Since our initial event in 2017, we survey hundreds of digital government professionals to understand what policy, technology, and leadership priorities are driving digital transformation, and then share it to help shape the content and format of the event. It’s part of how we “work in the open” and make sure our content and workshops align with our audience’s most pressing needs.
We use the results of these surveys, including qualitative data on what we didn’t include, to inform speaker selection and to help those proposing talks for this year’s event to better understand what audiences want to learn about. We’re also able to compare to previous years in order to understand shifting mandates.
Here’s a summary of our findings; you can read the complete report here.
While FWD50 is a global conference that has welcomed delegates from over 30 countries, the bulk of in-person attendees and respondents live in Canada’s National Capital Region. Roughly 75% work at the Federal level, with NGOs, provinces/states, and the private sector making up the bulk of remaining responses. Nearly 20% of respondents hold an executive position (Executive, Senior Executive, and Director General; senior ADM.)
Respondents are involved in policy, project management, data analysis, systems engineering, and service delivery. Private sector respondents were largely in sales and marketing departments focused on product and service sales to government. Fully 43% of respondents have completed a Masters degree or higher.
More than a quarter of respondents work in technology and IT services—with social development, education, transportation, electoral systems, law, healthcare, and information management also responding.
We asked respondents to rate the relative importance of a variety of policy areas drawn from government mandates. We used the same policy categories as last year in order to compare how rankings have changed from 2019 to 2020.
In each of these cases, we rated priorities from “unimportant” to “critically important.” Because we’re using Google Forms (which is more accessible than many other survey tools) we don’t have question formats that force respondents to choose tradeoffs between policies, so the relative ranking of these policies is more informative than the absolute scores.
In the following chart, a shorter vertical bar shows consensus—less variance among respondent ratings of the policy areas. The horizontal line is the average score for each response:
Digital preparedness and resiliency, service delivery for the most vulnerable, digital rights and privacy, climate change, and elder care are the most highly-rated policy areas; there is consensus around digital preparedness, digital rights, tech education and training, and healthcare modernization.
We asked respondents what policy areas we missed in our survey. Several respondents suggested items that were already in the list (policing, caring for our most vulnerable, and healthcare, for example.) This is a sign of increased concern in an area, with a special interest or concern.
Here’s what these responses look like in a word cloud:
We have historically avoided cyber-security as a topic, but in a post-Covid world where our remote work and tools give hackers additional attack services, it’s a valid concern.
Respondents included food security and the risk of a “climate divide” as areas on which we should focus.
By far the most added response, this suggests that inclusion and accessibility continue to be a huge priority for the government. Respondents mentioned data equity, inclusive AI, gender equality, access for people with disabilities, reducing the digital divide, a national autism program, and socio-economic considerations. Digital government’s role in reconciliation with Canada’s first nations was also mentioned.
Virtual education, and improving child education through technology, were suggested.
A critical topic for 2020, responses here included how our shift to teleworking will change culture, where we live, how we work, and what we spend our money on. Access to reliable computers efficiently, co-ordinating with distributed teams, and shifting from a “time spent,” top-down, task-oriented performance appraisal to one more focused on results.
Response to Covid-19
We didn’t call out Covid-19 in particular, but some respondents suggested content on economic recovery and re-thinking citizen engagement.
With concerns about fair elections, voter disenfranchisement, and the involvement of foreign actors in electoral processes, several respondents suggested we tackle democrative reform, information integrity, public policy on social media, social cohesion, and protecting democracy in a Fake News world.
FWD50 has always focused on digital transformation, but the events of the past six months have dramatically accelerated technology adoption—often proving nay-sayers wrong and forcing new tools and processes into government. Respondents suggested internal transformation, more focus on collaboration within the parliamentary model, public-private cooperation, agile methodologies, matrix organizational structures, and procurement modernization.
A few respondents want emphasis on accountability and using technology to make government finances more transparent across procurement, HR, budgeting, and how projects are managed. Universal Basic Income, perhaps demonstrated by CERB, is another topic.
Covid-19 has forced unprecedented levels of co-operation between federal, provincial, and municipal authorities. “if it wasn’t for COVID19,” said one respondent, “modernizing IT would have been missed entirely.”
Several respondents explained that Covid-19 had shown them just how brittle and globally dependent Canada’s supply chains are, citing a need to work on International Relations and peacekeeping while reducing trade barriers.
