Let's Think Digital

Think Digital

Let’s Think Digital is a podcast about what it takes to use digital technologies to transform our world to improve peoples’ lives. Hosted by Ryan Androsoff, Founder of Think Digital, alongside an incredible community of digital innovators from all walks of life, in this podcast we go beyond the traditional tech hype of founder culture, user counts, funding rounds and quarterly profits. Instead we talk about why systems resist change, and how transformation is just as much about people and culture as it is about tech stacks. We’re eager to talk about the political and philosophical ramifications of technology and what it means for the future of government. Our goal is to help you to learn about how digital is impacting our world, to ask better questions, and to be able to call bullshit when you need to! read less
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Episodes

Everything You Should Know About AI (but were afraid to ask)
1w ago
Everything You Should Know About AI (but were afraid to ask)
It's only been a year since our last episode on artificial intelligence, but already a lot has changed. It seems like Generative AI is everywhere and everyone, including governments, are struggling to keep up. So on this episode Ryan is joined by a special co-host Jen Schellinck, Think Digital Associate and our resident expert on AI and cognitive science to talk about what you need to know when it comes to AI. We're also joined by Paul Craig, the creator of the TaxGPT AI bot, and Shan Gu, Founder and CEO of Foci Solutions. Both Paul and Shan share their experience working with AI projects in and around the public sector and discuss their insights on what they have learned.In our conversation we talk about the current state of AI technology, the questions that governments should be asking when thinking about using AI, and most importantly the question on everyone's mind, who is more intelligent: ChatGPT or Ryan's cat?(Note: At 3:26, Jen refers to a steady state model. She meant to say state space model)Related LinksEpisode 8: Government in the Era of ChatGPTTaxGPTTowards a Considered Use of AI Technologies in Government by The Institute on Governance and Think DigitalWatch on YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B685AEvbbcIChapters00:00 Introduction and Welcome01:27 The Current State of the Art for Generative AI06:15 AI's Expansion: Beyond Text to Visuals and More10:27 Generative AI in Government: Policies and Adaptation18:04 Paul Craig and TaxGPT24:44 Learnings from Running TaxGPT38:04 Shan Gu and Adopting AI tech in government45:42 The Future of AI in Government: Opportunities and Challenges52:21 Is ChatGPT more intelligent than Ryan's cat?01:08:02 Conclusion
Speakers' Corner at FWD50 (with Alistair Croll and Rebecca Croll)
15-03-2024
Speakers' Corner at FWD50 (with Alistair Croll and Rebecca Croll)
If you haven’t heard of FWD50, you should! It’s one of the premiere conferences on digital modernization in government and exists to help answer one vital question: How do we use technology to make society better for all? Many of this season’s podcast conversations were recorded on location at the conference in Ottawa last November.On this episode of Let’s Think Digital you are going to get an opportunity to hear directly from some of the participants in last year’s conference. We had set-up a Speakers’ Corner booth where we invited anyone at FWD50 who wanted to share their views on what their hope for the future of digital government is and what they think is stopping us from getting there.We kick-off this episode with a wonderful conversation with two of the key founders and organizers of FWD50, Alistair Croll and Rebecca Croll. They talk about what it's like to organize the conference, highlights from the 2023 event, and give us a sneak peek of what they have in store for the 2024 edition and why you should go.Make sure to fill out the 2024 FWD50 content survey and help shape the agenda!Learn more about FWD50 at: https://www.fwd50.com Finally a big thanks to Amy Kirtay, Andy Best, Amanda Bernardo, Liz Christie, Charles Finley, Dea De Jarisco, Roy Nader, Derek Alton, Urooj Qureshi, Pascale Elvas, James Duncan, Jeff Outram, and Lewis Eisen for appearing on the podcast as part of our Speakers' Corner segment!Watch on YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHlB3ujyh6EChapters00:04 Introduction01:27 Alistair Croll and Rebecca Croll30:50 Who are you and why are you at FWD50?33:23 What is your vision for government in 2030?36:55 What are the barriers to get there?40:58 Conclusion
Open Source Government (with Aaron Snow)
01-03-2024
Open Source Government (with Aaron Snow)
