How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.
I am responsible for accelerating digital change in the Government of British Columbia (BC). BC is Canada’s western-most province. Under Canada’s federal structure, provinces and territories provide a lot of direct service delivery, including healthcare and education.
My role is to support partners across our government to deliver great, modern services to the 5 million people of BC. Sometimes that means building individual digital services. At other times, it means focusing on policies, tools and culture to make technology sustainable and user-centric. I do my work from within BC’s Ministry of Citizens’ Services. I’m privileged to work with digital leaders across the government working in all sectors.
I use technology to serve people. The digital age has brought tremendous innovation. It has equipped organizations of all kinds to serve people faster and better. In my government, we work hard to design our services thoughtfully, leveraging modern tools and innovations. We impose on ourselves the discipline of the modern age, creating governance, policies and processes that are open, agile and user-centric. Through this work, I think that we are increasingly effective in delivering on the government’s promise to serve people. Every day, we work to earn the trust of British Columbians.
What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?
Covid! Responding to Covid has been a challenge for the ages. For me, it’s been rewarding to see digital teams across our government and around the world rise to the challenge. Technology is making it easier for governments to serve citizens. Covid really proved that point.
I’m proud to be part of a government that put British Columbians at the centre of our Covid response. Digital teams across our Ministries responded with authenticity and humility. It was exhilarating to see communications experts pivot and relay public health information in ways that were easy for people, including through chatbots. I loved seeing best practices in open source software play out as teams helped people isolate as they returned home to BC, and then forked that same code to help silviculture workers safely return to work. We scaled enterprise services to support remote workers. Digital investment professionals pivoted to fast-track project approvals.
In the face of the many challenges of Covid, we saw the dangers of analogue processes. Our teams rolled up their sleeves, innovated and collaborated. We used technology to provide the best services we could to British Columbians in a time of crisis.
What is one unexpected learning from 2020?
Governments can consistently deliver modern, simple services faster and more easily than many of us thought.
When we talk about digital change, sometimes we risk alienating people. Those of us who have built careers in government sometimes feel like new approaches fail to reflect the benefits of our traditional ways of working. I came into the public sector as an economist. I learnt the rigour that defines high performance in the executive branch of a Westminster democracy. I appreciate and find comfort in our traditional policy development processes.
I previously saw huge value in taking my time in driving digital change, in bringing traditionalists like myself along for the ride. Covid taught me that patience is not always a virtue. In my view, it’s dangerous to rely on old processes in times of crisis. New problems like Covid require spectacularly new ways of thinking and working. I’ve learnt to love digital government because it means modernizing while also drawing on the advantages of our traditional processes.
And so, my unexpected lesson of 2020 is that the government is totally capable of adopting new ways of working, today. Cross-functional digital teams are proof of this. The risk of the status quo is great. We must bet on the value of digital government and the passion of our public servants. We’ve proven that technology and new ways of working can help us deliver great services in times of crisis.
What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2021?
I expect my top tool for 2021 to be culture. I’m excited to take the wins we had on digital government in 2020 and ratchet forward. I think that culture is the key to sustainable progress.
Many digital teams have incredible talent and vision. Covid has helped the public sector allocate resources to digital priorities. Now our challenge is to mainstream one-off digital services into the default way for governments to serve people. I think that reinforcing a culture of service is the key to unlocking this potential.
What are your priorities for 2021?
My top priority for 2021 is to mainstream digital change across government. We’ve been successfully delivering individual digital services. But sometimes this success has been despite our governance and processes rather than because of them. I’m excited to take a hard look at our operating model and update it for the Internet age.
This kind of modernization might mean changing how we fund digital projects and how we build teams. It will likely require updating policies and standards. It will mean addressing barriers to modern service delivery. It will also mean investing in systematic inclusion for all British Columbians in the way we design and deliver services. Ultimately, mainstreaming digital government means delivering better services for more people.
What advice would you give to women looking to start a career in GovTech?
Get on with it! Nobody is going to invite you to sit at the table, so just pull up a chair. We need women in GovTech. We bring a perspective that is important. I think that our digital teams should, to the extent possible, look like the people we serve. That means having women on our teams, and we don’t yet have enough.
Set yourself up for success. Find a mentor. Get a thick skin. Build on your strengths and build systems that support inclusion. Too often, inclusion takes the form of a quick review at the end of a project for accessibility or gender implications. Demand more. Demand that government design for everybody right from the start. Join a delivery team within the government and help demonstrate the value of diversity and inclusion.
We need more women in leadership in technical areas. Unfortunately, leadership in times of crisis is not necessarily about being liked. It isn’t about just designing for a user or a persona. It’s about designing for the system and consistently delivering great results. We need diverse teams to build inclusive, high impact systems. Women can help.
Write a message for your future self.
Keep going! Optimism is a wonderful choice.