Improving government services in the digital age

September 18, 2018

As a government, our goal is to provide easily accessible, integrated, and trusted public services to Canadians. However, we can only accomplish this if we move past massive projects with rigid designs that are built in silos, with minimal input from our users.

The Digital Standards form the foundation that will guide the Government of Canada's shift towards becoming more agile, open, and user-focused. Canada's inclusion in the D7, a group of leading digital nations, signals the importance of this shift, to harness the power of digital technologies for the benefit of citizens.

Unveiling the latest iteration of our living Digital Standards

Although we settled on 10 standards, we don't play favorites. So whether it's number one or number nine on our list – treat them as equals. There is no hierarchy.

Design with users

Research with users to understand their needs and the problems we want to solve. Conduct ongoing testing with users to guide design and development.

Iterate and improve frequently

Develop services using agile, iterative and user-centred methods. Continuously improve in response to user needs. Try new things, start small and scale up.

Work in the open by default

Share evidence, research and decision making openly. Make all non-sensitive data, information, and new code developed in delivery of services open to the outside world for sharing and reuse under an open licence.

Use open standards and solutions

Leverage open standards and embrace leading practices, including the use of open source software where appropriate. Design for services and platforms that are seamless for Canadians to use no matter what device or channel they are using.

Address security and privacy risks

Take a balanced approach to managing risk by implementing appropriate privacy and security measures. Make security measures frictionless so that they do not place a burden on users.

Build in accessibility from the start

Services should meet or exceed accessibility standards. Users with distinct needs should be engaged from the outset to ensure what is delivered will work for everyone.

Empower staff to deliver better services

Make sure that staff have access to the tools, training and technologies they need. Empower the team to make decisions throughout the design, build and operation of the service.

Be good data stewards

Collect data from users only once and reuse wherever possible. Ensure that data is collected and held in a secure way so that it can easily be reused by others to provide services.

Design ethical services

Make sure that everyone receives fair treatment. Comply with ethical guidelines in the design and use of systems which automate decision making (such as the use of artificial intelligence).

Collaborate widely

Create multidisciplinary teams with the range of skills needed to deliver a common goal. Share and collaborate in the open. Identify and create partnerships which help deliver value to users.

Behind the scenes: It took a village

We'd like to thank all of you who took the time to painstakingly review our draft Digital Standards and provide us with such rich and intelligent feedback. The Digital Standards were co-created with the public and key stakeholder groups to help government build and deliver excellent services for its citizens. It took a community of individuals, with varying backgrounds and perspectives, to come together and help define them; we heard from:

  • Various provinces, territories, municipalities, and international governments
  • Government of Canada departments and employees
  • Non-governmental organizations
  • Canadian citizens

As well, in the true spirit of collaboration, our foundation was built upon the pioneering work of the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and the province of Ontario.

What we heard

In a previous post we sought public feedback on our draft Digital Standards. An in-depth analysis of the feedback was undertaken and here's what we heard.

The overall response was extremely positive. Here are some of the key themes which emerged:

  • Access to tools and technology: Many individuals from within government asked for the right tools to deliver in accordance with the digital standards. They felt that legacy systems and current infrastructure are roadblocks to becoming "digital".
  • Culture change and people: Existing culture that supports the status-quo was brought up by many as a barrier. Investing in people and cultural change management was seen as an important first step.
  • Processes: Processes were seen as outdated and mimic a paper-based environment. There was a call to "think differently" and design processes for the digital reality.
  • Approach: Openness, transparency, accessibility and focus on the end-user were all noted and their inclusion applauded.

Together we'll make them better

These are living standards and we will continue to update and evolve them over time as we better understand the complexities involved in putting them into practice. We also expect the community to provide input to help refine them. These standards reflect how we will design for ourselves as well as how we will design for others. We can't do this alone.

The next steps

These standards are forming the basis for the development of new policy requirements over the coming months for Government of Canada departments and agencies to support the transition to digital government. This exercise is already underway and we encourage you to join the discussion at

Have any questions? Want to share your thoughts? Connect with us by email or in the comment box below.

Teresa D'Andrea

Teresa D'Andrea
Director of GC Digital Exchange - Office of the Chief Information Officer of Canada, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

Teresa D'Andrea is a director within the Treasury Board Secretariat's Office of the Chief Information Officer of Canada branch responsible for Enterprise Digital Exchange for the Government of Canada. She works at the intersection of experience design, digital innovation, and enterprise strategy. Teresa is currently leading on both the Government of Canada's Digital Standards and the federal government's Digital Exchange framework. She comes with over 20 years of experience in both the private and public sectors, leading enterprise-level digital projects and programs that focus on serving the needs of the end-users. Find her tweeting @TDAndrea23

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Submitted by aimee whitcroft on September 18, 2018 - 8:09 PM

Fantastic work, everyone - I’m looking forward to watching it as it evolves :) If you’re interested, check out New Zealand’s digital service design standard at - it’s also a living document and feedback is welcome!