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 A Week of Collaboration in Washington, DC
 Heather Laird / Strategic Partnerships Team / June 27, 2018
 12 minute read

On May 15, the United States Digital Service hosted its counterparts from the North: the Digital Collaboration Division of the Government of Canada.

These public servants are creating a single collaborative public service and encouraging new ways of working in an open, transparent, digital environment. Heather Laird and Christopher Allison came to visit USDS Headquarters and discussed their work focused on creating an Open & Accessible Digital Workspace, a collaboration tool for teams with government records retention compliance and multilingual support baked-in. USDSers queried our visitors on their use of APIs and on the broader efforts involved with behavior change work around technology adoption in government.

Even as long standing allies and friends with many shared values and priorities, service delivery in the US and Canada each have their own distinct issues, our discussion yielded insights into the parallels of our work.

Tools for the Win

The people we serve may be different, but the tools needed to help public servants get great work done are often the same. The need for surveys and consultation tools, instant messaging and team chat, space for ad hoc, cross-team working groups, or document sharing that meets government standards seems more or less universal. Commercial tools do a lot, but open source tools can be tweaked on the fly to meet the regs & legs of governments in charge.

Our Questions

  • What might it look like for governments around the world to build up open
source tools that can meet the needs of our employees?
  • Could we adapt what’s already built in the open to get awesome, accessible
  • Could we understand our needs better and create better specs when we buy
  • What are the pros and cons of open source and proprietary solutions for
different use cases?
  • How might other groups working to serve the public use open tools too?
  • How might we decentralize, build, and invest in processes to support open
source projects for public benefit work around the world?

Sharing the Secret Sauce

The Digital Collaboration Division, alongside partners, has already spun up beta versions of tools that are free to use or copy-paste into a new version, right now (!).

  • Instant Messaging for team chat and on-the-fly exchanges
- Builds on RocketChat
- Check out Collab Message
  • Project Boards to manage projects and workflow
- Builds on Wekan
- Check out Collab Kanban
  • Authentication to provide trusted identification across other tools
- Builds on Python Django
- Check out Collab Account

The Digital Collaboration is exploring how these can connect with services created in the US, like:

  • Vets.gov
  • Certify.sba.gov
  • Move.mil
  • Login.gov
  • Data.gov
  • Pulse.cio.gov
  • Digital.gov
  • Challenge.gov

Any group can join in the Government of Canada instance (by invitation, for now), or adapt the open source tools independently. The US Government is already using some of these open source tools, so we are both invested in making them better.

Our Questions

  • Who else might benefit from these tools?
  • How can we increase user adoption?
  • When needed, how can we open up approvals for these tools for government
employees working in different jurisdictions?
  • When these tools are awesome, how can we tell the story?
  • When they need to be improved, how can we get feedback to make them
  • How can we put these tools in the hands of every civil servant when they start a
new job?
  • How can the government promote wider adoption of APIs, like what USDS has
done with health data access?

The Greatest Good

Tools are one part of the story - the mission is what matters in the end. It turns out colleagues in Canada and the US Government are working on supporting Veterans, streamlining the Immigration process, giving citizens and health professionals better access to healthcare information, and much more.

Our Questions

  • How can we learn from each other to avoid repeating mistakes?
  • How can we adopt solutions developed in different departments to leap-frog
  • How can we take lessons back from successful missions to improve service,
and change tools, human resource, onboarding, and other processes in
government to make it easier next time?

What's Next?

Doors open! An open invitation to take a tour up North and hotdesk with the Digital Collaboration Division. Contact @derek.alton or derek.alton@tbs-sct.gc.ca to learn more.

And vice versa, any Canadians looking to visit USDS and learn more about what USDS is up to on their projects can contact @c_sethna or cyrus.l.sethna@omb.eop.gov
Join the Partners’ Forum for the open source project to create an open and accessible digital workspace by hollering @derek.alton or derek.alton@tbs-sct.gc.ca

Who’s in the conversation, to name a few: @USDS @MattCutts @MarkLerner @Govloop @SteveRessler @OpenGovHub @OpenGovPartnership @LenaTrudeau @KellyOlson @PhilWenger @GrayBrooks @CDS @IRCC @18F @codeforDC @sunlightfoundation and so many more.
Thanks for an amazing week!

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