Be the change (you want to see in the GC)

For those well-versed in the world of digital government, the name ‘Pia Andrews’ likely rings a bell.

With 10 years of experience working for public sectors, and most recently as the Executive Director for Digital Government in New South Wales, Pia joined the Service Canada team under Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) in January as Director General of the Digital Experience and Client Data workstream. My colleague and I had the opportunity to chat with her about all things digital transformation, open government, and simplifying the public sector - all the while living through the COVID-19 pandemic.

A straightforward government

“My vision for the GC is quite simple: that anyone can get the information and services they need through the channels, tools or devices of their choice.”

By no means is reimagining the public sector —how it is meeting and supporting the needs of not just the individuals and communities they serve, but of society too —an easy task, but it is one of Pia’s main focuses. “I tend to focus on digital transformation work, digital services, data capabilities and looking at how we can provide people with what they need, and when they need it, in the context of their lives.” In a nutshell, she is all about making the lives of the users easier, no matter the way in which they are digesting a Government of Canada (GC) service. “My vision for the GC is quite simple: that anyone can get the information and services they need through the channels, tools or devices of their choice.”

Rather than making people try to comprehend the intricacies of government, she believes it’s important that, “we, as the public service, do the hard job of making services and information easy for citizens to access and to understand, by being integrated and values-driven. The complexities are irrelevant to those receiving the service. Whether it’s being delivered digitally, through the web or by using artificial intelligence, or it’s offline, through in-person or calling in, a person should be able to seamlessly interact with the government from the channel of their choice.” And I couldn’t agree more. Even through our work at Living Digital, we aim to maintain this mindset. One of our top priorities when writing is to write in a way that anyone, in the public service or not, can understand, with or without prior knowledge on the topic. The need for easily digestible content that is not only accessible to all, but also engaging, is so important.

By allowing the user to choose the channel through which they consume their information and access services, there would be no wrong door for the user to choose. In Pia’s vision, all services would be built to be adaptable by default, so that they can be presented in any manner. “It’s not about creating a single door and then forcing everyone through it. It’s about creating the right infrastructure so that we can have a really dynamic user experience in the GC,” Pia said.

Working remotely from the land Down Under

“Being aware and supportive about people’s varying situations is important —it’s easy to say you’re supportive with your employees during COVID but when you maintain the same strict deadline for a project, that’s not appropriate. It needs to be about doing constant check-ins, making sure people are ok, and making helpful adjustments, as best as you can.”

Despite moving to Canada recently, Pia had to head back to her homeland of Australia due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Needless to say, balancing full-time remote work while going through a worldwide pandemic has been an adjustment for all of us. Now let’s add moving across the world and managing a team from an opposing time zone to the mix. “It was a little hard for everyone on my team to adjust at the start, but I really tried to support them in different ways of working to enhance their productivity. Now, members of my team have all said that they would like to maintain some days of remote working per week, even when we head back to the office and I am fully supportive of this.”

I can definitely relate to this feeling and I know many of my colleagues can too. It was quite an adjustment learning how to balance home life, work life and not having my usual office setup or everyday face-to-face interactions with colleagues. Through trial and error, I was able to find a routine that works for me and adapt to the virtual alternatives for what I missed. “The fact is that working remotely has been empowering for employees, it forces more transparency, and I already run a pretty open ship. We have a board so that everyone can see everything that is going on across our whole team. Everyone can opt into things they’re interested in,” Pia explained. She does, however, realize that it hasn’t been easy for everyone, especially those with young kids at home, or for those who are caregivers to their elderly parents. “Being aware and supportive about people’s varying situations is important —it’s easy to say you’re supportive with your employees during COVID but when you maintain the same strict deadline for a project, that’s not appropriate. It needs to be about doing constant check-ins, making sure people are ok, and making helpful adjustments, as best as you can.”

The next chapter is unfolding

“Transforming ourselves culturally, systemically, and technically—to best serve the diverse communities and individuals across Canada.”

So, what’s next for Pia? She is currently working closely with Benoit Long, the Chief Transformation Officer for ESDC on the Benefits Delivery Modernization (BDM) program. The vision for the program? “Transforming ourselves to achieve service excellence for our clients, now and tomorrow.” While still in the early stages of development, the BDM program will “reimagine and redesign online service delivery for Canadians” Pia explained. The program is about “transforming ourselves culturally, systemically, and technically—to best serve the diverse communities and individuals across Canada.” Readers can learn more about the program here.

Wrapping up our conversation, I found myself in awe. Not only is Pia a leader in government initiatives, an eloquent and captivating speaker but she is also so down to earth. I could easily see why she has so many supporters from across the world. Dropping her final words of wisdom in the interview, she reiterated that each and every single one of us has the ability to be a catalyst for change, and if we’re thinking it, we can, and should do it. With a focus on the person and understanding that everyone has a different life journey, I think Pia comes to us with great ideas and plans for the future and I’m excited to see where her journey goes.

 
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