It’s fair to say that most governments don’t choose to use open source by default. Despite efforts over the past two decades to make open source solutions a viable, or even default solution in government, there's still a lot of skepticism. Those in decision making positions often raise concerns around security and reliability compared to proprietary software that is viewed as being “safe” even if it is more expensive and less flexible in many cases.So what should an open source government look like? And why would we want one?To answer these questions, we are joined by Aaron Snow, Faculty Fellow, and former Acting Executive Director for the Georgetown University Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation in Washington DC. Prior to his work at the Beeck Center, Aaron was a US Presidential Innovation Fellow and was subsequently one of the co-founders, and then later Executive Director of 18F, the US government’s in-house technology and design consultancy. In 2018 he moved north of the border and became the first CEO of the Government of Canada’s Canadian Digital Service. And has twice been named one of the “World’s 100 Most Influential People in Digital Government" by Apolitical.In our conversation, we talk about why our current approach to technology actually makes government less transparent, and how open source in government might be a moral imperative. If government is creating or procuring software using taxpayer’s money--something that has been in the news with the investigation into the ArriveCan app in Canada--shouldn't government have a requirement to share that code back with the public since it is the public who “owns” it? And how do we ensure that leaders in government know enough about technology to make good decisions about how it is used?Watch on YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZJEuTgFK6MRelated LinksDigital Service NetworkAaron Snow's WebsiteGeorgetown University Beeck Center for Social Innovation and ImpactAuditor-General to report Monday on how cost of ArriveCan app grew from $80,000 to more than $54-million (Globe and Mail)Chapters00:00 Introduction04:41 Interview with Aaron Snow06:13 The Security Aspect of Open Source07:46 The Unrealized Promise of Open Source in Government13:15 The Need for Strong Political Leadership in Digital Government24:03 Modular, Reusable Components in Government32:03 Conclusion
Building Political Support for Digital Government (with Senator Colin Deacon)
16-02-2024
Building Political Support for Digital Government (with Senator Colin Deacon)
We want government to be innovative and not be left behind in the digital revolution. But this comes up against the reality of the structures, incentives, and culture of most public sector organizations that resist change. As a result, and as we’ve been talking about on this podcast, our efforts to push forward digital transformation and modernize the business of government seems to be stuck in the mud as of late. So for the dedicated community of those in and adjacent to the public service who believe in the potential of doing things in a different way, it can at times feel a bit lonely. As someone who has worked both in the political system and the public service, I know how important clear political leadership is to support these efforts. The good news is that there are those in positions of power and influence who also believe in this vision of modern government.Our guest this week is one of them.Senator Colin Deacon is an independent Senator for Nova Scotia, appointed in June 2018. He’s made Digital Government one of his focus areas in the Senate and is one of the founders and co-chairs of the Caucus Group on Emerging Technology, a multi-party initiative to help Parliamentarians better understand how technology is impacting policy issues. He is a strong advocate for working across party-lines, and with entrepreneurs, researchers and social innovators to build a more innovative digital economy in Canada.Watch on YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZGr0lZ0asYRelated LinksAbout the Diia App in Ukraine (Wikipedia)Parliamentary Budget Office Report: Overview of the Government’s Digital Service TransformationParliamentary Caucus on Emerging TechnologySenator Colin Deacon's WebsiteChapters00:05 Introduction03:06 Interview with Senator Colin Deacon05:23 The Challenges of Implementing Digital Changes in Government10:41 The Need for Modernizing Government Operations23:40 International Examples of Digital Transformation: Ukraine25:35 The Importance of Leadership in Digital Transformation25:52 Rethinking Procurement for Digital Solutions35:15 The Emerging Technology Caucus Group41:02 Closing Remarks
Building the Digital City (with Jacqueline Lu and John Houweling)
02-02-2024
Building the Digital City (with Jacqueline Lu and John Houweling)
