ACCORDING TO ANATOLE PAPADOPOULOS MPP 2003, silos between functions and professions and the gap between policymaking and implementation are two of the biggest challenges facing government service delivery. He should know. As the acting chief executive officer of the Canadian Digital Service (CDS), Papadopoulos works to bridge these divides. “Policymaking and implementation are done sequentially,” he says. “They should be integrated.”
After Canada implemented new government programs to help citizens get through the pandemic, for instance, Canadians turned to tools created by CDS, an agency Papadopoulos co-founded in 2017, and its partners to navigate these new benefits. “We work hard to put the wind at the back of public servants, to make it easier for them to adopt the tools and practices that will be effective to serve others,” Papadopoulos says of the agency’s efforts to improve the delivery of services to the people who need them. Some projects have included
a benefits finder for veterans and their families and Impact Canada, an initiative modeled on the United States’ challenge.gov that fosters innovative solutions to public problems.
User-centered research is paramount, especially when the mandate is to serve everyone. “It’s critical to actually do the research and test with different sections of the population, and to pay attention to those whose needs haven’t been traditionally well served,” he says, noting, for example, the additional attention paid to language and literacy barriers.
Like others at CDS, Papadopoulos cares about making a difference. “People sign up for this work because of the impact they can have,” he says. “This is my dream job. It brought together the two threads that had shaped my public service career to that point: science and technology, and improving government to make it more effective and relevant to the people it serves.”
The self-described geek from Ottawa has been passionate about technology for as along as he can remember. “My high school was chosen to have one of the first internet connections in the province, and it was a really good opportunity to experiment. I was fortunate to have computers both at home and at school, and my friends and I were getting to do programming.” (His brother Emilian Papadopoulos MPP 2008 shares his interest; he is now the president of a cyber-risk advisory firm in Washington, D.C. Papadopoulos credits their parents for their curiosity and love for learning.) Anatole went on to earn his bachelor’s in cognitive science, and after working in the private sector, he decided to engage more deeply with policies around science and technology. “This was pretty rare in 2001; not a lot of programs were doing this,” he says. “HKS offered the chance to dive into internet policy.”
HKS helped him to be more thoughtful about science and technology and to bring a stronger toolkit to public problem-solving. “I’m better able to take situations where there isn’t a natural or obvious alignment in incentives and interests, to think creatively, and to find shared interests below the layer of oppositional positions,” he says. At HKS, he also gained confidence: “I learned not to be too intimidated by large problems and the leaders tackling them. The people coming through the School normalized and humanized some of it. I remember this particular experience of sitting in a room at the Belfer Center with 25 people and Al Gore while he white-boarded for one and a half hours about climate change. It was weirdly normal—but still weird.”
Papadopoulos and his team have captured and re-created a start-up environment at CDS. “We want people to be as creative and effective as they would have been in the private sector. People say government is risk-averse—but the status quo is more of a risk.” He takes these words to heart as he leads the CDS’s efforts to provide better services to all.
Image courtesy of Anatole Papadopolos