By the Honourable Scott Brison, President of the Treasury Board

Photo of the Honourable Scott Brison

I’ve noted that Apple can design something so intuitive that my 4‑year‑olds can find exactly what they want in about 40 seconds, yet we have struggled to design government websites that we grown-ups can navigate easily.

In my view, digital government has little to do with technology. It’s got everything to do with enabling, empowering, and serving people. It’s about focusing on user needs to make website content simple and clear. It’s about doing the hard work to improve so Canadians don’t have to.

We need to continue to make access to government easier for Canadians, whether they’re applying for programs, looking for a quick answer online, engaging with us on important policy questions, or simply learning something new about their federal government.

Too often, people have difficulty getting what they need from government websites. Often, instead of providing answers, we just give them information.

What’s the difference? Imagine this scenario: you show up at a service desk to submit an application to access a program. When you ask a couple of questions related to your particular situation, the service representative hands you a thick stack of manuals, guides, legislation and reports and says, “Here’s the information. It’s all in there. Read it over and if you have any more questions, get back in line.” Besides eating up your valuable time, in the end you may not actually find the answer you need.

Of course this would never happen. In reality, service desk staff ask you the right questions for your situation and provide you with an answer you can use. Yet to get such service, you have to go in-person, or pick up a phone.

For truly user-focused online service, we need to think like the person on the other side of the screen. We must understand their needs. What types of situations do they find themselves in? What do they need to know? How do we create answers that make sense to people, and what is the best way to do this? When we understand what people need, we can write simple and clear content that makes sense to them.

The Treasury Board Secretariat is working with project partners at Health Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency, and Environment and Climate Change Canada to understand what people expect from The teams are creating prototypes that make it much easier for Canadians to:

  • find and interpret disease symptoms and immunization guidelines
  • see if they are eligible to receive caregiver benefits when looking after loved ones
  • understand how to fulfill GST/HST and payroll requirements
  • prepare for high-impact weather conditions

The teams know the prototypes are successful because they have tested them with users. Before any work started they asked Canadians to use the services, and 40% were successful finding the answers they needed. After they improved the content, the success rate jumped to 77%. If you think about the millions of visits these pages get every year, improvements like this will make a big difference.

Check out the projects overview to learn more about these improved services.

This work is showing us that when it comes to writing content for digital government, well-researched, small changes to content can make a big difference for Canadians. With digital content, it is even more critical to get the basics right:

  • organize instructions in the way people expect
  • replace bureaucratese with simple, clearly organized language that make sense to people
  • only say what needs to be said, nothing more

There are many opportunities for a digital government to deliver better results for Canadians. We are looking at digital approaches to inform policy development and improve our services. In some areas, big changes may be required. But making small, smart changes goes a long way in helping Canadians use our services.

Learn more about the Digital Transformation Office

About the author

The Honourable Scott Brison is the President of the Treasury Board.

Scott Brison, the Member of Parliament for Kings–Hants (Nova Scotia), has been elected to Canada’s House of Commons in 7 general elections between June 1997 and October 2015.

Prime Minister Trudeau appointed Mr. Brison to the federal cabinet as President of the Treasury Board in November 2015. He serves as a member of the key Cabinet Committee on Agenda, Results and Communications that tracks progress on the government’s priorities; the Cabinet Committee on Growing the Middle Class that considers strategies to promote inclusive economic growth, opportunity, employment, and social security; and as Vice-Chair of the Cabinet Committee on Defence Procurement.