Starting a New Chapter

“Did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?”
-“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd

Let’s start with the punchline: November 17th will be my last day as a public servant in the Government of Canada.

A few months ago I wrote about my journey over the past decade working on what these days we call “digital government”. It has been an amazing adventure, with the full range of triumphs and challenges that any good journey contains. Not the least of which has been the recent launch of the Canadian Digital Service (CDS) this summer.

For me personally, CDS represents the culmination of almost a decade’s worth of work in my professional career. In particular, the past 18 months since returning to Ottawa from my year at the OECD in Paris, creating CDS has been my all-consuming obsession, and through it I have had the incredible opportunity to build a new organization from the ground up. It’s an amazing team with an ambitious mandate to play a lead role in changing how government leverages technology to better serve the people who use government services. CDS is also equally about changing the culture of government, both by bringing in talent from outside for “tours of duty” in the public service, and by demonstrating a different way of working in government which embraces openness, agility, innovation, and a focus at the centre of everything we do on the real people impacted by our work.

All of this begs the question of course: why leave now? While CDS may have only just recently launched and most of the team is coming into this fresh (relatively-speaking), for me this has been a multi-year journey leading up to this point. My goal was always to get CDS off the ground and build the momentum we needed to sustain through the hard work ahead during the next few years of our mandate. On that count, I feel increasingly confident that we are there. We have secured funding for the next three years and established the organization; built an initial core team of two dozen passionate and talented people and are actively recruiting our next wave of recruits; we have built relationships across Canada and internationally and are starting partnerships with organizations like Code for Canada to enhance our capacity; and we have started our first project work with departments to begin making tangible improvements in how government delivers services in a digital world.

There is never an easy time to make a decision like this to leave. But at the same time, this was always going to be a natural inflection-point for me. When I joined the federal government in 2010 I did so with the intention of it being a relatively short tour of duty. More than seven years later, while I have been here much longer than I anticipated, I am grateful for having stayed this long and being able to see many parts of that vision of a modern, digitally-enabled government start coming to fruition. That said, there is much work to still to be done and many parts of that same vision which remain unfulfilled. For this type of large-scale transformation to be successful it needs people both inside and outside of the system passionate about change and working actively to make it a reality. As I have reflected in recent months on what my personal next steps should be, it has increasingly become clear to me that where I might be able to best add value right now is to be an informed voice from the outside where I can work on these issues from a different perspective.

So what’s next? To start, I’m going to take a little bit of time off. Though not really, because as anyone who knows me knows, I’m not very good at actually taking time off. At the end of November I’m going to head back home to Saskatchewan for an extended visit to both see family but also do some work on the documentary film and multimedia installation project about the Doukhobor community in Saskatchewan that I have been working on in my (non-existent) spare time these past 18 months. It deserves some focused attention from me, particularly as we move into the “creative” phase of storyboarding and editing which is something that you just can’t do a few hours at a time on evenings or weekends after coming home tired after yet another 12+ hour day at the office.

After that? We will see. While my intent is to stay actively involved working on issues around digital transformation in government, I’m keeping myself open to possibilities on what shape that will take. The New Year will bring new adventures, and I am conscious of how relatively rare it is in life to be able to make the choice to have a blank slate to work with – put another way, I am grateful for the opportunity to start 2018 with no idea how 2018 will end (terrifying as that might be at times, if I am being honest)!

Bottom line: stay tuned, and stay in touch. I will be on the usual social media places (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram), and of course, keep an eye on this space (which I suspect may become a bit more active) – including signing-up for my mailing list to get blog updates directly to your inbox:

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 One last thing: Thank You. I didn’t want to turn this post into an Oscar-speech-gone-bad with an endless list of people to thank. But that is only because it is true. The list IS endless, and there are so many people to whom I am eternally grateful for the impact you have had not just on my career, but on my life, in ways big and small. The only way I can repay those contributions is to hopefully have just as big of an impact for all of you, even while we explore different paths forward on this journey together. As always, I remain optimistic that the best is yet to come.

Next Phase of the Saskatchewan Doukhobor Prayer Service Project

We are excited to be moving into the next phase of this project, and happy to be able to provide an update on our progress as we launch our new crowdfunding campaign to support this work. For those who have been following our work on this project since last year, you will know that the goal of the Prayer Service Preservation Project has been to preserve the spiritual traditions of my ancestors, the Saskatchewan Doukhobors, for future generations through the creation of a documentary film and immersive audio/visual exhibit that will tell the story of how the Doukhobors in Saskatchewan practice their faith and how the community has evolved over the years.

Over the past year we have spent significant time and effort professionally capturing over 80 hours of unique audio and video recordings of the Doukhobor community in Saskatchewan that will be used for both the documentary film and multimedia exhibit. This has included:

  • Recording session at the Blaine Lake Doukhobor Prayer Home last October where we professionally recorded both audio and video of a prayer service as it is practiced by Saskatchewan Doukhobors today
  • Interviews with 25 individuals from across the generations of our Saskatchewan Doukhobor community in late 2016 and early 2017
  • Video and audio recording this past July at the Heritage Days celebration at the National Doukhobor Heritage Village in Veregin, Saskatchewan including the history tours, molenya (“prayer service”), and choir performances that were held

This summer we also began work on reviewing archival footage and other historical materials from the Saskatchewan archives as well as those that have been generously shared with us by Doukhobor societies and individuals from the community in Saskatchewan. We have also been working with our audio and video experts to start to the process of preparing our recordings for editing and production.

We also had some media coverage on the project last year as it was kicking off:

What’s next? By the end of the year we will be launching a website for the project which will include the full professional-quality recording of the prayer service that was recorded in Blaine Lake last October. We will be devoting significant time in the coming months to the editing and production of the documentary film portion of the project which we plan to release sometime in 2018. Currently we are also in talks with a number of organizations about finding a home for the immersive audio/visual exhibit portion of the project.

As this project has been conducted on a volunteer, non-profit basis, the financial support of everyone who has donated has been incredibly important. Our fundraising efforts to date have raised $14,140 from over 90 individuals across Canada, the United States, and Europe, as well as including donations from the Blaine Lake Doukhobor Ladies’ Club, the Doukhobor Society of Saskatoon, the Calgary Doukhobor Society, and the Doukhobor Cultural Society of Saskatchewan. We have also received contributions of $4370 in research funding from our partnership with the University of Saskatchewan for this project.

The total of $18,510 in financial support raised is against just over $20,000 in expenses to date. These expenses have included $17,255 for professional video and audio recording services for the recording session in Blaine Lake, interviews with community members, and recordings in Veregin this summer, as well as $1950 for data storage equipment (physical and online), and $900 for administrative and service charges related to the project.

With further expenses to come related to the editing and production of the various film products, we are launching another round of fundraising. Our goal is to raise $5000 by the end of this year which will cover all of our expenses to date and should provide the additional resources needed to complete this phase of the project. We are re-launching our crowdfunding campaign, and if you are inspired to do so, we would gladly accept donations of any amount to help us achieve our goal. As with any good crowdfunding campaign there are perks! For example, for donations of $50 you will receive a complimentary copy of the film on DVD, and for donations of $100 you will receive the DVDs along with a ticket to the grande premiere of the project. Full details on the project and how to make a donation online are available via Indiegogo: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/phase-ii-doukhobor-prayer-service-project

(for those who prefer to donate by cash or cheque, happy to accept donations made payable to: “Spirit Wrestler Productions” – contact me for details).

Thank you for your continued support of this project and stay tuned for future updates!