This year, Canada is hosting the Digital Nations Summit. The organization is a group of 10 of the most advanced digital governments around the world. While we had been looking forward to welcoming old and new friends to Ottawa this fall, the pandemic has changed our plans and, for the first time, our summit will be fully remote and digital.
Our theme this year is “responsive and resilient service.” Resilient has become a buzzword in 2020. Since we chose this as a theme a few months ago, we’ve noticed dozens of other events using that word as part of their branding. We’ve all needed to be a little resilient in 2020.
To respond to the pandemic, governments around the world accelerated their delivery of digital government. For us, digital government means re-thinking the way we deliver the wide variety of programs and services we work on to help citizens and residents by taking full advantage of the technology at our disposal. This should make that service more efficient, more immediate and more able to meet the needs of Canadians. At its simplest form, this type of approach should eliminate waiting in line at a service centre or on hold on the phone for most requests. It should involve secure, user-friendly, accessible sites that can be used on a mobile phone or a tablet, or a desktop computer at any time of the day. In its more complex form, it involves re-thinking how we deliver services, beyond replacing paper forms with their digital equivalents. It involves taking advantage of computing power to use automated decision making to eliminate redundant and repetitive tasks, for both public servants and Canadians. If this sounds familiar, it should—the principles of the Digital Nations found in our Charter very much match the Government of Canada’s Digital Standards.
As Chair and host of the Digital Nations this very different year, we, along with our international colleagues, have spent much of the year rapidly implementing digital solutions to meet the demands the pandemic imposed. Much of this work is behind the scenes without much if any public visibility, including moving entire public services to cloud-based platforms. It has also reinforced the points that we have long discussed within Digital Nations—that data rules everything around us, that digital identities are the key to unlocking better service deliveryand that machine learning and artificial intelligence are key tools. The strength of Digital Nations has always been the free and frank exchange between countries where we can discuss emerging trends, share our successes and, importantly, dissect our failures. It’s the connections that make the organization. It is infinitely useful for us to send a quick note via our group chat and almost immediately gain access to expertise in another country on how they dealt with a particular problem or what they are planning for the upcoming months.
We’ve had two key accomplishments leading up to the summit that I’d like to highlight. First, we’ve done some work to ensure organizational security for the next few years: the United Kingdom will chair in 2021 and South Korea will do likewise for 2022. We also have a Chair for 2023 that will be announced soon. This is great news for us as it helps us be forward-looking in our planning. Second, and probably more interesting, we have started to explore in some detail the links between the technology that governments use and environmental sustainability. Like Canada, almost all Digital Nations have incorporated a green recovery into their COVID recovery plans. We have drafted a preliminary report on greening digital government that will be released shortly and hope that this work will continue to gain strength through 2021.
Although our summit will be with just the member nations participating, we will be showcasing much of our work as part of the FWD50 conference’s Global Partnership Day on November 4. We will have a full day of programming that we hope will be of interest to many.