By Natasha Clarke, Deputy Minister – Cyber Security and Digital Solutions 

Citizens expect more from public services.  

Every day, new services make life more convenient. Whether it’s ordering groceries, booking appointments, or planning travel. The pandemic accelerated the pace of change and amplified the demand for it. It’s entirely reasonable for Nova Scotians to ask, “why can’t government be like this too?” 

In May 2023, the government formed the Department of Cyber Security and Digital Solutions (CSDS). It embeds technical expertise at the heart of government. Our mission is to make public services and technology better for everyone. Whether it’s computers for public servants, or the services the people of Nova Scotia use, we improve the quality, security and usability of public services.  

We put what people need first  

Citizens need digital services that help them get support fast. And public servants need digital services that help them provide that support quickly.  

Our approach is to make things better by focusing on what people need. Whether it’s digital services or new technology, we test the things we build with users and improve them until we’re confident they help people do what they need to do.  

Two people using a laptop to perform user research.
User research is the cornerstone of what we do.

Our pandemic response set the benchmark for what people expect in Nova Scotia. Rapid deployment of new services, new tools and new ways of working. What we achieved then wasn’t a one-time thing. We developed skills and tools which now form the backbone of new services. That includes services which have supported hurricane and wildfire relief, which we built using the same underlying code.  

This way of working gets support to Nova Scotians who need it fast, and our challenge is to scale this approach up to cover more of the services provided by government. New teams with new ways of thinking. We don’t get to ‘better’ by buying something different. We do it by building teams.  

These teams need to:  

  • start with what users need (that’s true whether the users are citizens or public servants)  
  • combine expertise (bring together policy, digital, and operational minds to solve a problem)  
  • prioritize responsively (in hours or days, not weeks or months) 
  • improve continuously (updating our systems every day)  
  • proactively test things (with actual users, before and after releasing them)  
  • own whole services (including the technology they run on) 
  • work in the open (sharing what they learn with government and the public)  

Traditionally, government only works like this in an emergency. But these are normal ways of working in the digital world.  

Nova Scotians deserve services that treat their problem as a priority. It doesn’t matter whether we’re issuing a business license or offering emergency relief. The level of urgency and focus these ways of working provide is exactly what people expect from government.  

Our mission is to make public services and technology better for everyone.

Natasha Clarke, Deputy Minister, Cyber Security & Digital Services

Doing this will transform public services  

Today lots of our services are fragmented, and under supported. That’s expensive and it makes cooperation harder. We’ll transform services by building new ones, based on what users need, with components we can reuse that build the next one even faster.  

Our approach is changing. The traditional mindsets of the past are that change leads to risk. In this age that’s completely wrong: we reduce risk by being responsive and adaptive to change, new threats, and keeping pace with expectations.

This will also speed up the time between government noticing new problems and citizens getting support. We’ve seen the benefits of this in recent crises, now we have to apply that to everything.  

Our mission is to make public services and technology better for everyone. We’ll do that by putting Nova Scotians at the center of everything we do.