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City of Ottawa: Playing the game of innovation as a team

Learn the secret sauce on how to deliver innovation and service excellence to front line employees and citizens.

Shift podcast

"We're architecting a culture shift change that will support our transformation. In part, we're looking for a culture of client centricity and a culture of innovation."

- Kim Ennis, Program Manager, City of Ottawa

City of Ottawa: Playing the game of innovation as a team

In the public sector, it often takes a spark to ignite innovation but so much more to keep it burning. In this episode of Shift - we share a great Canadian innovation story about the City of Ottawa, who learned the secret sauce on how to deliver innovation and service excellence to their front line employees and citizens. Live from FWD50 2019, Canada’s digital government conference, we sit down with Kim Ennis, Program Manager from the City of Ottawa to chat about how her team worked with PwC Canada to deliver the magic ingredient - “innovation at the edges.” Kim shares how her team adopted a citizen centric mindset to better understand their staff and citizens and transform the city’s parking experience.

Jon: All right, welcome to another episode of Shift. This time we're actually coming to you from Ottawa, at the FWD 50 Conference, at the Aberdeen Pavilion. This is one of the few times that we've been on the road, and we're very lucky, we have a great podcast for you today, and we're going to be talking about innovation in government, specifically the City of Ottawa. I have the great pleasure of welcoming Kim Ennis, Program Manager from the City of Ottawa, and our very own Meaghan Reinecke. I said it right. Meaghan, who is a UX manager at PwC here in Ottawa. Welcome to the podcast you guys. 

Kim: Thank you Jon.

Meaghan: Hi Jon, thanks.

Jon: I'm so glad that you're here. You know one of the reasons that a lot of people are at FWD 50 today, is because they really want to know how public and private sector are innovating. We all know it's a necessity. We all know we need to do it, but it's really hard. I've been known to say ideas are easy, execution is hard. Agree, disagree? 

Kim: I would agree. Thanks Jon, this is Kim Ennis, and I'm with the City of Ottawa, and I would agree, executing is hard. We often say we're not really interested in the good ideas club. We would rather take some of those good ideas and find a gem that we can actually use and execute on. 

Jon: I love the shiny gem that's going to make a difference. We often say, you know people are really into shiny objects, right? That's the proxy, or the euphemism for latest technology, and things that people want to plug in, right? But it's not always about the shiniest thing, it's about activities or tactics that are going to make a difference. 

And I think one of the reasons people are so interested in innovation and how to do it is because they want to deliver on rapidly changing customer needs, and they want to increase market share, and as I said, because ideas are easy and execution is hard, it's even harder, I perceive, in government, because it takes champions, it takes people who have a burning desire. Not just the spark, but be able to take the torch if you will, and go around an organization, and keep it burning, stoke the fires to really deliver the outcome that they want. So talk to me a little about what it's like, and what your role is within the City of Ottawa?

Kim: Okay, thanks Jon. So I've been with the City for over 30 years, not in the same position, but from various roles from the front line, all the way right up to Service Design. The area that I'm in now is called Service Transformation, and our Director, Marc René de Cotret, among other things, we're leading the charge on our Smart City Strategy 2.0, which I'll get back to at some point later on. For me, it's all about improving the client experience, in part by changing how we deliver services, so for staff, I want them to feel like we're actually helping them to work and serve clients differently.

Kim: It's a small and mighty team of organizational developers, and what we're doing, is we're architecting a culture shift change that will support our transformation. In part, we're looking for a culture of client centricity and a culture of innovation.

Jon: I think that's really important, and you know, Meaghan, we're going to talk about design thinking in a second, but one of the mistakes I think a lot of organizations make, is they go around, and they try to figure out wholesale change, and they make a grave mistake. So, let's open up the hood a little bit here, and talk about some of the process that the city has done, and I know a big part of what PwC helped the City of Ottawa do, was really around co-design and design thinking. Meaghan, maybe you could spend a second telling us a little bit about the process and the lay of the land of how we helped the City innovate? 

Meaghan: Absolutely. So as part of the larger strategy in innovation work that we did, we brought in a staff, so first is we did co-creations with staff members, to understand what is our current landscape, and what does that look like? And then, beyond that, knowing what we know about the problem landscape, how might we? Where could we go? What could the future look like, and what does good look like, in terms of service delivery, for what we can do for residents? 

