FWD50 2019

November 5-7, 2019 | Ottawa

Culture, not tech, is the real challenge.

Digital transformation is more than tools — it’s people. Many people tasked with IT transformation are already true believers in digital government. They want to know how to manage digital innovation, and what to avoid to maximize success. And while technology training is useful and necessary, the real challenge to digital transformation is not tech, it's culture change.

In 2019 we readjusted FWD50 to this reality, and packed the lineup with content on culture and transformation. We broadened the "big tent" of FWD50 and added a number of activities and the first-ever Regional Digital Government Summit, a track focused on the unique challenges of municipal and state innovation exclusively for public servants. Our stages welcomed breakfast and lunch meetups from civic tech and government-adjacent organizations, and we ran another Policy Ignite.


Digital government isn’t business as usual, and neither is our venue. For a third year, we transformed the iconic Aberdeen Pavillion and the Horticultural building in Landsdowne Park. We also brought back our circular stage design to encourage interaction and get you out of your comfort zone.


Attendees gathered in Ottawa


Speakers from around the world


Sessions to choose from


Countries represented


This year’s event had even more experts and unique formats to engage our audience, all while providing relevant, useful content. Formats included workshops, breakouts, and keynote talks with inspiration and practical lessons on digital transformation.

We also welcomed to the stage speakers from Israel, Austria, Argentina, Poland, Indonesia and beyond, and we began talking about trust and government resiliency in civic society.

2019’s Speakers

Our 2019 faculty travelled from around the world to bring the latest insights in digital government to the FWD50 stage. Here are the extraordinary speakers we welcomed to the stage:

Afua Bruce

Director of Engineering, Public Interest Technology, New America

Alasdair Allan

Director, Babilim Light Industries

Shu Yang Lin

Consultant and international liaison, PDIS.tw

Guy Elad

Deputy CIO, Tel Aviv Yafo municipality, Israel

Pia Andrews

Open and digital government expert

Rainhard Fuchs

International Relations, Austrian Digitalisation Agency

Catherine Desgagnés‑Belzil

Chief Digital Officer and Head of Quebec’s Digital Center of Excellence, Province of Quebec

Aaron Snow

Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Digital Service (CDS)


Circlesquare returned for another year and we experimented with divided breakout tracks by level of expertise for a more tailored experience. We also ran the inaugural Regional Digital Government Summit and put a spotlight on the unique challenges of regional digital government.

Since 2017, we always hoped that FWD50 could serve as a “lightning rod” around which other groups can coalesce. In 2019, we saw a number of communities and groups host events around FWD50, and turned it into a week of digital government events at home and abroad.

Want to take a peek at 2019’s sessions? Check out the agenda!

2019 Agenda

Some of this year’s innovations

We ask public servants to innovate and take risks, so we try to embody that ourselves. Each year, we experiment with new technologies and formats to improve attendee experience. Here’s what we tried in 2019.

Regional Digital Government Summit

For the first time, we ran the Regional Digital Government Summit exclusively for public servants. We brought together dozens of municipal, provincial, and state-level digital innovators to discuss the unique challenges and opportunities in regional digital government.

Breakout tracks by expertise

We experimented with divided breakout tracks from beginner to advanced levels of expertise and curated the content accordingly. Attendees could self-select their level of content and attend the sessions most useful to them.

Circular stage design

We brought back our circular floor plan with an incredible 360-degree stage design for a more engaging stage presence and to host Circlesquare for the second year in a row.


Circlesquare is a choreographed dance of experts, ideas, and disruption. We surveyed people to find out critical technologies and domains, and created four concurrent half-hour discussions, four times over. This year saw discussions from cloud computing and climate change, to open source data and compliance.

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