The pandemic has forced a fundamental shift in the way that cities like Toronto interact with their residents, according to its deputy city manager.
“We have rapidly introduced digital services,” said Josie Scioli, deputy city manager of corporate services for the City of Toronto at ITWC’s Technicity GTA conference. “This helps us connect more readily with the vulnerable population.”
The speedy shift to digital puts a “time-sensitive” obligation on community leaders to ensure that all citizens can benefit, said Scioli. She outlined three areas of focus, as well as describing projects underway in Toronto to address them.
Reducing the digital divide
“Imagine getting through the pandemic without technology or limited technology and you have no access to medical information about the vaccines,” said Scioli. “Our goal is to ensure that residents are connected, not divided by technology.” She noted that the digital divide is especially pronounced for black, indigenous and people of colour households as well as those with low income.
To that end, in the past year, Toronto’s ConnectTo internet connectivity program created a municipal broadband network to connect underserved areas. It also provided expanded access to free public Wi-Fi and a youth learning work placement program.
Embrace new ways of working for employees
To enhance the digital workplace, municipalities must adopt newer and faster communications tools like instant messaging and real-time collaboration. “The key to success lies in the effective implementation of a digital workplace strategy, capable of driving true cultural change,” she said. It’s also an important part of attracting and retaining talent. Scioli noted that a digital infrastructure plan was recently approved for Toronto.
Accelerate services to meet high citizen expectations
Today, citizens expect public service to be responsive and personalized, much like that offered by banks. “Despite some pockets of excellence, government still has the opportunity to really push the dial on digital service,” she said.
The City of Toronto has recently taken steps to improve its 311 service to make it easier to use. As well, it introduced a platform to provide new online payment options.
“The city is using lessons learned from the pandemic to help shape our transformational efforts,” said Scioli. “We must ensure these technologies are implemented in a way which helps everyone.”