Q: As we are a policy-focused institute aiming to support and grow our entrepreneurial and innovation communities, what role do you see for Ontario’s startup and innovation communities to support or complement the work of the Digital Government team?
A: There is a lot of opportunity. A large part of it is due to the focus on talent and people. We’ll be encouraging people to take a tour of duty through government. So we will have to get to know the community, the players, and the talent landscape. This is a huge priority for me personally.
On the other hand, we also recognize that we cannot do this alone. Even if we double in size and we grow to 100-150 people, this is not a job for just us. We have to make strategic partnerships with ministries, with industry and groups that can help us both communicate our vision and execute on it.
We’ll be working with folks in ministries, Cabinet Office, and the Treasury Board to help think about new approaches to procurement. We need more teams like us in the system. We need to figure out how to work with agile teams, small businesses, and some of the larger players that are already doing a lot of work for Ontario. We need to identify champions inside ministries and help supercharge the good work they are doing.
Q: Can you elaborate on what you mean by “tour of duty”?
A: I think, historically, joining the government has been a calling. People really respond to the mission and the idea of being able to have a profound impact on their families, friends, and neighbours. However, we want to let folks know that working for the government doesn’t have to be a lifelong thing.
I will tell you that more often than not, people who think that they’re coming in for a short stint—be it six months or two years—are often sucked in because it is a powerful mission. You’re working with folks who believe so wholeheartedly in what they’re doing that it rubs off on you. We have talked a lot about this with 18F and the US Digital Service as a “tour of duty”. It’s a way to let folks know that this can be something that is short-term in nature and that we would love to have them give their talents to the Government of Ontario, with the fair warning that sometimes you might want to stick around for a lot longer.
Q: The last question we have for you is something we know that you think a lot about. How can we engage citizens, the innovation community, and governments in a collaborative and productive way? Do you have examples of the way digital tools have been used globally that enable facilitating these collaborations? What are some of your favorites and why?
A: Yes. Well, I mentioned Budget Talks earlier and I know that is probably not what you had in mind. However, it really was a tool for participatory budgeting and we built this tool where Ontarians can submit proposals, you can vote on them and the best ones can get funded in the budget. Citizens pitched over 400 projects and I think there were close to 20,000 votes for the list of finalists. On budget day, three winners were announced, receiving a total of $2.6 million. So, you know, that is engagement that shows the power of openness and of government being available online—where people are at—to engage with our democracy. I love this Budget Talks project, and I am so glad that we are going to do it again for the 2018 budget.
I think, in general, if you’ve read anything I have written or listened to a talk I’ve given, you will know that I am a profound missionary for openness—from openness to open source obviously, but also to just being transparent, to talking more profusely about what we are doing, from the mundane to the quick launches. It is the mundane stuff that is sometimes more important, especially just as we are recruiting and as we are trying to get people to understand how we work. You need to blog about it, to tweet about it, and to put those things out there.
One story that I love illustrates this well. It has nothing to do with government, but I used to share it regularly with my team at 18F: When GitHub.com was being built, it had a blog. Even before GitHub existed, the team blogged about it something like 200 times. I have never been a believer in blogging only when there is something to announce. We should blog about those little moments on the way where you are learning something. That will continue to be a huge focus for the Ontario team.