Summary of the Evaluation of the Canadian Digital Service

Program description

The Canadian Digital Service (CDS) was created in 2017 to change the way government designs and delivers services to Canadians. The CDS model is based on:

  • lean, start-up, design and agile methodologies
  • partnerships with federal departments to co-design, test and build easy-to-use digital services
  • the provision of platform tools

CDS follows the digital service principles of:

  • working openly and transparently
  • being human-centred, by conducting user research and by being networked to co-create and communicate with the broader civic technology community


  • reports to the Secretary of the Treasury Board
  • is overseen by the Minister of Digital Government
  • works closely with the Office of the Chief Information Officer

Evaluation approach, methodology and timing

The evaluation assessed CDS’s achievement of immediate outcomes and its progress toward intermediate outcomes, specifically whether:

  • partner departments experienced increased capacity in modern information technology (IT) and service design methods
  • CDS guidance on IT investments and service design benefitted partner departments
  • products created by CDS met user needs

The evaluation team collected data between January and September 2020 by:

  • doing a document and data review
  • conducting 63 interviews
  • undertaking six case studies

What the evaluation found

CDS effectively implemented an agile digital delivery model based on continuous improvements. Issues were raised about the adequacy of CDS’s resources relative to its mandate. There was also a lack of understanding of CDS’s role.

Partner departments saw increased capacity in modern IT and service design methods. Sustaining departmental capacity post-partnership remains a challenge.

CDS guidance on IT investments and service design benefitted partner departments to some degree.

Products created by CDS are meeting user needs. Nonetheless, tension occurs at times between CDS’s approach to delivering user-centred methods and the ways some departments deliver services.
It is recommended that CDS:

  1. Engage other digital actors and strategically communicate its mandate and role within the digital ecosystem.
  2. Re-examine its program theory of change, particularly in relation to its role in capacity development and how digital products and components are replicated and scaled.
  3. Undertake a complete review to fully understand the authorities and resources needed to fulfill its mandate and adjust as needed.
  4. Use its expertise and experience to work with leadership across government and build support for timely digital change.
  5. Work with senior leaders and departmental representatives to better enable the conditions for change when considering new or improved digital products and services. CDS should ensure that memoranda of understanding reflect agreed-upon shifts to delivery conditions; outline related roles, expectations and commitments for the partnership; and include a full understanding of resource implications.
  6. Continue sharing its recruitment and delivery experiences with stakeholders, as well as its advice on how classification needs can be met for new-to-government positions.

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