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Delivering Effective Public Services in the Digital Age


Today's society is changing rapidly. With the growth in new technologies come new attitudes and higher expectations for government. For the Government of Canada to continue to meet these expectations, public servants need to ask themselves, What does service excellence look like in the digital age?

Services in the digital age

When we talk about service, we mean a series of interactions that take place between an organization and people seeking to achieve a goal. The Government of Canada delivers services like granting passports, processing tax returns, and providing benefits or information. Digital technology has created many new opportunities to serve clients more effectively by moving processes online, but it has also created risks and complexities that public servants need to manage to maintain public trust.

Service delivery in the digital age requires that public servants adopt new organizational structures and cultures, apply new best practices, and develop new knowledge and skills. Many disciplines come together in support of providing safe and effective services, including data management and governance, data literacy, accessibility, service design, product management, agile methodologies, digital infrastructure, and cyber security.

While no one needs to be an expert in all these areas, it’s important that all public servants have a foundational understanding of these disciplines and how they are interrelated, as they can impact nearly all government operations. Integrating new practices, standards and ways of working with existing compliance requirements, policies, regulations and ethics is a cross-government effort. It will take broad-based critical thinking, collaboration and open mindedness to realize the vision of digitally enabled service delivery.

Putting the focus on the client

Service excellence means focusing on the people that the Government of Canada serves. Let’s explore the service experience from Sarah’s perspective to see how data literacy, technology, accessibility and design work together for Sarah to get a passport. 

Sarah’s Story


[0:00-0:03 Text on screen: Sarah’s Story. Sarah is wearing eyeglasses and is sitting in her home office, typing at the computer while wearing a pair of green headphones. A white and red cane is resting on the wall next to her.]

Meet Sarah, a busy professional planning her dream vacation. That's when she realizes, she needs a passport.

[0:04-0:06 Close-up on Sarah and a thought bubble appears above her head, with the image of a passport.]

As Sarah navigates the application process, she moves through a system where data, design, technology, and other elements come together to shape her experience.

[0:07-0:16 Sarah appears standing and looking quizzical under the heading “Application Process”, while several rotating gears appear to next to her. The words “data”, “design” and “technology” each appear on a gear.]

To start, Sarah needs to provide personal information to Service Canada, because passports can be identification documents.

[0:17-0:23 Sarah hands a manila envelope to a Service Canada agent at the passport office.]

She needs to trust that there are processes and systems in place to protect her privacy and keep her information safe and confidential.

[0:24-0:30 Animated graphics of a computer screen with a lock on it, a key, a calendar, a cellphone and a magnifying glass appear, along with an image of a smiling Sarah.]

There is also information that Sarah expects to receive in the application process, like how long it takes for her passport application to be processed, and what date she can expect to receive it.

[0:31-0:40 Sarah chats with the Service Canada agent at the passport office; speech bubble appears above her with a question and a calendar.]

Public servants can use data alongside other aspects of design to better understand and consider what’s important to Sarah.

[0:41-0:47 A computer with various types of bar graphs, pie charts and data figures.]

That understanding means that Sarah’s expectations are more likely to be met, and she can trust in the process.

[0:48-0:53 The Service Canada agent speaks to Sarah at the passport office and a speech bubble with a calendar and a date circled on it appears.]

Nowadays, Sarah can access information about the process, and even perform many of the steps online and on her phone.

Robust technological infrastructure has the potential to make the process more efficient and expands the ways in which people can interact with government services.

[0:54-1:08 A cellphone scrolls through the Passport Canada website. A graphic appears next to it, featuring various technological icons.]

Sarah uses a screenreader to navigate the Service Canada website.

[1:09-1:12 Sarah looks at her cellphone wearing her eyeglasses and green headphones.]

When websites and applications are designed well, they enable people with disabilities to complete the necessary tasks using screenreaders, keyboard navigation, and other assistive technologies with ease.

[1:13-1:24 Various icons representing different forms of accessibility appears in a circle on screen, while the words “screenreaders”, “keyboard navigation” and “other assistive technologies” appears one at a time.]

Building accessible services is also a legal requirement, which means that tasks like accessing documents or submitting information need to be designed to be easy for everyone.

[1:25-1:35 The phrase “accessible services” appears inside the circle and then an arrow points to the phrase “legal requirement”.]

By understanding and connecting design, data, and technology, public servants can build trust with clients like Sarah, by making their service experience a positive one.

[1:36-1:39 Sarah stands in the middle of several rotating gears again, with the words “data”, “design” and “technology” each appearing on a gear. She smiles as a passport appears in her hand.]

[1:40-1:47 Sarah is sitting in an airplane, with her passport in hand and then she is at the beach, seated and smiling.]

[1:48-2:58 The CSPS logo appears on screen. Text appears on screen: The government of Canada logo appears on screen.]

What do you know about the clients that your work serves? What do they care about and what do they need? How does the work you do intersect with the world of the Government of Canada’s clients and what is that relationship like? Service design is a discipline characterized by ongoing efforts to improve the experience of delivering services for both clients and organizations, even while adapting to changing environments. From Sarah's perspective, data plays several important roles in shaping the service experience. Additionally, it's essential for public servants to embrace technology confidently, regardless of their technical abilities or background, to improve access to public services.