Then we looked with outside industry partners, and brought them in. How could we leverage, augment, what else could we do to collaborate with people in the industry? And so bringing all of those voices at the table, then bringing the senior leadership at the table, and looking for alignment in where we're going, then allowed that co-creation process to support a democratic bringing together of all of those voices to understand how might we better enable innovation at all levels of the City of Ottawa. 

Kim: One of the things that I really enjoy about working with PwC is that feasibility check, where we do that reality check, looking at where our capabilities are today, where they're planning to be, what we're hoping to have in place, in terms of those technology platforms, or even the organizational culture, and being able to then take that, and put it into a crawl, walk, run process, where we're able to say, "Okay, so what can we deliver first?" We want to be able to be agile, we want to be able to quick, we want to show the win on something in order to ignite the enthusiasm of the organization. So the crawl, walk, run, is very useful, and I still use it today. 

Jon: I love that. It's so important coming out of the gates, and I can imagine it's even more so with public sector, is showing success early and often, because I think it's really easy for people to go, "Well, you know that thing, that one thing? That didn't work. We're going to shut it all down." Right? And I think sometimes it's just easier to be negative about change than it is to be positive. 

Kim: Yeah, let me jump on that for a second, because when we're looking at it from a culture change, you'll hear folks say, "Well culture takes eight to 10 years to change." And sure enough, that's a long game, just as transformation is. There are things you can do though, to look at making those small changes in smaller teams. Proof of concepts, pilots, and by wrapping around those corporate enablers, what we're trying to bring, HR, finance, IT procurement, so that they're not barriers in a corporation of our size, but in fact enablers, then you're going to be able to bring value both to the client, and to the organization. 

It might be small things, it might be like a notification on your phone that you've never had before, but if you never remember whether to put your blue bin or your black bin out every week, that notification is gold to you. It didn't happen overnight, it takes a fair amount of work to do in the organization, but that's what we mean by deliver quickly, and make sure it's a win, and then you can replicate and scale from there. 

Jon: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, one of the things I'm really interested about is, so the city has a record, and a history of being innovative. And one of the things that's interesting to me is this notion of innovation at the edges. Can you talk to me a little bit about how the city itself is known for innovation at the edges, and then how did you operationalize that? 

Kim: Well for me, I'll just go back to something, just to give you context about the City of Ottawa. We are not delivering one business line, we're over 110 business lines.

Jon: That's a lot.

Kim: We have three billion annually in an operating budget. We have 17,000 staff, which is larger than some small cities, and we have just changed the signs, we have one million population in the city of Ottawa. I don't know, here's a small fun fact, the size of Ottawa is 2,800 square kilometers. To go end to end from Ottawa, try to picture an ambulance traveling that distance. 

So that's the context we're working in, and so for us, the largest amount of the workforce, of that 17,000, are folks who are in operations. They're either directly delivering services to clients, or they're supporting those that do, or they're doing the infrastructure work, or some of the other pieces. And given that innovation at the edge for us then is, that's the staff people, those are the operations folks, where I can picture a little thought bubble above their head, as their doing their work, saying, "Oh there has to be a better way to do this." 

Jon: Yeah.

Kim: And the other side of that coin is the client who's struggling to find the information, figure out, navigate the system, saying, "There has to be a better way to do this." So to me, that's the edge. That's really where the gold will be, and the process that PwC helped us with was twofold. One was to identify and empower, inspire, and encourage staff, as part of our culture change. To see that innovation sometimes small, not always having to be big breakthrough. And the other part was to build it into a process whereby you're able to step back at the end of that service delivery continuum, and reflect with other staff, put yourself in the client's shoes, and now look at how you can take care of some of those pain points, so that you can do it differently next time.

Meaghan: Okay. So, and in fact, we didn't do this in isolation either. What we did was, as part of really opening broad, is we looked at what are other municipalities doing across the world, across the country, across North America? There were examples from cities all over the world, where we looked at, what else are they doing? How can we be inspired by what else is going on in the world, and then bring that to the staff at the city to say, "How might we? Look at what else is going on, how might we do something amazing like that? Does that spark anything for you. And then how can we go big on developing that future vision?"

Jon: Meaghan, tell me about the role of empathy in all of this? 

Meaghan: So, first and foremost, I think that the role of empathy is to understand the user, and when we talk about the users here, we're talking about residents, and in the form of service delivery, they become our clients. And so it's not about us going away, and closing the door, and coming up with solutions that we think will dazzle and delight you. Of course that's what we want to happen, but it's about bringing your voice to the table. 

