Sean Boots

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

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 govcanadacontracts.ca, 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 →

Public service heroes: Beth Fox

Beth Fox is a service designer and digital strategy lead at the Nova Scotia Digital Service. She’s an amazing public speaker, a champion for users, an occasional blogger, a maker of awesome stickers and buttons, and one of my first-ever public service Twitter friends. We chatted on May 3. Ask her about her (excellent) sound-check warm-up phrases. Read more →

Enterprise architecture is dead

When I rejoined the federal government in 2016, our team’s desks were around the corner from a large team working on a financial management transformation project – the walls of their area covered in mesmerizing, plotter-printed posters. This was my first introduction to enterprise architecture. If you haven’t worked in government IT, it can be hard to describe, but if you’ve seen business capability models, target state architectures, TOGAF frameworks, or architecture review committee presentation decks, hello. You’ve met enterprise architecture. Read more →

A quick follow-up on digital identity

A couple of months ago I wrote a post on my hopes for the future of digital identity in Canada. Most of the ideas I wrote were related to technical implementation details, but the broader theme was that I’d like to see the federal government play a bigger role, instead of deferring responsibility to provinces and territories. Read more →

Public service heroes: Honey Dacanay

Honey Dacanay is a digital government legend in Canada – part of the founding team at the Ontario Digital Service, and an early leader of the CSPS Digital Academy. She currently works on Service Canada’s Digital & Client Data team and teaches at McMaster’s Public Policy in Digital Society program. Honey is a longtime inspiration both for her digital policy and legislation work, and for her writing and speaking on digital government. We chatted on April 25. Read more →

“FYN Unscripted” podcast with Sidra Mahmood and Brittaney Lewis

A few weeks ago I was part of the second English-language episode of the FYN Unscripted podcast, organized and run by the Federal Youth Network. Brittaney Lewis from DND hosted a conversation with Sidra Mahmood from ESDC and I. It was a lot of fun, and a great reminder of how having a community of fellow public servants means so much. Read more →

Public service heroes: Rumon Carter

I’m really thrilled to be kicking off this series of blog posts with Rumon Carter, a hero of mine for years since I first saw his work with the BC Dev Exchange. He replied immediately after I reached out, rejected the “hero” label entirely, and we chatted the following day on April 21. Read more →

A small series: Public service heroes

Although our public service institutions are full of systemic issues and barriers to change, the people within these organizations are brilliant and inspiring. I’m really lucky to have met public servants that are lifelong inspirations, from the very start of my career to today. Over the months ahead, I’ll be sharing small interviews with public servants that I really look up to. I’m calling this series “Public service heroes”, because I think we should celebrate the awesome and often unsung work that public servants do. Read more →