Part 2 of Spotlight on Donna Achimov of Service Canada

InterGovWorld’s Spotlight series profiles executives, decision-makers and their initiatives across all levels of Canadian government.

In Part 1 of InterGovWorld’s Spotlight on Donna Achimov of Service Canada, we discussed read-to-me access to information and how a degree in journalism kickstarted a degree in public sector management. In Part 2, we look at how focus-testing can finetune services for citizens, how Service Canada employees stay connected even when they’re way up North, and how being a “techie” can help if you want to work in the public sector.

You had mentioned that Service Canada does a lot of focus-testing and has set up hands-on advisory groups. Do you use the feedback from those groups to tailor services you’re providing to citizens?

Yes, and it allows us to not only tailor the services, but to also work with our policy colleagues to demonstrate where there are weaknesses and where people are expecting information. One of the easiest examples was the issue of tailoring the information we provided on the birth certificate and the Social Insurance Number (SIN).

We were struggling to manage demands of new parents, we had information online but it wasn’t packaged in a way that a new parent would find it. If you’re expecting a child, you wouldn’t necessarily think about a SIN, so those focus tests really allowed us then to completely go about it in a different way, to bundle and to partner with the provinces who issued the birth certificate. That was a classic example of listening to citizens and doing things very differently.

You mentioned the “read-to-me” feature available on the Service Canada Web site for those who are visually impaired, how has the evolving technology affected your role and the work that you do?

I think we’ve seen changes in technology as the enabler. For example dealing with people with disabilities, which yes we have the read to me feature and I think that we’re seeing some of those pieces being mainstreamed. But now we’re using technology to support our staff. One of the things we’re doing in Service Canada is a lot of mobile outreach so we drive out to remote communities and in some cases rural, and very desolate places. This is where we’re equipping our people with the use of technology to be able to serve these communities. That’s an example where we’re not pushing the technology on the citizen, but we’re actually using it to expand our reach.

We’re looking at the use of wireless technology for our staff that is traveling to places that are remote, so that they can upload and have secure storage of information. For example when we’re sending staff way up North in the Northwest Territories, technology has to function. We’re using satellite phones in those cases, where its invisible to the citizen and in other instances we’re leveraging technology to make lives of the citizens easier. Like the fact that we can now authenticate and people can go online and make some basic changes to their information. Those are all things that people are expecting.

Donna Achimov with team members of the Citizen and Community Service Branch
who received a Service Canada Award of Excellence last September in Regina.
(Photo courtesy of Service Canada)

From your perspective, what do you think citizens expect the most with service delivery?

I think people expect to have the information presented to them in a user-friendly, easy to access way. I think citizens demand and not just expect that the government will hold their personal information personal and that that’s never compromised. I think people expect to be served in the method of their choice (i.e online, telephone) and I think that they expect that technology enables that.

We’re starting to offer services in a number of languages as well. We have pilot locations in Vancouver where we’ve got a team that’s mobile with laptops and cell phones, and they serve Punjabi, Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking citizens. Some of the young people are dealing with very elderly people in the community, and it’s kind of neat watching technology span the generations and introducing other languages to add to the complexity.

Continued: Upcoming projects and what it takes to work in the public sector

Part 1 of Spotlight on Donna Achimov