Goodbye Service Canada, and thank you for everything

I recently finished my last day working for Service Canada, and I wanted to capture and share the journey and accomplishments, as well as a few thanks to the excellent people I have had the pleasure and privilege to work with over the last couple of years. But let’s start at the beginning!

Every year since it started, I have attended FWD50 (coming up next month!), which is my favourite government conference in the world because it actually explores true transformation of the sector, with a laser like focus on creating public good. FWD50 isn’t just a conference, but a community of people committed to the journey of changing and transforming public sectors to be fit for purpose in the digital age, including policy, services, culture, legislation and all of it! I came over to Canada for FWD50 in November 2019, and I spoke with several people about potentially working for the Canadian Government. I was invited by Benoit Long to present to his team about Government as a Platform and some of the other themes from my 2019 FWD50 talk, where I had presented the Public Service Pia Review and he talked to me about his vision for true transformation at ESDC (Employment and Social Development Canada).

I was subsequently hired under the “Interchange Canada” program (which itself is a wonderful Canadian Government innovation) as part of an ambitious and visionary agenda at ESDC, called the “Benefits Delivery Modernisation” (BDM) programme. BDM aims to achieve service excellence, policy agility, and a genuinely transformed organisation. It is rare you see an agenda that even vaguely scratches the surface of systemic transformation, but BDM is just such a programme. The breadth and ambitious scope of vision, and the commitment to change, reaches into every part of ESDC and is supported up to the very top of the leadership chain. It has been a highlight of my career so far not just to contribute to such a magnificent change agenda, but also to work with and learn from exceptional people all around me, at ESDC and beyond. I will always be thankful for the growth opportunity, support, encouragement and trust I have had at ESDC, thank you all so much. It is extremely hard to leave, but almost two years of sleep deprivation finally caught up with me, and my family and I look forward to being able to live a little more normal a life, without the 2am and 3am starts that extend into the weekend 🙂

I wanted to share a little about what we achieved in a couple of years:

  • We researched, defined and designed the framework and vision for a digital channel for Service Canada, both the service itself as well as the capabilities and operating model to ensure continuous and responsive improvements, innovation and user centricity. We also achieved organisational wide support for this framework, no small feat! We wanted to have a minimum viable capability to both deliver and then operate the digital channel for Service Canada, with continuous design, experimentation, effective feedback loops for client and staff input, and a CX pipeline and robust channel(s) management, all built into the business as usual operating model to tie it all together.
  • We worked with our colleagues to establish an omni-channel principle and service approach from day one, with the intent to manage Service Canada channels in a holistic way to ensure equitable and equally high quality of service, regardless of the channel of need or choice. 
  • Part of our framework was a clear purpose for the digital channel, namely:

To deliver a dignified, user-centric, responsive and integrated digital journey that delights, empowers and motivates people to get what they are entitled to.

Digital Channel Roadmap for BDM, 2020
  • Each part of that purpose was backed by definitions, metrics, strategies and clear deliverables. This purpose statement acts as both a sword to carve out our path into new territory, as well as a shield to ensure new ideas always are tested against and not diminishing any aspect of our purpose.
  • At the end of 2020 I spoke at FWD50 (again), and presented the vision, approach and progress we had made on defining, designing and planning a digital channel for Service Canada. At this stage we had grown a little, but were still in “Programme Definition” stage, so the fun delivery work was largely yet to begin.  
  • Early 2020 we all transitioned from the planning phase to ”Tranche 1” (delivery!) and continued to build out the team, starting with the original and excellent 8 staff (with a little external support) that I joined at the beginning of 2020, and we grew to over 140 people, a health combination of staff with service integrators, working together as one team. Over the last 2 years we have grown DECD into a formidable team, described by our ADM as “a rockstar team with arguably the best digital talent ever assembled in Canada” 🙂
  • We took the Government of Canada Digital Standards and built them out to a full process and assurance model, pegged to Service Design of course.
  • We launched an early deliverable, “Service Canada Labs”, to create an open way of inviting and recruiting the Canadian general public to contribute formally (or informally) to the design of their experience with Service Canada, and to test early concepts or services openly in the public. It also gave us a good dress rehearsal for delivering a product live in ESDC. 
  • We established the first ever Life Journey Program in the Government of Canada (that we know of!) to help understand and build our services to be sensitive to and helpful for the context of what a person is going through in their life. A huge thank you, as always, to the New Zealand Government, especially the SmartStart and End of Life services team for showing the way on the value of life journey based services.
  • Our team worked closely with the procurement teams to establish an innovative first for ESDC, and first potentially for the Government of Canada. We created a sprints-based procurement model, where we brought in delivery teams who had a combination of fixed and variable members, who work with internal product managers and product owners to an internally controlled backlog. This allows for multi-scrum product delivery, as well as flexibility for the vendor to swap out the variable team members to draw in expertise relevant to the particular sprint or product as it evolves over time. This also helps to ensure longer term decision making and client-centric design with accountability staying with the department, which is critical for a digital channel so that the department truly manages the direct relationship and interface with clients. The Australian Government Department of Finance did this a few years back, and it was also successful, enabling genuine partnership, with internal and external delivery teams working as one product team.
  • We had two Code for Canada teams join us to explore new areas of public sector reform. The two teams were Team Babel who created the world’s first “Policy Difference Engine” to explore, test and understand the real impact of policy changes. This has been a 10 year dream for me (with a hat tip to Lovelace and Babbage of course) so it was very exciting to see Team Babel bring it to life! The second project was Team TOAD who explored ways to meaningfully support a client online, not just in the short term, but into the future, with a wonderful combination of service design and speculative design, they created a first iteration product that is being testing with real users right now 🙂 We incorporated C4C into our program not just to explore some new areas, but to help shape how we bring design and dev together, and by having C4C teams join us every 2 years we will be able to plan a way to help ensure new eyes and fresh thinking on the many challenges to delivering highly ethical and excellent social services to Canadians.
  • Finally, we were pathfinders for several new capabilities for ESDC that will serve the department, and the people of Canada, well into the future. We established growing practices in product management, service design, multidisciplinary product teams (where IT was embedded rather than separate to the “business”) and omni-channel management, working closely with the newly formed CX capability in ESDC, and along with all the other capabilities required to run and continuously improve services.
  • Finally, we established a strong culture of being always the kindest, calmest person in the room, and working openly and collaboratively with all our partners and colleagues across the department. It is the team itself that I am most proud of, and I will continue to be a big fan from outside the department! 

