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 acknowledgment 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.