As digital technologies become increasingly embedded in the fabric of the built environment, there are real questions about whether our cities, where 8 out of 10 North Americans live, are truly ready to be digital or smart cities. Do we have the right levels of transparency for citizens to know what data is being collected, how, and for what purpose? And are governments ready to use data and technology to improve and modernize our public institutions?This week, we talk to two amazing guests about these questions.First up is Jacqueline Lu. She is the President and Co-Founder of Helpful Places, a social impact enterprise that is working to ensure that places we live and work in, and the technologies within them, are helpful and empowering for people and their communities. In this segment, we talk to Jacqueline about her contention that, with all of the digital technologies we are surrounded by, we are already living inside a computer. We also get into Helpful Place's project called the Digital Trust for Places & Routines standard, which is meant to increase the transparency, legibility and accountability of digital technology in the built environment. Our second conversation is with John Houweling. John is the Director of Data, Analytics and Visualization for York Region in the Greater Toronto Area. John shares his insights from a fascinating career focused on data both in the public and private sectors and his his insights on the importance of data to fuel the digital revolution. We also talk about the digital maturity model that Think Digital has developed with York Region that help public sector organizations better understand what they need to do to make sure they have the capacity to operate effectively in a modern digital world.Watch on YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNuJ_1kx_jYRelated LinksBlog Post: Think Digital Digital Maturity Assessment ModelHelpful PlacesDigital Trust for Places and Routines StandardYork Region "Putting Data to Work"Chapters00:04 Introduction03:09 Interview with Jacqueline Lu04:57 The Impact of Digital Technology on Public Spaces07:38 The Role of Trust in Technology Adoption12:57 The Digital Trust for Places and Routines Standard16:02 The Importance of Transparency and Trust in Technology21:34 Government Adoption of Technology is a Trust Issue26:44 Interview with John Houweling29:17 John's Journey and Transition into Government33:36 Data Sharing and Collaboration36:52 Digital Academy and Training40:24 Digital Maturity and Benchmarking44:38 Adopting Digital Standards48:37 Conclusion and Final Thoughts from Ryan
Stepping Up to the Digital Challenge (with Hillary Hartley)
19-01-2024
Stepping Up to the Digital Challenge (with Hillary Hartley)
You've probably seen any number of stories about how some founder in Silicon Valley says their startup can tackle a big societal problem better and cheaper than the public sector because government just can't do anything right. Or maybe you've heard about a public sector executive immediately dismissing an idea that came from the private sector on how to do things differently because government's unique and this is how it's always been done.These scenarios speak to larger tensions and misconceptions between the private and public sector. But if there's one thing that the pandemic and the resulting sudden need for the deployment of impactful digital tools taught us is that we don't have to accept business as usual as the only way to solve problems and deliver services.This week we're talking about what you can accomplish when you harness tech, talent and modern approaches to digital service delivery in the public sector. Joining us to talk about this is Hillary Hartley, CEO of US Digital Response. USDR was founded in 2020 to pair volunteer tech talent with governments to create critical digital tools needed to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Today, US Digital Response has grown into a community of over 8000 pro bono digital specialists who have partnered with almost 300 different government and nonprofit organizations across the United States on projects that directly impact communities. Prior to her role at USDR, she was head of the Ontario Digital Service, which she led in conjunction with her deputy minister level position of Chief Digital and Data Officer for the Ontario government. And before that, Hillary was the deputy executive director of 18F, a digital services agency in the US federal government that she helped to create back when she was a Presidential Innovation Fellow in 2013. Hillary is a great example of someone who thought she was headed to a long term career in Silicon Valley, found herself in a public sector role, and then fell in love with the impact that she could make in government.Related LinksUS Digital ResponseCode for CanadaWatch on YouTubehttps://youtube.com/watch?v=o9QD4bfPP64
Don't Forget About the Plumbing (with Honey Dacanay)
05-01-2024
Don't Forget About the Plumbing (with Honey Dacanay)
How do we get stuff done? If there’s a broader theme for this season of the podcast, it’s that. How do we get unstuck from the mud that we seem to be in, and get on with actually realizing our digital ambitions in government?It would be easy to chase the next big digital technology. But this episode we're talking about why need to pay attention to the "plumbing." We have to think about the underlying infrastructure and the need to make upfront investments to identify and fix the deep structural problems in government that prevent us from achieving the ambitious vision of what a modern government should look like. It’s the unsexy, behind the scenes things that really holds us back.Joining us this week to talk about this is Honey Dacanay. She is the Director-General of Policy and Performance at the Office of the Government of Canada’s Chief Information Officer at Treasury Board Secretariat. She joined the federal