In the recently published Government of Canada Digital Standards manifesto, the government states its objective as the provision of public services that are “simple to use and trustworthy.” The standards are meant to form the foundation of a governmental shift to becoming more “agile, open and user-focused.” There are ten values outlined in this document that is designed to live and breathe, always changing based on input from the public. Let’s break down some of the key points in the standards and what they mean for the future of Canada’s digital landscape.
The first two points in the Digital Standards are perfectly aligned with Agile software development. The government is performing research with users to understand their needs and problems to solve. Ongoing testing is meant to guide decisions, while iterative and user-centred methods are applied. The government ambitiously wants to “start small and scale up.” These are all key tenets of Agile, and a step in the right direction for Canada. Why?
We work with enterprises and government agencies across the country that reap the benefits of an Agile approach to digital projects. We have proven time and again that agility creates a finished product that actually works for the needs of the user. The most important services in our country are provided by the government, so they need to be built with the user in mind. This is bringing about a revolution not only within the government but across the nation as organizations begin to recognize the value of agility in everything they do. These standards, when applied correctly, could actually set the bar for digital experience in Canada. A digital-first government brings about a digital-first population. In enterprises that use Agile, the end-users are the focus of development. As the country becomes digital-first, organizations across the country will follow suit.
We’re not just highlighting this point because it’s our name. Evidence, research, decision making, and code are shared with the public. Open-source software is preferred wherever possible, as well as the application of open standards and best practices. Across the Government of Canada Digital Standards is an undertone of community that sets a precedent for ongoing collaboration.
This has been groundbreaking for the Canadian government. The level of engagement with citizens being proposed is unprecedented. At OPIN, we witness the power of the community every day working with Drupal. The evolution of any digital platform is limitless when it is backed by a dedicated community. By building an open-source environment to collaborate with the government, Canada is tapping into a massive pool of talented people across the country. Furthermore, this has the potential to save the taxpayers millions of dollars in expensive licensing and upgrade fees for proprietary software. As we’ve written before, open-source is the logical way forward for the government.
Sharing the code with Canadians is encouraging experienced contributors and newcomers alike to join the community. The software that is created as a result has the potential to be used for teaching in schools, application in enterprises and even reuse by governments the world over. Open source platforms like Drupal will also get a boost from this initiative. As the government begins to adopt existing open-source software, community members across the country will be able to contribute to projects that will drive these technologies forward.
The final underlying tone of the Government of Canada Digital Standards is the use of data. It is evident that the government is using data to drive decision making. There is also an ethical component where user research is protected and the use of artificial intelligence is carefully regulated. Data that is collected is meant to be shared securely with other teams, keeping costs down and ensuring that knowledge is shared across the government.
This comes as a natural extension of the two above points. User-centric design is inherently data-driven and the government has access to the largest test group in the country (hint: it’s over 30 million people). The ramification of this approach is that the government is on track to becoming the de facto thought leader when it comes to user-centric design. If these standards are applied effectively, the Canadian government has the potential to revolutionize data-driven design in the country. It’s been done before in politics.
Everyone who uses government services can attest to their difficulty. It often feels as though the processes are designed to make things easier for the government and harder for citizens. A lack of user-centric design has plagued the government for decades, but the private sector is not exempt either. Many organizations treat experiences as a zero-sum game. Like the government, enterprises feel as though they have to meet users in the middle. The reality is that proper data-driven design benefits all stakeholders. Good design doesn't have to come at the cost of government efficiency, nor should it make services difficult to use for citizens.
What comes next for the Canadian government? The litmus test is the continued application of the Government of Canada Digital Standards. The government has already taken a number of steps in this direction and is leaning on the combined expertise of Canadian organizations and thought leaders. The sense of community is building - with passionate and talented Canadians behind it, this initiative is sure to succeed.
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