Spotlight on Donna Achimov from Service Canada

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

Part 1 of InterGovWorld’s Spotlight on Donna Achimov, assistant deputy minister with Human Resources and Social Development, Service Canada. Achimov talks about read-to-me access to information, bundling services together, and how a degree in journalism kickstarted a degree in public sector management.

Can you give us an overview of your role with Service Canada?

I’m responsible for citizen and community service, which is essentially looking at how we bundle our services in ways that make sense to citizens. We used to deliver services according to program; now what we’re looking at are the needs of citizens.

For example, when you look at workers and employers, Employment Insurance is a key piece. But so are connecting people to jobs and issues affecting seniors, that sort of thing.

The work that my branch does is actually bundling our traditional services in these new ways that are more meaningful to citizens and we also work on implementing new areas of business that the department has been asked to deliver.

We have a large Government of Canada network of in-person offices, call centres, and we do a lot of mobile outreach.

We’re doing some initial validation now for some work on passports: my branch is the one that looks at what the best channel is to deploy this new product or service, how citizens will use it and how we can leverage our network.

I also have what is the throwback of the old way of doing business, grants and contributions, so I run a lot of programs in support of youth, and youth at risk. We do a lot of work with the not-for-profit sector, which delivers employment services on our behalf as well.

As far as working within Service Canada, how long have you been there and was that where your career started within the public sector?

No, I was all over the place in the public sector, but I’ve been with Service Canada since it was launched about a year ago, and before that I was with Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC).

I always wanted to work in Service Canada when it was still just an idea. I originally ran the 1 800 O-Canada call centre and the Government of Canada’s Web site. We were piloting the concept of a one-stop shopping service and I was quite interested in supporting that. I’ve always been connected, since the early days, to some of the pilots for Service Canada.

Is working within the government something you’ve always wanted to pursue with respect to your educational background…

I have a bachelors degree in journalism from Carleton University, and I wanted to do communications work.

I worked for the private sector for a while and my first job convinced me that I wanted to work in government. I was doing all of the communications and liaison when we were deciding if we were going to build a bridge or a tunnel between Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, what is now known as the Confederation Bridge.

That was my first experience doing communications, public consultation and engagement in the community, and I just couldn’t believe that I was getting paid to do that.

When I was offered the job for 1-800-O-Canada, it was the first time I learned the disciplines of running a call centre and managing a Web site. We built the portal back in 1999 when no one really knew what a portal was and started to introduce electronic services.I’ve just always been very lucky that I’ve been able to find jobs that were fun and interesting, and which I think made a difference.

Is that what you enjoy the most about the work you do?

I totally believe that. And it also allows me to be a very aggressive champion for people with disabilities. In the very early days I was able to convince government and leadership that if we were going to build a portal and have electronic services for citizens, that we would have to make sure they were accessible to all citizens.

When I ran the Canada Gazette, the government’s official newspaper for laws and regulations, we were one of the first gazettes in the democratic world that was available in alternate formats and accessible to people with disabilities. That’s my real desire in terms of being able to make sure that what we do is accessible to everybody.

And it’s not just people with disabilities. When you think about people who are in remote and desolate locations, and how do we reach them when we have spotty service to begin with, and we don’t have high-speed Internet. That’s a constant preoccupation, and that’s what makes the job rewarding, knowing that we can bring passport services and other government services to locations that normally wouldn’t get that service.

Donna Achimov with Ajit Mehat, director
general of the People with Disabilities
Client Segment. Adapting service delivery
to Canadians with a disability is a key
priority. (Photo courtesy of Service Canada)

Can you speak to the e-services that your branch provides to citizens and is there one service that really seems to have garnered the most interest?

Obviously citizens are interested in jobs and the Job Bank is really very important for us in terms of getting up-to-date information and that it’s real-time and it’s translated.

Other things that are receiving interest include the Record of Employment on the Web. Each year we have over a million Canadian employers who create a lot of forms in terms of registering their employees.

This enables employers to create, submit and print their records of employment via the Internet. We’re saving a lot of time, paper and expense for employers, and we have almost 175,000 visitors every month with regards to that alone.

An application for Employment Insurance benefits online is also very popular: we get almost 140,000 visitors every month. The My Service Canada account is a feature that we just built on the Service Canada Web site, and that allows people to register securely and manage their own personal information (for Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and Employment Insurance). And again, we’ve had about 100,000 visitors since it was launched late last November.

We’ve also partnered with Service Ontario to offer the newborn registration service for parents of children born in Ontario and we’re starting this pilot also in B.C. As it’s the child’s birth registration, you can apply for their birth certificate online, and at the same time you can get the child’s Social Insurance Number card, which allows you then to apply for other benefits.

New parents have found it extremely convenient, especially in Ontario since there were such huge backlogs and bureaucracy associated with getting the birth certificate. Now B.C. is raring to go on that as well.

And with my passion for people with disabilities, on the Service Canada Web site we’ve just put in a read-to-me feature. It’s a little gizmo that actually reads the text out for those who are visually impaired.

What you don’t see or what isn’t evident in the examples I gave you is that we’ve got a real passion and, I would say, an obsession that we do a lot of focus-testing. That’s a big cultural change for us is that we’ve set up a lot of hands-on advisory groups.

Part 2 of Spotlight on Donna Achimov from Service Canada

To access Spotlight Central, an archive of all past InterGovWorld spotlights, click here.

Related links:

A long time coming

Cradle to the grave getting an overhaul

Under the gun in Toronto

Yes, but…Service Canada comes under fire

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