government in 2019 taking on roles initially in the Canada School of Public Service and then Service Canada, bringing her experience from serving in the Province of Ontario where she was one of the co-founders of the Ontario Digital Service. She’s also a Professor of Practice at McMaster University where she teaches about digital government in their Master of Public Policy in a Digital Society program. And in 2019 Honey was named one of Apolitical’s 100 Most influential people in Digital Government.Watch on Youtubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txKiN8I72K0Chapters00:04 Introduction and Welcome02:45 Honey Dacanay04:31 The Need for Upfront Investment in Digital Teams18:33 Teaching the Next Generation of Leaders20:36 The Importance of Public Administration in Digital Transformation29:55 Closing Remarks and Reflections
State Capacity to Deliver Modern Solutions (with Jennifer Pahlka)
15-12-2023
State Capacity to Deliver Modern Solutions (with Jennifer Pahlka)
Can government do the things that it says it is going to do? One of the hardest things that public servants have to do is implement and it gets to the heart of a state's capacity to deliver. In the digital era, that means being able to deliver digitally. And when we think about state capacity in this context, it often seems that we find our institutions coming up short.State capacity is something that this week's guest has thought a lot about. Jennifer Pahlka is a leading figure in the digital government movement in the United States, and recently authored a new book, "Recoding America: Why Government is Failing in the Digital Age and How We Can Do Better." (See below on how to enter a draw for a free copy!)Jennifer served as Deputy Chief Technology Officer for the US Government under President Obama’s Administration where she helped to create the United States Digital Service. She is also the founder and former executive director of Code for America which she led for 10 years. More recently she co-founded and is Chair of the Board of Directors for the United States Digital Response, which was a new organization that was set up to help governments respond to the COVID-19 crisis through mobilizing volunteer tech talent. She spoke to Ryan at the FWD50 Conference in November about why governments seem to find themselves in a crisis of implementation and delivery regardless of partisan stripe. They also talk about ways to get unstuck, and stay motivated, including a really heartwarming end to the interview where Jennifer talks about what to do when we are feeling demoralized and that change is never going to come.  Enter a draw to win a free copy of Recoding America!If you'd like to get a copy of Recoding America, sign up to the Think Digital newsletter by December 22, 2023 at 11:59pm ET and you'll be entered into a draw to receive a free copy! Anyone who is signed up to the newsletter by the deadline is eligible. Go to letsthinkdigital.ca to sign up!Watch the Episode on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuTzJ7LtiiYChapters00:04 Introduction and Welcome03:15 Interview with Jennifer Pahlka05:20 The Importance of State Capacity in Government06:24 Policy vs. Implementation09:38 Key Takeaways from Recoding America15:36 The Role of Political Leadership24:20 Are Our Systems of Democratic Governance Still Fit for Purpose?28:23 Commonalities Across Jurisdictions32:19 The Role of Civic Tech in Government37:41 Don't Give Up38:55 Closing Remarks and Book Giveaway Announcement
When Evolution Isn’t Enough (with Sean Boots)
01-12-2023
When Evolution Isn’t Enough (with Sean Boots)
We're back for Season 2! This week, we have Sean Boots, an open government manager and a veteran of digital transformation efforts in the Canadian federal government. In this conversation we talk about how we seem to be stuck in the mud on our digital transformation journey, and Sean's recent presentation at the FWD50 conference and open letter to the Clerk of the Privy Council that lays out his radical (but implementable) ideas that would make the public service better equipped to handle the challenges of today and tomorrow.Watch on YouTubehttps://youtu.be/9qI1R9Z2ouMRelated LinksTo the Clerk, and friends (Sean Boots' open letter)Revolution, not evolution, for federal public service delivery (Sean Boots FWD50 talk)Chief information officer Catherine Luelo resigns from job revamping federal tech (Policy Options)What Canada can learn from Ukraine about digital services for citizens (Aaron Snow / Ottawa Citizen)Customer service a new concept for Canada’s Immigration Department (Toronto Star)Byte-Sized Progress: Assessing Digital Transformation in the Government of Canada (The Dais)Overview of the Government’s Digital Service Transformation (Parliamentary Budget Office)00:05 Introduction and Season One Recap01:31 Ryan's Thoughts on the Current State of Digital Government06:23 Introducing this Week's Guest: Sean Boots07:46 Interview with Sean Boots24:00 Why Leaders Need to Have Digital Competency31:18 Sean's Wildest Ideas34:49 Reflections on the Canadian Digital Service43:23 Staying Optimistic45:09 Conclusion
Do Innovation Labs Work?
