Sean Boots

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

Everything is broken and no one seems to mind

Last week, Kathryn May published an article in Policy Options titled “Speaking truth to power discouraged in public service”, based on a recent report from the Institute on Governance. It lines up with a consistent observation: public servants are frequently unable to provide fearless advice to the more senior public servants above them, let alone to political leaders and ministers several steps further removed. That has important consequences for the effectiveness of our public service work. Read more →

Small hopes for the future of digital ID in Canada

It’s April, so like most Canadians, I spent a lot of time logging in to the Canada Revenue Agency and other government websites. The CRA’s login system is better than most of the 60 or so separate login systems used by federal government departments, but it’s still not very user-friendly. Fortunately, there’s a commitment to improve this – “a common and secure approach for a trusted digital identity platform” – in the most recent mandate letter for the President of the Treasury Board. With that on the radar, here’s my own small hopes for what I’d like to see for digital ID in Canada. Read more →

Three suggestions for the next President of SSC

In early 2022, the President of Shared Services Canada (SSC) announced that he was retiring. In what has accidentally become a tradition, below are some suggestions for the next president to take on the role: start moving to zero trust networking and away from perimeter defence; enable the rapid, secure adoption of third-party software-as-a-service tools at scale; and incrementally make SSC services optional instead of mandatory. Read more →

Digital Accelerator Demo Day

Last week I was invited to be a panelist for the Canada School of Public Service’s Spring 2022 Digital Accelerator Demo Day. It was a really fascinating and inspiring event! Each of the teams that were part of the Digital Accelerator program had spent the previous 10 weeks working on a digital initiative; across the teams they represented a really interesting range of topic areas, from public facing services to data aggregation and visualization to potential career development programs. Read more →

Why IT vendors?

During my Public Servant-in-Residence term at Carleton University, I’ll be working with Prof. Amanda Clarke as part of her larger research project on Trustworthy Digital Government. I’ll be studying the role and influence of information technology vendors in the public sector – the companies that provide software, technology equipment, cloud infrastructure, and professional services to governments. Read more →

Joining Carleton University as a Public Servant-in-Residence

This past week I officially joined Carleton University as a Public Servant-in-Residence, working with Prof. Amanda Clarke. I’m really thrilled to be joining the School of Public Policy and Administration, and the faculty and staff have been tremendously welcoming. I’ll be joining Carleton’s School of Public Policy and Administration remotely from here in Whitehorse; when my PSIR term wraps up in the fall I’ll return to my previous work at CDS. Read more →

Public service tech tip: Get better home wi-fi routers

As public servants, we’ve mostly all been working from home for almost two years now, and I think it’s safe to say that some form of hybrid work will be normal from here on in. That means: meetings by MS Teams and Google Meet and Skype and WebEx are going to be a regular part of our working lives. When your internet is working well, these can be really great; when your internet is struggling, it’s not a good time. As the saying goes: the best time to upgrade your home wi-fi was March 2020; the second best time is now. Read more →

Things I’d like to see in upcoming EC collective agreement negotiations

Later this month, collective bargaining agreement negotiations are starting for the Economics and Social Science Services group (the EC classification) that I’m a member of. CAPE Local #527 represent! With these negotiations on the horizon, here are some things I’d like to see as part of the conversation: less pay, more time off; a better experience for new public servants; and permanent remote work options & access to modern tools. Read more →

FWD50 guest post: Conversations for the year ahead

Last week the FWD50 team launched their annual survey on the future of digital government. If you haven’t already filled it out, don’t miss sharing your perspective. It’s something I look forward to each year, partly since I genuinely love filling out surveys and partly since the results are always fascinating. They’re a deep look at how we all see and imagine the future of the public service – both how we work, and what issues we’ll be working on. Read more →

Reflections on the Ottawa protest, but mostly on Ottawa

As I write this, we’re coming up on the third weekend of ongoing anti-government protests in Ottawa. These protests are different than past protests in a lot of ways: more dangerous, and more disruptive to the everyday lives of people who live near Parliament Hill. I’m frustrated and worried for friends and colleagues who live in the area. But mostly I’m sad, that the protestors who have camped out for the past few weeks never experienced the genuine joy that I felt each time I visited Ottawa. Here’s a brighter look back at the Ottawa that I’ve experienced over the years. Read more →

