Going virtual for the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program

Across Canada and throughout the year, organizations host free tax clinics through the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program, where trained volunteers prepare taxes for eligible individuals. Melissa Valencia is a program officer in the Community Outreach and Support Division at the Canada Revenue Agency, which offers guidance and support to the program, to ensure it is in tune with the needs of the organizations, volunteers, and clients it serves. In the simplest of terms, Melissa spends the better part of her day doing whatever she can to make tax-filing easier for people. She believes that a sensitive and kind approach allows her to learn from program participants and advocate on their behalf.

Melissa conducts design research, in addition to designing web content, facilitating engagements, and liaising with stakeholders. Through these activities, she is able to identify and recommend measures for program development that best suit the needs of Canadians who use free tax clinics. Melissa is a firm believer in making the time to continuously connect with the people who use CRA services—during service design and after its launch—to ensure ongoing improvements.

As with many teams within the Agency, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily shifted Melissa’s role to support a new initiative. Melissa helped out by conducting client identification checks for the program, an opportunity she found to be invaluable. Hearing people’s stories always provides much deeper insight into what they are experiencing. Through these authentication calls, Melissa learned a simple, but important truth: “people want to file their taxes, but, sometimes life’s complications take priority.” This experience reinforced Melissa’s sense of duty to serve and the importance of doing what she could to make tax-filing easier. After all, this is how people access the benefits and credits designed to help them.

In the midst of the pandemic, many community organizations adapted their operations to better serve their clients. Organizations hosted more than 400 virtual tax clinics, which involves volunteers filing taxes for clients over the phone or by video conferencing. Wanting to make the virtual tax clinics as productive as possible, Melissa is leading a research project to learn about program participants’ experiences with the virtual tax clinics. As part of this project, her team will conduct design research with clients, volunteers, and host organizations. Following data analysis, and working with a number of organizations, Melissa and her team hope to identify opportunities for the Agency to simplify the virtual tax-filing experience.

Melissa has profound admiration for the free tax clinics’ host organizations and their dedication to serving their respective communities. Seeing organizations' and volunteers' hard work over the years continues to fuel Melissa's drive to help by tailoring CRA support to meet their needs.

Melissa loves having the opportunity to talk to people directly. She knows that “if you want to know how your program, policy, or service will affect Canadians, you must ask them. This is how we will build empathy and understanding.”

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