I want to briefly say a few thank yous to my Service Canada friends:

  • To the initial 8, thank you for making me feel so welcome and for coming on this epic journey with me, with open hearts and open minds. We have achieved much together! Thank you!
  • To everyone who joined the team, thank you for contributing to the culture, ethics and delivery needed to create a digital channel for Service Canada. Every one of you has extraordinary talent, experience and heart to bring to the table, and I can’t wait to see you deliver the digital channel late next year!
  • A big thank you especially to Meg, Nicolas-Benoit, Grace, Wafa and all who contributed to DG Office, for all your support, care and help!
  • To Benoit Long and Tammy Belanger, my ADMs, thank you for trusting and supporting me and the DECD team, and for supporting the vision we developed together.
  • To all my colleagues across BDM, thank you for being amazing to work with and for engaging in the quest for what is best for all the people and communities of Canada.
  • To my fellow “vertical leads”, with whom I shared delivery accountabilities and who are, each one of them, inspiring and wonderful. Thank you for sharing, teaching and collaborating so closely and with such integrity every day.
  • To Martin Duggan, whose integrity, commitment and passion for better social services and systems around the world was inspiring. We collaborated, learned from each other, and enjoyed an occasional spar, but I truly enjoyed working with you Martin 🙂
  • To Nada and Brad, who showed selfless kindness at a period of enormous personal stress. Nada for when we moved into our house and needed help with some furniture, and Brad for driving us to Montreal to get on the plane at short notice, when we realised Ottawa airport was closed from COVID!  
  • And finally, I need to say thank you to my family, because without their support, this would not have been possible.
  • I have just one more thank you, but it requires some context…

On a personal note, the journey has been epic journey from the start. When I joined ESDC, I worked remotely from Australia for a couple of months before we travelled to Canada. This involved horrendous hours but I reassured my family it was just a temporary temporal displacement, words I later had to eat 🙂 We moved to Canada in February and had one week to familiarise ourselves with Ottawa, then one week in the office meeting my fabulous initial team of 8, before the COVID-19 lockdown started, and my family found ourselves physically and socially isolated in a hotel, in a new country. We had just a couple of friends and one family outside of work, with just the one set of kids in that family that had befriended our little one. Otherwise she knew no one and felt very alone in this new country stuck with only her parents. We struggled along until we moved into a lovely home about 5 weeks in. Globally, people were starting to be encouraged to return to their country of origin, with just a hint of the global shutdown that was yet to occur, but we were just relieved to have somewhere to live, and had committed to staying in Canada for 3 years. That intent was unexpectedly interrupted when our little one decided to ride her scooter off a step, crashing face first into the pavement, resulting in an immediate series of disruptive moves. The family above continued to show us great kindness over the subsequent couple of years, so I wanted to finish this post with the biggest thank you of all to Julie and Z (and your wonderful girls!), thank you both so much for everything. We couldn’t have done it (and stayed sane) without you, and we can’t wait, some day, to share a meal again someday, this time at our place 🙂 

So to complete this story, which I know is just one of 7 billion 2020/2021 COVID stories, we are actually thankful for the opportunities, the experience, and the kindness and support we have had along the way. From work, friends, family and even from strangers. There are many that have had a much, MUCH worse experience over the last two years, and for all the disruption we have experienced, at least we have had a lot of support and have come through it with our health, our sanity, and with each other.

I’m looking forward to some rest and reflection, and a new professional chapter, with so much learned and achieved from serving with this incredible team in Canada. I’ll miss you all, but will be delighted to continue to contribute to public service transformation, perhaps here in Aotearoa New Zealand 🙂

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