Is this blocked in my department: 2021 year in review

Using online collaboration tools has been a big part of making it possible for federal public servants to work from home during the pandemic. That’s a big change for Government of Canada departments, who have historically been very reluctant to allow access to these tools. Since 2019, I’ve tracked where online services are allowed or blocked at “Is this blocked in my department.ca”, with anonymous submission forms that let people report which sites they can access in each department. Here, for the second year running, is the 2021 “Is this blocked in my department” year in review. Read more →

Public service tech tip: If you create “vanity URLs”, expect people to spell them wrong

If you’re working in government communications, you’ve probably come across “vanity URLs” before. These are easily-written-out shortcuts to webpages that typically have longer, more complex web addresses. You’ll often see them in TV or online advertisements, spoken out on radio ads, or included on billboards, posters, and other printed communications. With vanity URLs, people are frequently typing them in “by hand”, in the address bar of their web browser. That’s partly why they’re so useful, but it also means that people are likely to type them incorrectly. Read more →

A bleak outlook for public sector tech

Paul Craig recently wrote a blog post on the massive amount of compliance documentation his team produced to launch a small public website in a Canadian government department. It’s a must-read lens into the current shape of public sector tech work in Canada. We have a public service executive class that isn’t equipped to lead technology initiatives. We’ve got widespread adoption of digital government words, but not digital government implementation. And we’ve got a political class that is too busy with other things to care about the public service’s tech capacity. Let’s talk about it. Read more →

The “missing middle” in software procurement

This year’s FWD50 conference was a couple weeks ago. It’s home to a lot of interesting conversations on technology, governments, and society. One new event this year was a game show-inspired “pitch competition”, where public servants pitched ideas for policy changes that could better enable digital work in government. My pitch was about procurement. And also about urban planning, as a way of combining two of my favourite topics. Here’s a recap of the presentation. Read more →

Rebranding “shadow IT”

“Shadow IT” is one of those terms that you hear tossed around by government IT executives on a regular basis. It’s an anxiety-ridden phrase filled with fear and insecurities. Public servants using shadow IT isn’t the actual problem, though – instead, it’s a symptom that people aren’t being equipped with the tools they need to work effectively. I think we should embrace shadow IT instead of trying to squash it. Here are some fun re-branding efforts to help with that. Read more →

If it’s not public, does it even matter?

In a society and world where misinformation is a large-scale problem, public service habits that default to secrecy are not great. Generally speaking, public service work is only valuable based on the degree to which it interacts with the public and world at large. Fighting secrecy culture – and working as much in the open as possible – is a really important part of making the public service relevant and effective. Read more →

How many Government of Canada services are online from start to finish?

Getting accurate data on how many government services can be completed online is challenging. Even determining how many government services exist across a range of departments and agencies is often a struggle. Fortunately, in 2020, the Office of the CIO published a comprehensive update to the GC Service Inventory open data set – it’s really excellent. As a recent civic tech project, I put together an analysis website that dives into how many of those services can currently be completed online from end-to-end. Read more →

“If your technology leadership is more into blockchain than user needs, you’re doomed.”

Matthew Cain in the UK published a great blog post recently titled “Leadership in a digital age”. It outlines a series of leadership attributes for digital leaders and organizations, and makes the great point that having a deeper understanding of technology solutions may not actually lead to a more effective digital-era organization. Technology expertise is not the same as “running a user needs-focused organization that works well” expertise, which is ultimately what public sector organizations need. Read more →

Suggestions for the next Minister of Digital Government

Monday is election day! Back in December 2019, I wrote a set of suggestions for the next GC Chief Information Officer. In the same tradition, here are some suggestions for the next Minister of Digital Government. Digital government work – and public service reform, which is what it ultimately is – isn’t really a newsworthy election topic. It’s near and dear to my heart, though, and I’d love to see more conversations about it from public servants, politicians, and the public alike. What would you like to see the next Minister of Digital Government take on? Read more →

Installing Jekyll locally on MacOS Big Sur

Our team often uses Jekyll and GitHub Pages to build micro-sites for project documentation. I recently set up Jekyll for the first time in a while on a new computer, which involves getting Ruby and the Bundler package manager to work happily. Here are the steps I used. Read more →