Should government need to pass a tech test?

Published On Jan 29, 2024

Last week, we heard about a program in Berlin called the “Digital Competence Check,” announced by the city’s Chief Data Officer, Martina Klement. It begins with an anonymous self-assessment and knowledge test, based in part on the European Union’s Digital Competence Framework.


Berlin CDO Martina Klement.

The check is the start of a training program: “we will only be able to successfully transform the administration digitally if our employees also have strong digital skills and we regularly train them accordingly,” said Klement (Google translation.) “Digitalization, administrative modernization and personnel development must be thought through and developed together.”

This made us wonder: In Canada, bilingualism is a requirement for many jobs, and necessary for advancement beyond certain levels. Canada is a bilingual country, so it makes sense that candidates have to pass a second language evaluation.

But is a technology evaluation necessary?


Government is information

First, it’s worth noting that government trafficks primarily in information, whether that’s legislation, health information, policy enforcement, public safety, or myriad other services and functions of a public sector. If information is its lifeblood, then information technology is its circulatory system.

Several visible failures in Canada and beyond have been traced back to a lack of IT understanding and a shortage of technical talent within the public sector. Problems with the Phoenix payroll system were attributed to a lack of training and not noticing problems soon enough; ArriveCAN cost overruns were in part due to a lack of internal technical talent; abroad, debacles from to the UK Post Office postmaster scandal all have a lack of technical understanding at their core.


We can’t escape demographics

Moreover, government must scale to do more with less. Consider this chart of population growth rate from the UN:


By roughly 2080, the number of humans will begin to shrink. But that’s not the most important point. Here’s what the population of Canada looked like in 1953, next to what it will look like in 2030 (thanks, Statscan!)


Image3 Image1

As we have fewer children, we’ll have more retirees—and less people to look after them. An aging population with fewer children has other consequences, too: When people retire, they spend their savings and pensions. Those savings have been stored in banks and mutual funds and investments, creating working capital. As pensioners withdraw their savings, the “cost of money”—that is, interest—goes up.


So should we test?

The conclusion seems obvious: Government needs to work with information, scale to serve an aging population, and do so with fewer workers and lower costs. That means embracing digital systems whenever possible. Government must be digitally fluent.

So, we wondered: should Canada’s Federal Government create a Digital Competence Check that’s enforced similarly to the Second Language Evaluation?

We decided to ask our network across various social platforms, and learned a bit about the sentiment across those platforms along the way:

  • LinkedIn: 89% yes, 11% no. LinkedIn was the most vocally supportive of the idea in comments.
  • Mastodon: 53% yes, 47% no. Mastodon included the most critical responses; some people commented that it should apply to public servants but not elected officials or politicians; and concerns around accessibility issues excluding some people from advancement.
  • Twitter: 76.5% yes, 23.5% no.
  • Threads: 50% yes, 50% no.
  • Google form (from our newsletter): 100% yes. This makes sense since the respondents were subscribers to the FWD50 newsletter.

Overall, 82% of people who responded felt that yes, Canada needs a digital technology readiness assessment of some sort for government employees. What that includes—and what training resources are available to help all public servants meet the requirements—is another matter.

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