Sean Boots

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

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 →

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 →