Learn about service design in the GC context:

Enhance your data literacy:

Explore how technology can improve service delivery:

Enabling client-centred service delivery

Good services must consider the needs of the people who deliver the services as much as the clients receiving them. Let’s explore the service experience from Lahan’s perspective to see how public servants can use agile approaches, design thinking and the integration of diverse perspectives of cross-functional teams to contribute to wins for internal staff and clients alike.

Lahan’s Story


[0:00 Text on screen: Lahan’s Story. The din of a busy office. Three office workers with headsets are sitting in front of their computers, speaking to clients. In the middle is Lahan.]

Meet Lahan, a dedicated public servant in a call centre where he helps the public get the benefits they need.

[0:11-0:17 In a new scene, three different clients appear, in various states of distress. Underneath each of them is an icon to represent process, status and delivery.]

However, Lahan finds himself overwhelmed by angry phone calls from members of the public asking about the process, who don’t know the status of their application, and complain that their benefits delivery is taking too long.

[0:19-0:30 An animated graphic appears on screen, to represent the complex process behind benefit delivery.]

The policies and processes involved in benefit programs are incredibly complex, due to strict regulations public servants need to adhere to. This complexity often creates frustrating hurdles for clients.

[0:30-0:35 A hand writes on a piece of paper: process too long and status of application.]

Lahan takes notes of the reasons why people are calling in and brings them to share at his next team meeting.

[0:36-0:46 Lahan and a co-worker in a boardroom with their colleagues, speaking in front of a whiteboard featuring a male client, surrounded by post-it notes.]

[0:38-0:46 Text on screen: agile and design thinking approaches, examine root cause of problems, experiment with different solutions, adapt to changing circumstances & client needs.]

Lahan’s team uses Agile and Design Thinking approaches, such as examining the root cause of the problems and experimenting with different solutions, to adapt to changing circumstances and client needs.

[0:46-0:52 Lahan appears smiling on screen, while next to him four other co-workers of diverse races and genders pop up, one at a time.]

Lahan’s team is made up of policy analysts, governance officers, service designers, and IT specialists.

[0:53-1:01 A different boardroom, where Lahan and his co-workers meet a disgruntled male client, while listening to him and taking notes. He leaves looking satisfied.]

They create and implement a research plan where they interview clients to better understand their needs and expectations around understanding the process, that lead to them calling the centre.

[1:01-1:08 The team continues to discuss, asking questions of themselves and suggesting solutions.]

Based on these research insights, the team brainstorms and implements solutions that aim to address the clients’ needs and to reduce the call volume.

[1:09-1:19 An overhead view of Lahan and his team at a roundtable, thinking and discussing, before switching to an isolated shot of Lahan thinking and then having an “aha” moment.]

Bringing multiple perspectives together and empowering those team members to focus on solving clients’ problems and removing internal blockers is a powerful way to deliver meaningful value to clients.

[1:20-1:31 Lahan and his team at the roundtable again. This time Lahan is standing proudly and smiling. The male client from earlier pops up in the right corner, smiling and waving.]

[1:26-1:31 Text on screen: privacy concerns, ethics, compliance with standards.]

Having diverse perspectives at the table, including the clients themselves, also means that important considerations, like privacy concerns, ethics, and compliance with standards, influence decision-making around the service.

[1:31-1:37 A flashback to earlier scenes: Lahan at his desk, a co-worker with a disgruntled client, Lahan at the whiteboard in a boardroom with his colleagues.]

[1:37-1:42 Another set of flashback scenes: Lahan speaking in the boardroom, a co-worker coming up with an idea to reduce call volume, Lahan and his team looking pleased at the roundtable.]

By getting feedback and data from real people, then working as a team to analyze, imagine, and test improvements, Lahan and his team have full visibility into the service experience and what’s working and what’s not.

[1:43-1:51 Lahan is back at his desk with a headset, speaking to clients. He finishes the conversation smiling.]

And both Lahan and the clients can see the results: faster transactions, fewer angry phone calls, and more people served.

[1:52-2:02 The CSPS logo appears on screen. Text appears on screen: The government of Canada logo appears on screen.]

Think about your own role as a public servant. How does it affect how other public servants and clients experience a program or service? How does their experience affect you and your work? How do decisions about program and service delivery get made and what role do you play in that decision-making?

Agile approaches, design thinking, and product management are complementary processes, norms and ways of working that emphasize continuous improvement, collaboration among diverse teams, and focusing on the client experience.

Explore agile approaches, design thinking and product management:

When public servants who develop policy can see how those policies become interactions between an individual and the government, they can create more effective policies. Public servants who are managers or executives or who work in internal policy and enabling functions can connect the design and delivery process to policy functions to visualize the client’s end-to-end experience of a program and service. Making these visual connections enables the government to leverage the data and insights generated as part of the delivery process, allowing all public servants to continuously adapt and improve throughout the policy and implementation cycles.

Learn more about digital government and how it involves all public servants:

The delivery of programs and services in the digital age is most efficient, ethical, secure and efficient when we bring the many different disciplines together to serve a common goal: meeting the needs of those we serve.

Federal public servants, your opinion matters to us! Please take a moment to share your thoughts in our quick feedback survey. Your input helps us create more relevant learning for you.

CSPS Digital Academy - L’Académie du numérique de l'ÉFPC

CSPS Digital Academy - L’Académie du numérique de l'ÉFPC

Teaching public servants the skills needed in today's digital age. | Enseigne aux fonctionnaires les compétences nécessaires pour l’ère numérique.


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