It's about including citizens and residents into the co-creation process, and they become our clients, and we listen to what they need, and then in doing so, we really try to understand where they're coming from, look at the rest of their context, their motivations, their drivers, what they're seeing, feeling, saying, doing, and then from there, help to develop what could service excellence look like if we are trying to meet those kind of goals. So Kim, let me ask you, Ottawa is the hub of government in Canada, and as a result, I wonder whether all eyes are on what you're doing? Whether the stakes are higher? 

Jon: I was wondering whether, I imagine all eyes are on you guys, and as successes hit the market, and as other provinces, or cities, or even towns see what you're doing, it's like, "Well, Ottawa was just able to do X or Y with parking." For example. "Let's learn some lessons from that. Let's try and duplicate it." Do you find this happening? 

Kim: I think so, absolutely. Sometimes we are actually seen as being leading edge. And it's probably the same with a lot of places, where you may be perceived as being farther along than you are. So it's a bit of a validation exercise, even when I come to a FWD 50 conference like this, and my federal counterparts in Border Services, or somewhere else in the federal government, they are where we are as well, but just in a different place, and I think we're pretty excited to be working with them. 

Jon: Awesome. Well it's good because we're all expecting our cities and our governments to catch up with startups and such. Let's talk about one of your pilots. So for our listeners, you may not know about a really interesting parking project, a pilot, as part of the city's innovation blueprint that's happening, and I'm really interested to know, we talked a lot about co-creation, or co-design, and really bringing in clients to help co-create. Could you tell me a little bit about that, how you use the citizen mindset to really focus in on building the capabilities, and executing it? Proof of concept, if you will, of parking? 

Meaghan: Sure, so to start, what we did was, as an integral part of our design thinking process is to bring the voices in, we hosted co-creation workshops with residents. Invited them to come in, and because we were working the parking experience, one of the first activities we did is, "Tell us about a time where you had a bad experience looking for a parking spot. And then tell us about a time you had a great experience." And it's funny, because parking is a relatively mundane thing, and so sometimes a great experience doesn't actually make an impact, but it's the bad experiences that stand out. 

And so then based on that, we said, "Okay, tell you what, what if we could reimagine a parking experience? What might amazing, what might delightful look like? What if there were other companies here who were delivering parking experiences? What would that look like?" And take those high expectations that we have about service from the rest of the world, apply them to a municipal service, and then now we're starting to get really interesting and big about, "What could good look like for the future of the parking experience?" 

Kim: Absolutely, and if I could even just step back, I find even more impressive that we started this engagement with PwC not even talking about technology, or use cases, but about the digital client experience, and what was our North Star, and what we were trying to achieve. And of course, our North Star now is quite set in our minds as a personalized, customized, and then context experience. That's what we're driving for, for all residents, for clients. 

By doing that first, and helping us to then come up with the design principles that we could apply broadly, and some measurements, it was that work first, before we even then said, "So how can we apply this? Where should we apply this? Which use case would fit?" And that's when we went into parking, parking is a pain point. It's been on our radar a long time. It wasn't hard to figure out to take that one on. 

But if I could add to it, because it is broadly, and there is no one parking department in the City of Ottawa, it fit our criteria also to demonstrate in action, one city, one team. We have a cultural concept that we're building, which is, it's one client, not a water client versus a parks client, versus a CSS, social services client. But it's one city client, therefore one city, one team. And by-

Jon: I'm sorry, I love that.

Kim: Yeah.

Jon: Because, we are not separate people.

Kim: No kidding.

Jon: Don't treat me as separate. I don't want to be the water client over here, and the whatever over there, and the parking person over here. I'm the same person.

Kim: But what we want to do, Jon, is we want to say, "You are the same person." But we're not really going to say all clients are the same.

Jon: Right.

Kim: So where we're going to get to this segmentation now, is to be able to say, "Jon, the way you interact with us in the city, really needs to be personalized to you. You live out in the suburbs, you use a park and ride, you put your green or blue bin out at the curb. That kind of information is going to be more important to you. Meaghan lives downtown, she can't park at her apartment, so she applies for a parking, or needs to know if she can apply for a parking permit, and more importantly, doesn't even know where the park and rides are, doesn't even know how that works. So that's the kind of in context information, and they're gems. They're small pieces of information, but when we can take all of that, and combine it, and deliver it to you in a way that you want, anywhere, anytime, that's when I feel like we're delivering value to the client, to the resident. 

