Digital principles

October 26, 2017


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Notice to Readers

The opportunity for providing feedback is now closed. Please find the final version of the Government of Canada Digital Standards here.

We are developing a set of principles to guide digital development in the Government of Canada. These will shape how we approach managing our information, our technology, and providing services. We have based these on international best practices and we’re looking for feedback. From October 26 until December 8, 2017, you will have the opportunity to comment on our draft set of principles, either by filling in the comment box at the bottom of this post. Feedback received will be summarized and included in a “What We Heard Report” which will be published on this site.

Government is changing. Big time.

The world is transforming. As we shepherd in a new digital era, government must adjust to meet evolving user expectations. But what does “digital” really mean? Being digital is greater than the sum of its parts. A digital organization is one which can thrive in the digital era, and continue to meet raised expectations of its users.

It’s about putting users first, managing data and information, making sure that people’s information is private and secure, being open and transparent in how we conduct ourselves, and of course using the best technology to underpin it all. At the heart of everything we do are the people we serve. Everything government does is for the people. So as we design new services and look again at existing ones, we focus on the needs of our people first and foremost. This includes not just transactional services, but also how people find and use information and data.

So how does a government tackle a massive digital transformation? A good place to start is by defining a set of guiding principles which can provide a common understanding of what good digital development looks like. They set the stage for everything that comes afterwards, a foundational piece upon which to build and grow. They provide guidance for making decisions and help us make explicit the concepts that we will prioritize when developing services and choosing technologies.

But why start from scratch? The whole premise of being “open” is re-use, and guiding principles are no exception. Other governments have done a fantastic job of defining their principles and re-defining the way they serve their people. For example, we looked to the UK (GDS), to the United States (the USDS), Australia (AusDTO), and closer to home in the province of Ontario (Ontario Digital Service). We love the way that these groups have come together, burst open the door, and re-defined their service models from the top down. That takes guts. We borrowed from the best but gave ours a distinctly Canadian twist.

The Alpha Version

We’re sharing with you a raw, unfiltered, first draft of our digital principles hoping you’ll help make them better. While we should recognize that these won’t ever be set in stone but will evolve over time as the context changes, we are keen to get your input so that we can quickly move to a version we can test in practice.

  1. Understand users and their needs

    Start with user needs and build for them, and with them. Conduct ongoing testing with users. Do the hard work so that they don’t have to.

  2. Iterate and improve frequently

    Develop in an agile manner using alpha, beta and live phases. Test end-to-end and continuously improve in response to user feedback. Test early and often.

  3. Build the right team

    Create and empower multidisciplinary teams, linking policy with delivery.

  4. Build a service-oriented culture

    Lead and implement a team and departmental culture focused on users.

  5. Work in the open

    Share and collaborate in the open, plan to make data open from the start.

  6. Integrate proportionate security and privacy from the outset

    Consider business context. Manage risks.

  7. Build in an open and interoperable way

    Give equal consideration for open source. Use open standards. Build in an interoperable and reusable way.

  8. Use the right tools for the job

    Use common government solutions and platforms. Build cloud first.

  9. Design and deliver transparent and ethical services

    Be open and transparent in the use of automated systems and comply with ethical guidelines.

  10. Be inclusive and provide support for those who need it

    Build in inclusiveness, official languages, and accessibility by design.

  11. Know your data

    Manage data in line with standards. Implement analytical tools and use the data you collect.

  12. Be accountable to Canadians

    Define user-centred performance metrics. Publish real time data.

  13. Develop open and innovative partnerships

    Recognize that an organization can’t have all the best ideas. Create partnerships and collaborate.

  14. Spend money wisely

    Enter into sensible contracts and comply with procurement standards.

  15. Test services with the Deputy Minister and/or Minister

    Test all new public-facing services with the Deputy Minister and/or Minister responsible.

Tell us what you think

As I reflect on the immense changes that have occurred over the past few decades, from programming using punch cards in the ‘70s to today’s Internet of Things, I wonder what the next 30 years will have in store for us.

One thing I am sure of is that government should travel this journey with us. Supporting us as we age, and as digital transforms the way we live, work, and play. So in the spirit of collaboration and openness, we want to hear from you. It’s your country. It’s your government. Tell us how you expect your government to embrace the digital era by providing feedback on our principles either by filling in the comment box below.

Thank you,

Teresa D’Andrea

Senior Service Strategy Lead
Services and Open Government Division
Chief Information Officer Branch
Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

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