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Let's Get Digital: Insights + Recommendations for Ontario's Digital Government

By Matthew Seddon
January 17, 2017

Note: This blog post was first published on the Ontario Digital Government’s Medium channel.

What happens when you bring together digital talent from across industry, community, non-profit organizations and government for an evening of activities like Family Feud, Cards Against Mundanity, a design jam and strategic foresight-ing?

The answer is a whole lot of ideas are unleashed.

In October 2016, the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E) co-hosted Let’s Get Digital with Ontario’s new Digital Government team. The intention of the event was to tap into the minds of digital talent and to find out what government needed to do to attract talent who would apply their time, energy and fresh ideas into the public service. The event was underpinned by research questions, included leading edge design thinking, and was oriented to foster connections between the Ontario government and digital talent that would inform Ontario’s Digital Government Action Plan.

Ontario’s new Digital Government team has a huge feat ahead of them. They have been tasked with leading the development of the province’s first Digital Government Action Plan, a public roadmap for digital transformation. The plan aims to enable better online services designed around user needs and equip the province to lead in the digital era. It is meant to champion a citizen-first, “user-focused” approach across government that can advance digital transformation and promote economic growth.

Needless to say, the Digital Action Plan will mean doing things differently within government, and will require the Ontario Public Service to recruit (and retain!) new types of digital talent. We’re excited to share the rich perspectives the event yielded from both within and outside of government (28 percent of our participants were from the private sector, 39 percent from the Ontario Public Service (OPS) and 20 percent from non-profits and other governments).

There’s Always Room to Improve

The insights from our report broadly fall under three themes: Attracting Talent, Organizational Culture, and Communication.

Attracting Talent – We found that the Ontario government’s hiring process is lengthy and not very transparent, but there was general acknowledgement that rigor in the hiring process is necessary. The Ontario government also struggles with a poor perception as an uninteresting and slow place to work that is hampered by political risk. However, government has a powerful and convincing message that prospective employees can improve the lives of Ontarians while enjoying good benefits and stability.

Organizational Culture – Participants frequently mentioned that the culture of “asking permission” is pervasive in the OPS and stifles creativity and productivity. Also, this cultural concern is compounded by a mismatched incentive structure that even when innovation is promoted, performance incentives are still geared toward following traditional bureaucratic values. Finally, the government is good at helping civil servants specialize their skills but fails to improve the breadth of their skillsets, particularly due to the siloed nature of projects in the Ontario government.

Communication – We found that the Digital Government mandate was largely unknown by participants, and public servants were generally unsure of how it will impact their day-to-day work. Those that were familiar with their mandate expressed some skepticism. That said, most attendees were very interested in learning more about the new ministry. There is considerable room for the Digital Government to expand communications efforts.

A New To-Do List

We developed some recommendations from these insights that we hope will help the Digital Government team take advantage of the exciting opportunities they offer. Broadly, we hope that the Digital Government team will work with offices across the Ontario Government in order to enact change. The following are our recommendations:

  • Improve training and development by soliciting feedback from the public service on areas in which they want to expand their skillset and help develop courses to build skills relevant to a citizen-centred service delivery.
  • Invest in technology to encourage collaboration by evaluating how well the OPS’ existing technology platforms are facilitating inter-ministerial collaboration.
  • Reform IT procurement to ensure that it does not stifle the execution of the Digital Government Action Plan.
  • Expand communications efforts by explaining to the public service the Digital Government team’s public mandate, the impact their mandate is expected to have on how public servants work, any initial steps that have been taken and what is expected in the future. In addition, the Digital Government team should build on the success of Let’s Get Digital and continue to seek input on the Action Plan from the public and civil service, including marginalized and disadvantaged citizens.
  • Engage and retain digital talent differently by emphasizing the specific project related to a position and the intrinsic value of serving the public. In addition, Digital Government should contribute to a broader public service reform effort that revises the Ontario government’s recruitment and retention efforts by improving communication with applicants, updating the OPS’ careers website, expanding recruitment tactics, and making the formal competition process less onerous and rigid.
  • Encourage focusing on the “end user” by working with all areas of government to stress the importance of the “end user” and to work with other offices within the government to ensure that a civil servant’s incentives are aligned with a service’s performance.

The ability to iterate and innovate in order to better serve citizens is essential in today’s digital world. Ontario’s Digital Government team has a world of opportunity at their fingertips, and we look forward to a fruitful partnership and a more user-friendly government.

BII+E will be presenting these insights and recommendations at the next Digital Government Meetup on January 20.

For a more in-depth look at recommendations for the Ontario Digital Government, read our report, Let’s Get Digital Insights + Recommendations.

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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