Meaghan: Something that City of Ottawa residents are really familiar with is the winter parking ban. 

Kim: Oh yeah.

Jon: Allow for plowing.

Meaghan: So as soon as there's enough snow coming, the winter parking ban, so we get email alerts. The radio tells us.

Kim: That's right. 

Meaghan: But it's not enough though just to say, "Well, you can't park on the street." Well, "Dude, where am I going to park my car?" 

Kim: Exactly.

Meaghan: So, now then, there are city lots, and which one is closest to me, and are there any spots available, so when I'm going home, maybe I need to reroute where I need to leave that car so that I don't get a ticket for winter parking, because that's going to be top of mind for a lot of people. 

Kim: Thank you for that, that's really, to me that's ratcheting up that personalized and customized and context experience to a whole new level, where we're able to combine the data that we have and we know, in such a way that will provide true value to you. And maybe you don't want to go to the nearest lot. That's fine. Maybe you want to know what street to park on. Maybe you're out, and you want to know when is the street plow, been already on my street, so I can come home? I see people nodding. So that's the kind of thing where we know it's a small thing, but it actually will bring value to people.

Meaghan: But you know, you're trying to find a parking spot at dinner hour, and take them to hockey, and do the thing, that is a critical time window. That's a high value.

Jon: That's worse than living in New York.

Meaghan: Right? 

Jon: Right? When you think about it. 

Meaghan: Yeah. 

Jon: So, now that you're on this innovation journey, what kind of skills are you building? What kind of capabilities are you building within the organization to actually help sustain this thing? Because earlier I talked about, it's one thing to have the spark, it's another thing to create a blaze within the organization that's going to keep going. So what are you doing to keep this thing moving? 

Kim: Well I'll tell you what we're not doing, is we're not planning to fire everybody and bring in folks with those skills. So we really have the concept that we're going to develop our people from within. I just want to step back a little bit to the work again we did with PwC on that innovation process, and the first thing we did was, they helped us set up a framework, so that we would look at all the innovation, and how we embed it in the organization from the strategic level, which is strategic plans, smart city, working with our partners, where you're seeding innovation, right down to the corporate level, which is where you have those enablers, you have the finance, the HR, IT, procurement, that kind of thing. 

And those are often in government, maybe in other organizations too, they're often barriers or roadblocks to true innovation, so our idea is really to work with them one use case at a time, work with them to be able to say, "Instead of being a roadblock or a barrier, let's be part of the solution, and be an enabler." 

Jon: I love that. And you actually said something that really caught my attention earlier, and that's, "Innovation is a team sport." 

Kim: That's right. 

Jon: I think that's a really interesting way of looking at it, because I think a lot of leaders think about, "Well, it's either innovation is my priority, or it's someone else's." It feels very binary that way, at least in my experience, and I love the fact that when you have buy in from the top, and the bottom, everybody's pulling in the same direction. It's so important on the outcome side, but it's also even more important culturally. 

Kim: To us, culturally, the great thing about this is that to deliver service excellence, we've been focused on that for a long time with the City of Ottawa, and I think it shows in terms of the kind of rating we get as employer of choice, the number of people who stay the length of years that we say. But I would say that we're ramping this up now to service excellence through innovation, and through innovation is the how you deliver that service excellence, and by not just talking it, but by supporting and enabling those folks to be able to do that, we're walking the talk as well. 

Jon: Amazing. So, you're doing pilots, you're innovating at the edges, you've figured out, are beginning to operationalize innovation at the core of everything that you do. What's next for the City of Ottawa? 

Kim: Well there are so many things, but if I just go back to the idea that being able to engage differently with the City of Ottawa, for your own personalized services, and to customize that engagement, and have it in context, is really key for us. So some of the key things you're going to start to see come out would be notifications that you can customize, and that will be personalized to you. Those notifications may come through the City app, the next version of the City app, or you can sign up for them, and you can still get them through text message or emails and things like that. Beyond that, which we're pretty excited by... Oh sorry, I just want to go back to the app. 

The app has geo fencing capabilities, so quite honestly one of the things we're looking FWD to being able to say, for context, where you live Meaghan, we can set that information, but you can also say, "I want to know traffic and road impacts as I'm driving to my favorite commute, or where I need to go." And by geo fencing, we'll be able to tell you there's actually a problem in this area. Not Google Waze kind of problems, but more like something significant such as a parade, things that we know about. A parade. The parade is going through, or race weekend is happening, and you may want to alter your route, because these are going to interfere with your traffic or your parking. So I just want to go back to something with the next, one of the next things, and in fact, I think we just hit the news today on this one. We're planning to use conversational AI. 

