champion a citizen-first approach across government.

We’ve designed the evening to be fun, engaging and most importantly – impactful. Inspiring speakers? Check. Workshops that will challenge attendees to flex their mental muscles and creative problem solving skills. Check. An adapted version of Cards Against Humanity to get at big, thorny topics like organizational culture. Check.

We are committed to collecting and synthesizing all of the notes and ideas generated from online activity, satellite socials and workshops and posting them online for anyone to access. We will use these insights to inform the development of a white paper that will provide recommendations to the Digital Government Team when crafting Ontario’s Digital Action Plan.

I hope you will take part in this important conversation. You can join us at Ryerson University in downtown Toronto, or by hosting a satellite social. We will provide the necessary tools and resources needed to successfully host a satellite social in the coming weeks.

If you are interested in learning more about Let’s Get Digital or how to get involved, please do not hesitate to get in touch. I can be reached at jesse.darling@ryerson.ca or through Twitter.

For media enquiries, please contact Coralie D’Souza, Director of Communications, Events + Community Relations at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.

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