Digital Policy – Report on What We Heard – Phase 2 (High-Level Policy Requirements) – October 2018

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In order to better serve Canadians and adapt to an increasingly digital world, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) is developing a Digital Policy that will support the transition to digital government, and integrate, simplify and evolve the existing rules that govern the management of service, information management, information technology, and cybersecurity.

From April to June 2018, Phase 1, an idea generation phase, was undertaken to gather feedback from both internal and external stakeholders and the general public on the potential directions we could take with the Digital Policy. The proposed directions for this new Digital Policy were informed by this feedback, a review of the existing rules, and Government of Canada (GC) priorities.

During August and September 2018 we launched Phase 2, where TBS once again invited stakeholders to provide feedback on these initial high-level directions. Feedback received through email and various social media platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, Github and GCcollab provided over 130 pages of feedback. This feedback will help us to  further refine these policy directions, as we move forward  to seek endorsement from Deputy Ministers in late fall 2018 to begin developing the technical policy language (or “rules”).

This report serves as a summary of the feedback we received during Phase 2 of our consultations. Contributors validated the proposed high-level directions and the feedback we received during Phase 1 and provided further refinements.

Overall, the feedback received addressed strategic considerations and technical specifications. The content was closely aligned with the three areas of focus of the initial proposals:

  1. Focus on the user
  2. Information and/or data as a strategic asset
  3. Evolution of government practices

The feedback we received also identified inherent tensions between key elements of the initial proposals. Contributors recognized that an effective Digital Policy will need to establish a balance that provides for:

  • immediate impact and an ability to iterate and improve;
  • government-wide standardization and flexibility for innovation and unique departmental needs; and,
  • openness and respect for privacy and security.

1. Focus on the user

Contributors reconfirmed the importance of focusing on the user in the design of government services and operations and provided additional considerations:

  • The term “user” should be explicitly clarified and communicated to include both the general public and government officials.
  • Emphasis was placed upon focusing on user needs, including accessibility, and continuously engaging users in an iterative way throughout the design, review and improvement of all business processes and services. For example, this could include involvement in usability testing, or stakeholder review to test new functionalities.
  • The needs of Canadians in all demographic groups should be considered in order to formulate an inclusive, user-focused Digital Policy. More specifically, it was noted that the Digital Policy should not further exclude Canadians in specific vulnerable groups like those with low digital literacy, living in remote communities, living with a disability, and seniors.

2. Recognize information and data as a strategic asset

Contributors reinforced the importance of information/data as a strategic asset to ensure that it is leveraged to improve services and better inform decision-making. Contributors provided some specific considerations in regards to this area of focus.

The feedback demonstrated a strong desire for interoperable systems that allow for cross-departmental, cross-governmental information/data sharing, and less duplication of efforts and data. This would enable the implementation of sign-on-once, “tell-us-once” and other approaches that require linkages between systems.

While standardization is a critical element for interoperability, contributors emphasized the importance of considering the uniqueness of different organizations (i.e., one size may not fit all) in implementing common business processes, standards and requirements. Considerations for security and privacy of data and information were also raised in this context.

A further prerequisite for interoperability is good data management. Contributors highlighted that standardized data management practices not only enable interoperability but also enhance the ability to conduct exploratory work making use of innovative approaches such as advanced analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence to further inform decision-making.

Emphasis was also placed upon leveraging efforts made on international data standards to lay the foundation for international digital trade and cooperation.

3. Support evolution of government practices

Contributors overwhelmingly reconfirmed the importance of the proposals related to the evolution of government practices and shared key considerations and refinements both in regards to the development of the Digital Policy and in regards to the eventual implementation of these proposals.

Considerations related to the development of the digital policy

The importance of flexibility was widely shared amongst contributors. Flexible instruments (or “rules”) would not only allow departments to better meet their unique requirements/ needs in their respective context (funding, capacity, size, subject matter), but would also allow departments to more easily innovate and experiment. Contributors also reinforced that the Digital Policy needs to stay current as technology and the business ecosystem evolves. This could be realized through a principle-based approach to the policy.

A clear governance structure should be developed to better support the implementation, sustainability and continuous improvements of a government-wide Digital Policy. More specifically, contributors emphasized that the roles of Chief Information Officers (CIOs), Chief Data Officers (CDOs), Information Management Senior Official (IMSOs) etc., should be clearly defined to ensure appropriate accountability and leadership in departments.

Other more specific considerations in regards to security, privacy, and ethics were raised by contributors. For example, appropriate mechanisms to ensure ethical frameworks for machine learning and artificial intelligence, and considerations in regards to protection of data (i.e. global security platform, identity management, etc.) were mentioned.

Considerations related to implementation

Contributors indicated that change management is integral to fostering a public service culture where employees are encouraged to share information, experiment, and take smart risks. Culture change at the executive level was also noted as important given the leadership role they provide.

Many contributors highlighted the need for improved capacity. Relevant training, strategic hiring and retention were all mentioned as areas of improvement in support of a digitally enabled workforce.

The importance of modernizing digital assets and systems was emphasized to keep pace with the changing digital environment and to better meet Canadians’ expectations for service delivery. Contributors also shared some specific ideas, such as the potential benefits of hybrid cloud infrastructure, to better maintain interoperability while implementing open or restrictive environments.

Some contributors identified a lagging digital infrastructure as a major challenge, however, it should be noted that this specific issue is broader than the scope of a new Digital Policy.

4. Expected Results

Many contributors expressed the importance of being able to track the performance and progress of the new policy. It was mentioned that a great policy without the proper accountability, enforcement and guidance will be limited. Periodic evaluation and regular departmental and cabinet reporting were mentioned as ideas to promote accountability and ensure that performance is tracked.


Contributors reconfirmed the goal of the direction of the high-level proposals and provided further considerations. The Digital Policy will need to balance the inherent tensions between standardization and flexibility, openness and privacy and security, and other related principles.

As the Government of Canada moves towards Phase 3, developing the technical policy language, the Government will continue to work in the open, engaging both Canadians and public servants.

Remember that our feedback channels always remain open. It is never too late to provide your views by either sending us an email or by making an account and joining the discussion at the Digital-Numérique group on GCcollab.

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