Jon: Oh. 

Kim: And by using conversational AI as a service channel, not just for analytics, so that would mean using it through a chat bot, so that people would be able to get their quest... Let's say you're a night owl, 2AM in the morning, you can engage with the City of Ottawa and get your answers really quickly.

Jon: Amazing.

Kim: And, be able to actually, if it's a request for a process now, or for a service, submit that through the chat bot as well. So that's our intent, and we're wanting to really move into talk. We're really wanting to do voice assisted, so you'll be able to ask Google, "So Google, ask the City of Ottawa what I do with this bundle of tinfoil?" And I want it to be able to return, and tell you, "Don't throw that in the garbage, Jon, put that in your blue bin." 

Jon: Don't chew it. 

Jon: I just like to be philosophical from time to time. So, one last important question, and I think our listeners are always looking for advice, or tidbits, or lessons learned, so as listeners are thinking about starting innovation, or continuing, what advice might you have for them as they're looking to keep pace with changing citizen expectations? I'll throw that to you, Meaghan. 

Meaghan: The number one thing, and frankly I think it applies to product design, it applies to service design, it applies to anything that is user centered, and human centered, is to make sure you are in touch with the human at the center. Really know thy user. Know thy client. Know what is meaningful and valuable to them, what will have the best impact on their life, and then if you're well in touch with that, you really can't go wrong.

Jon: Know thy human. 

Kim: And I would add to that, that you want to cut your teeth on something small, and you want to de-risk it, and try it out, and not be just chasing the next shiny thing. You want to be able to show the value for the client, and for the business end, and if you want to improve it, then it becomes something you develop further, and you can replicate and scale it. To us, culturally in the organization, that's also the best way to ignite enthusiasm among staff, so they become the champions to be able to share with other staff. 

Jon: I love it. 

Jon: It's time for the Lightning Round. 

Meaghan: Roll up your sleeves. 

Jon: What is it? Ding, ding. Okay, this is where I get to ask you unscripted, completely non-sequitur questions, really to get a sense of, more about who you are as a person than who you are in your role. All right, let's go. Kim, what's your favorite thing to eat for breakfast? 

Kim: Bacon. Isn't it for everyone? 

Jon: Potentially. 

Meaghan: Well I'm going to go with eggs. I will take eggs. 

Jon: I'd go for sausages over bacon. I know it's sacrilege, but I like the sausages. Early bird, or night owl? 

Meaghan: Dammit, I'm both, I'm a consultant. 

Jon: All right, that's honest. 

Kim: Night owl. 

Jon: Night owl?

Kim: 2AM, for sure. 

Jon: Amazing.

Kim: Yeah. 

Jon: I can't make it past 10 o'clock at night. I'm done. 

Jon: What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given? 

Kim: It wasn't a piece of advice, but it's my mantra that I'm living by these days, which is, "To build a team so strong, that no one can tell who the leader is." And I actually can't source that, that's social media out there just putting it out, and I don't know who. So if you know who that said that, I'd love to know. 

Meaghan: Best piece of advice, is make sure you're in a room where you're not the smartest person in the room. 

Kim: Or move to another room. 

Jon: Or move to another room. 

Meaghan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jon: Words to live by, and then I think finally, dog, or cat? 

Kim: Meow.

Meaghan: Dog. 

Jon: Nice. I like all animals. 

All right, well that wraps up another episode of Shift, I love the fact that we're talking about the City of Ottawa, in Ottawa, at FWD 50, where everybody's talking about innovation, and how to do it in both private and public sector. It's been super interesting. Kim, thank you so much for sharing everything you're doing in the City, and I think really leading the way. 

Kim: Thanks Jon, it was a pleasure to be here. 

Jon: Meaghan, thank you so much for sharing how we at PwC work with the city, and incorporated things like human centered design, and design thinking, and really opening up the hood to figure out what citizens want, figuring out what clients want, and how to deliver them in an impactful way. So, that wraps it up. Thanks for listening everybody So if you love this podcast, and I hope you did, become a subscriber. You can find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you find your podcasts, whatever platform you like. To listen to previous episodes, or to find out more about Shift, check us out at Until the next time. 

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