Sean Boots

Technology, public services, and people. But mostly people.

Thinking of NWT and BC wildfire evacuees

This past week wildfires forced the evacuation of Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, as well as many other communities both nearby and across the territory. Meanwhile, late yesterday Kelowna, BC residents were suddenly ordered to evacuate when a major wildfire crossed Lake Okanagan. Close friends of ours there evacuated late last night on minutes’ notice. It’s an unprecedented summer of wildfires across the country, and as people wonder what will happen to their homes and communities (or how to rebuild them) it’s hard not to wonder what the future looks like. Read more →

Hellos and goodbyes

This past week I started work with the Government of Yukon, wrapping up almost seven years since rejoining the federal government and the team that became the Canadian Digital Service. In my new role, I’m the open government program manager within the eServices for Citizens branch. Open government and open data work is a topic very near and dear to my heart, and I’m thrilled to be able to work on it here in the territory. Read more →

Public service tech tip: Get yourself some good audio gear

Hybrid work is here to stay, which – for all of us as public servants – means a lot of hours in Teams or Zoom meetings. If you’ve ever had someone say “can you repeat that?” on a video call, this post is for you. Even if you can already hear your colleagues well, just using your computer’s normal microphone and speakers, that doesn’t mean that they can hear you. Here are some fairly cheap options that can make a big difference, when it comes to making it possible for other people to hear you better. Read more →

Public service heroes: Deepika Grover

Deepika Grover is a strategist at Finance Canada, a member of the Free Agents program, and a long-time practitioner and advocate for equity, inclusion and anti-racism work in the federal public service. Deepika has played a role in many of the public service’s innovation programs over the years. We’ve been friends on social media for many years and I’m always grateful for her thoughtful and candid insights on how to make the public service better. We chatted by email in February, followed up by virtual convos in April and May. Read more →

Solidarity with PSAC workers

Today the Public Service Alliance of Canada began strike activities. With more than 155,000 participating PSAC members, it’s one of the largest strikes in Canadian history. Read more →

Public service heroes: Nick Wise

Nick Wise is a long-time technology leader in the Canadian public service, most recently serving as the Chief Information Officer of Public Safety Canada. Previously as an executive director in the Office of the CIO, he was responsible for the GCtools team and for the small team that became the Canadian Digital Service. I’ll always be grateful for Nick’s insightful and humble style of leadership, and for his thoughtful stewardship of the teams he led. We chatted by email in October. Read more →

Public service heroes: Shannah Segal & Sheena Samuel

Shannah Segal and Sheena Samuel lead the experience design and technology chapters, respectively, at the Ontario Digital Service. They’re brilliant and thoughtful leaders, and have brought experience from their careers in the private tech sector into government. Friends all across ODS speak very highly of working with them, and it was a real honour to hear about their experiences over the past nearly five years working in government. We chatted in late October. Read more →

Saying goodbye to Twitter

Over the past few weeks I’ve gradually been migrating from Twitter to Mastodon, an open-source, federated social network. Twitter has been a pretty big part of my professional life for more than a decade; it’s strange and sad for that to come to an end so abruptly. For now, at least, I’ll keep on posting new blog posts there, but I won’t be actively checking in on what has, for years, been the website I visit the most and a community that I’ve really treasured. Read more →

Public service heroes: Sameer Vasta

Sameer Vasta is a founding member of the Ontario Digital Service and one of the kindest human beings I know. He currently works on the Talent team at the Ontario Digital Service and until recently taught the “Government in a Digital Era” course at the University of Waterloo’s Masters of Public Service program. Sameer is on the board of several community organizations, an advisor to a number of small non-profits, and a mentor to early-career public servants. We chatted by email in June. Read more →

An update

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to present in-person at FWD50 next week. Prof. Amanda Clarke will cover the AMA on government-vendor relations in my absence – I hope you can all tune in for it (either virtually or in-person!). Read more →

Public service heroes: Ryan Hum

Ryan Hum is the Chief Information Officer and VP of Data at the Canada Energy Regulator (CER), a federal agency based in Calgary, Alberta. He’s an inspiration to so many of the best designers and design researchers I know in government, and he’s championed user research work at PCO, at IRCC, and in projects with a wide range of departments. At the CER, his team has done above-and-beyond work in data visualization, mapping, open data, and technology transformation. We spoke on July 7. Read more →