19-05-2023
Do Innovation Labs Work?
Over the past decade it seems like countless innovation labs have sprung up inside of government. But do they really work? Sometimes innovation and government can seem like a contradiction in terms. This week, Ryan co-hosts with Think Digital Associate, Nick Scott, to dig deep into not only the ways that governments themselves can become more innovative, but why government might actually be necessary for innovation to flourish.Joining Ryan and Nick to explore this topic is Alex Ryan, Co-founder and CEO of Synthetikos. Alex has a tremendous breadth of experience having previously ran innovation labs in the United States, Alberta, and most recently, serving as Vice President of the Solutions Lab at MaRS in Toronto. He talks about what he has learned during his years of experience helping government and the social sector harness innovation, his belief that government can in fact be innovative, and how government is the ultimate opportunity to do innovation at scale.If you ever have wanted to learn about what these things called innovation labs really are, what they are good for (and what they aren't), this is the episode for you!Related LinksWhat I learned from 5 years on MaRS - Blog post by Alex RyanObservatory of Public Sector Innovation - OECD websiteRegistration link for GovMaker Conference - June 14, 2023, Fredericton, NBRegistration link for Alex Ryan and Nick Scott workshop: Mission Possible: Mission-Oriented Innovation for 21st Century Challenges - June 15, 2023, Fredericton, NBThe GovMaker PodcastWatch the Episode on YouTubehttps://youtu.be/VTJ04otR-y0
Government in the Era of ChatGPT
05-05-2023
Government in the Era of ChatGPT
This episode, we go deep and talk about everything you need to know about artificial intelligence, machine learning, large language models like ChatGPT, and big data in the government context.Our first guests are Jen Schellinck, Associate at Think Digital and CEO of Sysabee, and John Stroud, who runs an initiative with Jen called AI Guides. Jen and John will introduce you to AI basics and buzzwords.Next we look to the future with Cecilia Tham, CEO and Founder of Futurity Systems, to talk about where we could be heading as a society with AI in ways we can only start to imagine.Third, Shingai Manjengwa, Founder of Fireside Analytics, will join us to chat AI risks, mitigations, and frameworks to use AI in responsible and ethical ways.And finally, we have a preview of a research report that we are publishing next month that explores how governments around the world are approaching the governance of artificial intelligence. Jacob Danto-Clancy and Bryce Edwards from the Think Digital team join us to share some insights from their work on this project.Related LinksBuilding an interspecies economy via the Plantiverse (from Futurity Systems)Intense - a quarterly lifestyle magazine from 2030.  All the images were made by Midjourney and co-written with GPT. (from Futurity Systems)Futurity Science Tools, a data-driven platform for futures intelligence (from Futurity Systems)If ChatGPT was a colleague... - blog post by Shingai ManjengwaWatch the Episode on YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=et9UJsa6BeA