Governance & oversight
While most respondents are enthusiastic about technology, they still want to hold it accountable. Data governance and regulatory modernization were key topics, as were privacy management, information management, and the analytics and regulation of cross-border data flows. Open data and big data were also mentioned.
Justice & legal
Some respondents listed “access to justice,” and on a broader level, using technology to make the legal system more accessible to all.
We asked questions about natural resources, but several respondents mentioned self-sustainable farming, agricultural innovation, and water supply management—in part as a way to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
The resilience of the infrastructure on which government runs, and the quality of the data we generate from it, are important topics.
None of the services we speak about at FWD50 work without some form of identification (of the user); authorization (of what they’re allowed to do); and accounting (of what we store and track about their activities.) Unsurprisingly, digital identity remains a key topic for the conference in part because it unlocks all the other technologies and services that governments want to create.
Policy changes over time
This chart shows the relative change in average ranking of each policy from 2019 to 2020. Caring for the elderly and vulnerable increased; transportation and policing decreased the most.
We asked respondents to rate how important each technology will be to digital government and technology transformation, from “unimportant” to “critically Important”:
Chat and collaboration, remote working, automation, digital processes, and chat all increased in importance, while 5G and AI decreased in importance—which we’d expect given the impact of the pandemic on workers.
These shifts are even more striking when we look at the change of each topic over the last year as a set of lines:
We asked respondents what most surprised them about our response to Covid-19. Respondents were proud and enthusiastic about proof that the government can act quickly and effectively for the benefit of all citizens.
The biggest surprises—other than how well working from home turned out—are a focus on work/life balance and increased emphasis on senior care, the health system, and risk-taking. Some also expressed surprise at how much automation and digital infrastructure were already in place.
Opportunities and obstacles
Policy priorities and the promise of new technologies are fine—but what about the obstacles that digital innovators face? We listed a number of common problems that can often delay or conflict with tech implementation, asking people to rate them from “not a problem” to “a huge problem.” The following chart shows responses across our seven obstacles.
Because we asked the same question last year, we can see the relative change in importance across these problems.
Privacy and the need for opt-in was seen as more of an obstacle to technology deployment, while other factors—particularly an appetite for new tools and changes to government leadership—were less important.
We asked respondents how they planned to participate in the 2020 event, given concerns over travel and social distancing. Multiple choices were permitted for our question about how people plan to participate:
We try to vary FWD50’s lineup to provide a variety of interaction and learning formats. Since people learn better in different environments—we prefer to consume movies from our couch; communicate with our mobile phone; and create and collaborate using our computer. So how do our session formats align with technologies?
Conclusions & recommendations for content
From this survey, it’s clear the FWD50 2020 audience has some specific topics, technologies, and cultural challenges they’d like to dive deep into this fall.
Teleworking and a distributed workforce
Work-from-home has been the biggest catalyst for change in recent memory, across both government and the private sector. But with this shift come new challenges: What works best? How should executives manage a distributed workforce? How do teams balance flexibility and work-life balance with the need to deliver predictable results and follow organizational roles and responsibilities?
Transportation, hotelling, and work design
Another aspect of remote working is the infrastructure and logistics to support it—from broadband and cloud computing, to changing commute patterns, hotelling, and the design of new office space.
COVID and economic recovery
COVID-19 is a painful example of our shortcomings, from collaboration to border policies to healthcare to early-warning systems. For many respondents, this foreshadows a broader set of concerns: As we come to depend on digital systems, how do we make government—and citizens—digitally resilient? How do we maintain and test our infrastructure, and introduce redundancy in supply chains that keeps goods and services moving even in a crisis?
Diversity and inclusion
An increased reliance on technology can improve accessibility and tailor services to individual needs—but can also widen the digital divide and accelerate ageism and injustice. How do we embrace new technologies while ensuring nobody is left behind? Respondents also mentioned recidivism in policing, legal oversight, and reducing barriers to the disadvantaged.
What to propose
Ultimately, 2020 is an incredible year for delivering digital tools, because we have no other choice. In the coming years, we’ll see which practices and policies stick, and which revert. But whatever the case, it’s clear we aren’t going back to old models now that new approaches have proven their worth.
As you’re considering what talk to propose this year—whether you’ll be delivering it in person, or remotely—we hope you’ll use the insights from this report to choose a compelling topic that answers many of the burning questions 2020 has posed.