One year into pandemic, federal digital government is largely business as usual

Article by Amanda Clarke: “It’s been a year since the Government of Canada, like every other organization, household and individual, was forced to move its work to the web in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. When this shift first took hold, many predicted that the digital demands of the crisis would provide the push the government needed to finally give its workforce access to modern digital tools (Slack, Google Drive, etc.), to design online services that actually work, and to effectively harness data for public good. By this logic, the pandemic would step in to close the deal on the elusive goal of “digital government transformation,” where digital strategies, chief information officers and high-level political commitments had failed.

Of course, this was a ridiculous prediction. This early enthusiasm was rightfully checked by a series of thoughtful analyses that reminded us that a COVID-induced digital government transformation would not arise simply because the public service faced immediate pressures to shift its workforce online and to expand its digital services. Existing research underscores that digital government transformation requires significant structural and cultural reforms within the public service and a slate of legislative and policy changes. Without this groundwork, any apparent advances ushered in by the pandemic will at best be ephemeral wins, and at worst, shiny distractions that obscure the reality of a federal public service that has been cycling through failed renewal exercises for decades.

With this in mind, now that we are at the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, I asked a group of federal public servants leading digital government efforts if COVID-19 is triggering the kinds of administrative reforms needed to meaningfully update the Government of Canada for the realities of the digital age.

The answer, universally, without even a moment of hesitation: No….(More)”.