Following a recent merger of Nova Scotia’s internal services and external services teams to create the Nova Scotia Digital Services team, Natasha Clarke has gotten the chance to oversee some of the already existing projects under the team’s purview as the province’s new chief digital officer.
One of those projects was the creation of online applications for the Heating Assistance Rebate Program. The results of that project were felt immediately she said.
More than 600 applications were processed on the first day that the online service launched; a total that took them an entire year under the paper-based version of the program.
Clarke, whose been the CDO since June, attributed the success of this initiative to the fact that the team behind the program researched to ensure what they were putting out there was what people wanted.
“This was a program that a few years ago was completely paper-based. It’s a $200 rebate for low-income Nova Scotians to help them with their home heating. And you can make all kinds of assumptions about low-income Nova Scotians or low-income seniors that they’re not going to use a digital service,” said Clarke. “But by using human-centered service design, by doing user research with folks that use this program, we were able to quickly sort of bust those myths. And not only that but design the service in a way that really made sense to them.”
Being able to provide the services that citizens want should be the mandate that all digital services teams focus on said Clarke, and she encouraged all governments – no matter at what level or of what size – to go down that same path; whether or not they believe they have the resources and manpower for it.
“It doesn’t have to be a big team. That’s how we started. It was a small team,” said Clarke.
While she acknowledged that every government will have its strengths and its way of doing things, Clarke emphasized that one common strategy all public sector digital services teams should follow is to show their work. It could help future teams on their journeys down this path.
“We were experimenting ourselves and trying things out and finding willing partners and then communicating the heck out of it,” explained Clarke. “Show your work in the open and demonstrate that this matters while at the same time having those strategic conversations with decision-makers so that they can see the benefits and they can see the impact that doing this can have.”
One major impact that digital services can have – and a benefit that Clarke said she sees great value in – is the ability to deliver services easily and conveniently to those who live in rural areas and have a tough time accessing them.
“We will be making sure… that we’re able to reach Nova Scotians and that we’re not leaving anyone behind,” said Clarke. “What this does is it opens the door to more access to services that perhaps was not available before in a more physical footprint.”
She said that this was a big driver for Nova Scotia, as outside of Halifax, much of the province is extremely rural. According to 2016 data from Statista, almost half (42.6 per cent) of Nova Scotia’s population resides in rural areas.