Q&A Interview with Chrystia Chudczak - Canadian Government Executive
CommunicationGovernmentPublic SectorThe Interview
February 28, 2017

Q&A Interview with Chrystia Chudczak

In 2015, the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) launched the Service Lab to respond to a recognized need for better government service experiences for Canadian businesses. Shereen Benzvy Miller, Assistant Deputy Minister of Small Business, Tourism and Marketplace Sector, led the charge. CGE Editor Patrice Dutil caught up with the Executive Director of the Service Lab, Chrystia Chudczak, to discuss the work being done as the lab approaches its 2nd anniversary. Chudczak has worked as a public servant for over 30 years, starting her career as a Legislative Assistant for a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons. Most recently, she was the Assistant Commissioner of the Northern Pipeline Agency (NPA). She officially joined the Service Lab in October 2015. She holds an MPA from Carleton University and an MBA from the University of Ottawa.

Chudczak has worked as a public servant for over 30 years, starting her career as a Legislative Assistant for a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons. Most recently, she was the Assistant Commissioner of the Northern Pipeline Agency (NPA). She officially joined the Service Lab in October 2015. She holds an MPA from Carleton University and an MBA from the University of Ottawa.

Tell me about your approach. What makes the Lab different from what a policy shop would have done in the past?

Design thinking has been around in the private sector for a while and Government is now getting immersed in this process as well.  Some would consider this an art, others science. As such, we take the best out of the methodologies that we’ve seen out there and we make it our own. What we’ve done is try to make the process very simple and inclusive for public servants. We have five stages: the first is the pre-discovery stage, where people come in and chat with us. We do a triage with them to try and figure out what their problem is, to find out more about their culture, and to see if there is actually a fit with their project and our mandate.

The second stage is about discovery, which involves looking at all the evidence out there – experiential, qualitative and quantitative data. We add those pieces to the mix and then take a third step: we assemble the team and the client in the lab with the very end-users who have those friction points and together we brainstorm. The fourth step involves devising prototypes and solutions that we want to bring forward so that the client can test them. Finally, we evaluate them to see if they work or not. This process is iterative and we encourage our clients to be open-minded about going through it as many times as necessary until we’ve attained the best prototype and outcome for the end-user. No policy shop does that.

How do you think the Lab’s “discoveries” will change the way program delivery is formulated in government?

Last week, I had the chance to sit down with a few people who’ve been clients of the Lab and they helped me clarify what our impact is. They said that by the virtue of our approach we are changing the face of government. We help people see themselves in government. In some cases this impact is incremental, in others it’s huge.

For example, last November the Lab completed a very successful project with the Persons with Disabilities Chairs and Champions Committee (PWDCCC) to design a strategy for Government employees with disabilities. Subsequently, I found out that the Deputy Minister who was responsible for the project began receiving calls from all over the Government. I was told the participants from the disabilities community emerged from those two days of working with the Lab optimistic and rejuvenated and had regained a powerful voice for persons with disabilities in the public service.

The Deputy was amazed at the amount of work, effort and detail they were able to put into the Strategy. I’m also really proud of what they accomplished together. I think that by virtue of the workshop itself, we have already made a material difference in the lives of many people who now see themselves as real producers in the public service. They are not seeing themselves through a disabilities lens, but a capabilities lens. That mind shift is huge.

What do you think is needed to make your Lab successful?

We empathize with our clients and we put ourselves in their shoes. We try to make sure that everything we do is in the clients’ interest by listening to their needs and understanding their culture. I would say culture is about 80% of the success factor in getting to a prototype solution. If you can understand the culture of the client, and work within that culture, and help shape the culture of an organization or community, then you can make a huge difference.

You are testing a new collaborative technology in the Lab. Tell me about it.

There is this great federal government initiative called the Build in Canada Innovation Program (BCIP). It is managed by Public Services and Procurement Canada and allows government departments to purchase new, pre-commercial Canadian technologies for testing.

We got lucky and found this amazing company called Nureva. They have a software technology that is essentially electronic sticky notes on steroids. What is so great about it is that it allows you to work collaboratively with others, regardless of where you are in the world. Not only is the tech great at allowing us to do our work better by collaborating with more people, we are also just thrilled and excited to be able to support Canadian innovation by working with small-medium sized enterprises. And BCIP was able to buy it for us while we provide a test-bed for this innovative Canadian invention.

Are there plans to adopt any other technologies through BCIP in 2017?

Absolutely! We want to be a top user of BCIP in the Government of Canada and a pipeline for small-medium size Canadian businesses who are looking to test their technologies in government. We have potentially two other technologies that we are looking at bringing into the Lab through BCIP in 2017.

What is the best thing you’ve experienced in the lab?

That is a really hard question. Over the past year, we’ve been fortunate to work on a number of really great and captivating projects. For example, we worked with the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) to design a Government of Canada-wide Service Strategy; we helped the Community of Federal Regulators and TBS to re-design their online presence to make it easier for Canadians to find, understand and scan regulatory information (this team actually won a public service award!); and we’ve even designed our own branded mental health board game that supports mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

But if I had to choose, I would say the most recent thing was seeing the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, Carla Qualtrough, stand up after hearing the presentation of a systems strategy for persons with disabilities in the federal government and say “wow” – it seemed to be exactly what she wanted. The people in the room who had just finished a two-day LEGO Serious Play workshop in the Lab were overjoyed. People were simply overwhelmed with the experience of having actually delivered on a longstanding commitment that people had wanted to see for many, many years.

My hope is that this will come back to us to help design the accessibility legislation for Canada. That would be a first for our Service Lab and we would be honored to do it.

You’ve mentioned before that you want to see the Service Lab become one of the top five public sector innovation labs in the world. Is this actually achievable in the not too-far-distant future?

Already we’ve had over 7,000 visits through our doors from public, private and academic sector partners and guests and completed over 30 projects and events across the Government of Canada. So, I think anything is possible. And with the right attitude and with the right people driving the business, it can happen. The biggest challenge I see in front of us is in many ways ourselves – by limiting our ambition in our vision to change the Government of Canada, to change the public service and make it modern.

You are starting your third year soon. What’s on your plate?

Its Canada’s 150! I’m really excited to see the Service Lab is catching on with more and more public servants as a tool to unlock their creative potential. Already we have 13 new pipeline projects for the new Fiscal Year and that’s in addition to the 30 we are already committed to and are in the planning stages for. My hope is that by the end of 2017, the Service Lab will be the go-to place for innovative approaches and develop a great roster of private sector designers supporting us.

I also want to expand our capacity through more dynamic activities, beyond what we are doing already. I want to beef up our work in the Ottawa community and be seen as a thought leader in design thinking that supports not just us in government, but also the National Capital Region.

And finally, I’d like to solve some wicked problems. I would love to design the application of disruptive technologies for federal services and programs – like Blockchain. I would like to try and fix some big problems facing our country by using design thinking.

These sound like very aspirational, visionary things, but I think if people start believing they can make a difference and use design – this way of working with empathy and collaborating with users – that governments with Canadians can fundamentally shift how we do our business and do it better.

About this author

Patrice Dutil

Patrice Dutil is the Editor of Canadian Government Executive. He is a Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University in Toronto. He has worked as a government policy advisor, a non-profit organization executive, a television producer and was the founder, and editor for five years, of The Literary Review of Canada. His upcoming publications include a book on the administrative practices of Canadian prime ministers Macdonald, Laurier and Borden, and a study of the 1917 election in Canada.

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