July 24, 2016


There’s a skit from an episode of W/ Bob and David that makes me laugh just thinking about it. In the skit, a digital soothsayer,” Shangy, steps on stage to deliver a stream of nonsense, each sentence punctuated with the word, digital.” The crowd laps up his every word; the television audience is left laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

Back when I was working with my dear friend Meghan, we’d use that skit as reference for our amusement. Whenever someone (in a meeting, or at a conference) would say something ridiculous and everyone would nod their heads in agreement as if they had just received insight from a wise sage, she would simply scribble the word digital” on a post-it note and pass it to me. We would chuckle at our inside joke; the word digital” still makes me grin because of the Shangy sketch.

All jokes about Shangy aside, the word digital” is an inherently powerful one. It means many things to many people, but at its core, it connotes a sense of possibility, of potential, of connection, and of creation.

Digital doesn’t just mean things you can do on a computer, or online; instead, it means a new way of reaching out and interacting with the people, products, and services that shape our everyday lives. I believe that a connected world provides new opportunities to help others, to tackle big issues and solve big problems. What we once had to do in isolation, we can now do together.

As someone who has spent his career working in public sector transformation—specifically, on how new technologies affect the governance of society—I know that digital services are forcing governments to rethink how they operate and serve their citizens. This rethinking is more than just figuring out how to put things online, but also a fundamental restructuring of public service organizations, policies, and processes.

This transformation has been the core narrative of my career: I believe that digital technologies can help government better work with citizens to solve big problems, and I want to help government take advantage of the potential and opportunity that comes with embracing new ways of working.

Scenes from the first OPS Lab session.

Two months ago, Zeena Abdulla put out a recruiting call to build the new Digital Government office in the Province of Ontario. The mandate was clear: this team was to be on the forefront of Ontario’s digital transformation. While a big part of the work was around technology, another large part would involve the transformation of policy and process—I knew immediately that I would apply.

How to apply? The posting was unlike most government recruiting paths: If you’re interested, send us your resume, skip the cover letter and just tell us why this is your dream job.”

I wrote a letter. It was long, and it started with my undergraduate research on digital governance and ended with my most recent work in open government. Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote:

There’s a thread that ties all of this together: the belief that digital technologies will fundamentally shift government, governance, and democracy, and that the right group of people focused on that future can make incredible strides in not just serving citizens, but redefining the public service, as well.

That thread has been my whole life. I’ve spent over ten years speaking at conferences about digital governance and digital anthropology, and have spent almost that much time working with public servants and politicians around the world to help them understand this in ways that make sense to them. I’ve done a ton of digital ethnography, am trained in user interview and journey mapping techniques, and have a theoretical framework that lets me see user behavior and global trends and synthesize them into action that works in a government context. I believe in the power of data and analysis but also the important of empathy, understanding, and storytelling. Most uniquely, I am fascinated by process and governance design, and can bury myself into talent management, human resources, performance management, and recruitment—all areas that most digital communicators find tedious, but I find fascinating.

So yes: not only do I want to work with you, and not only do I think I’ll be a unique asset that has been doing this work for almost fifteen years, but I’m convinced that I was, almost literally, born to do this work. I believe in the power of the public sector, and know that digital transformation will help the public sector make lives better for citizens. It’s at the core of what drives me to wake up every morning, and at the core of the amazing work you’ll be doing at the Ontario Government Digital Service.

Sure, my letter was over-earnest, perhaps almost saccharine, but it was honest. This is the work I have wanted to do all my life, and I made that point very clear.

Scenes from the first OPS Lab session.

A month ago, I was offered a job working on Ontario’s new Digital Government team, and I was ecstatic. Not only would I be doing work I care about deeply, but I would be working with some of the smartest, nicest, and most inspirational people I know. (Seriously, I’m so humbled to be on this list.)

The past month has been an adjustment. Going from being unemployed to having a full-time job, while trying to figure out the logistics of a remote workplace and staying connected to a team based in Toronto, hasn’t been easy, but it surely has been fulfilling.

I’ve never really believed in a dream job”, but I have had a vision of my perfect type of employment: one where I get to work on a team of people who inspire me, to create meaningful and long-lasting positive change to society, while being led by leaders who teach and mentor while trusting me to deliver. One month in, all the boxes are being checked.

Digital might be a word that is overused these days, and is the fodder for a lot of jokes, but it’s no joke to me. I believe that this digitally-connected world will give us an opportunity to make life better for so many people, and I’m so happy to have started a new job, to be on a team, that is hoping to turn that opportunity into action.

(If you’re interested in following along with the work that our team will be doing, we’ll be launching a Medium publication next month. Stay tuned!)