“Charbonneau Loops” and government IT contracting

Dan Hon’s newsletter had a great anecdote last week about the NYC Sanitation Department hiring McKinsey to study and design a procurement for trash containerization. It reminded me of a pattern that I’ve been meaning to write about for a while: “Charbonneau Loops” where the same companies are sometimes overseeing, and sometimes overseen, by their peers in the same industry. This happens when public sector organizations don’t have enough internal capacity to provide oversight directly, and they’re a recipe for problematic public sector outcomes. Read more →

Public service heroes: Christopher Scipio

Christopher Scipio is a long-time champion for a more diverse, equitable, and anti-racist public service. He’s currently the senior strategic advisor to the Black Executives Network, and has previously worked in a number of policy roles at DND, ESDC, ISED, and Justice Canada. We’ve been Twitter friends since 2014 and his perspectives on the challenges facing the public service today are always insightful, candid, and eye-opening. We chatted by email in August. Read more →

How much does the Canadian government spend on IT contracts each year?

This week I’m coming up to the end of my Public Servant-in-Residence term at Carleton University. It’s been an absolute dream to work with Prof. Amanda Clarke and the School of Public Policy and Administration. A key focus of our research work over the past few months has been analyzing Government of Canada procurement contracts as a way of exploring how the federal government spends money on information technology. As part of this work, we’re excited to launch, a research website that helps examine procurement trends across government. Read more →

Public service heroes: Aubrie McGibbon

Aubrie McGibbon is a long-time open data and public sector innovation expert with the Nova Scotia government. They’re currently the data strategy lead for the Nova Scotia Digital Service, and they previously co-led NS Govlab, Nova Scotia’s first social innovation lab. Aubrie and I have been Twitter friends since my very first month working in government; I’m so glad they could be part of the series. We chatted by email in June. Read more →

If you use project gating, you’re not agile

Short feedback loops are the secret to good software (and good IT projects), and years-long, pre-planned waterfall approaches are a fundamental barrier to achieving them. In the Canadian government, “project gating” is the main form this takes, where departmental teams seek approval (one gate at a time) to initiate a project, to get funding, to outline a project plan, an implementation plan, and a variety of other steps that eventually lead to building or procuring an IT system. Project gating is a relic from 25 years ago, and it’s past time for us to leave it behind. Read more →

Public service heroes: Chris Allison

In the federal public service, so many of the building blocks of digital government and tech modernization are thanks to Chris Allison. An early leader of the GCtools team and the CSPS Digital Academy, he’s now the Chief Data Officer at the Public Health Agency of Canada. He’s also perhaps the only senior federal public service leader who is fluent in Python programming. He’s a lifelong hero and inspiration of mine; we spoke on May 3. Read more →

Shrink projects to fit leadership turnover rates

A few years back I remember reading about bike infrastructure improvements in Seville, Spain, where the city had built 80 kilometres of protected bicycle lanes in 18 months. The key to Seville’s approach was starting and finishing the infrastructure project within a single mayoral political term. Government IT projects could learn a lot from this. DM and ADM turnover is estimated at 1-3 years in the same department; most major IT projects outlast the executives that are nominally in charge of them. With no one dedicated at the helm, a project’s own momentum can easily carry it along a failure-bound trajectory for years. Read more →

Worth reading: Government from home & A Shared Future of Work

After more than two years where a large proportion of the federal public service switched to working from home, departments are planning to require that staff come back into the office at least a certain number of days per week. The reaction to messages and town halls from public service leaders as these plans have been announced hasn’t been pretty. Amidst all this, Michael Karlin and Steph Percival wrote a couple of pieces this past week that capture the present moment incredibly well. Read more →

Public service heroes: Madelaine Saginur & Melissa Toutloff

Madelaine Saginur and Melissa Toutloff work at the Privacy Management Division for Health Canada and PHAC. They’re two of the most kind and most brilliant public servants I’ve ever worked with. We worked together from the earliest days of COVID Alert onwards, and the app’s positive reception from Canadian privacy experts is very much credit to the two of them and their (equally brilliant) director Andréa Rousseau. I learned so much from them both on privacy policy and legislation along the way. We chatted on May 10. Read more →