Notes: Conversation with Michelle Lattimore

  • Originally IRCC didn’t really care about client experiences. The main metric of success was how quick the processes were, which was reported to TBS (results for this were often quantitatively seen as good. In 2015, shortly after Syrian refugees arrived in Canada, the department started looking more closely at emotional or human aspects of their client’s experiences.
  • Michelle notes that this time period was the “perfect storm”. Good leadership within the department, realizing inefficiencies during the Syrian refugee period, and a new government allowed for more experimentation and willingness to make changes in the department.
  • Michelle and her team started to look at other indicators of success beside what was reported to TBS. Other indicators such as litigation costs, number of call centre incidents, media reputation etc. was pointing towards a negative client experience.
  • One of the biggest hurdles to get over in IRCC was the idea that because there was no competition, client experiences didn’t urgently need to be fixed because clients would still keep coming, there was no where else for them to go for immigation needs.
  • “In design you have to be open to the idea that you might not actually gain anything at the end of an experiment. Usually you will, but don’t go in with that expectation”.
  • Focus on a small issue first. Make it as small as possible. Prove how beneficial it is to fix this one small problem before scaling up to changing even larger issues. E.g. one of her teams worked on changing the language used when clients would call the call centre.
  • Michelle attributes her success to choosing to build partnerships within the department and the GC rather than outsourcing. Too often we outsource our problems either to other companies, or small tiger teams that are created just for that solution. It’s important to build capacity internally so that we can solve future problems that will come up.
  • Ownership and agency was a key philosophy in all of the CE’s projects. The team behind a design project actually presented ideas and solutions directly to the DM and ADMs. This was met with huge success. They were not briefed on the actual solution before it was presented. This completely changed the culture within IRCC for the future.
  • Measuring your impact is key. Measuring the impact of a small problem demonstrates why that same design process should be implemented on a larger scale. Make it official. Don’t let pilots stay pilots. It’s important here to get a baseline before you make changes. Michelle delayed the start of a program modification because they had no baseline. In the end, it was worth it because it allowed the team to showcase the impact of their work and therefor get support for future projects.
  • On the “Do it now and ask for forgiveness later.”: Michelle usually doesn’t agree with this philosophy. She emphasized the importance of understanding and empathizing with why leaders say no. They have good reasons to do so. It’s important to empathize with clients and with people inside your organization.
  • Make it easy for leaders to say yes to you. Leaders don’t say no just to be jerks. Exercise empathy and understand what leaders care about and what they are afraid of. This will help you create better arguments and show the evidence you need for them to get on board.
  • Some common fears we talked about: looking foolish (this is a huge one), afraid of getting a negative reputation, accountability, being blamed for mistakes or misunderstandings, imposter syndrome, wasting time or money, new technology, not being able to deliver on problems, getting caught off guard.
  • The best thing about her work at IRCC is that Michelle was able to give employees a chance to build their own legacy. When leaving any job, everyone deserves to have a list of work that they’re proud to have contributed to.
  • One of the biggest myths in government is that as soon as you know something is wrong, you’re responsible for fixing it right away. This makes working in the open hard because it puts pressure to have a solution ready. It’s okay to share insights and acknowledge a problem , in the open, before knowing a solution to the problem. In fact, sharing a problem in the open brings new people in who are willing to help create a solution. This is a great way to build partnerships.
  • Finally, evidence = credibility, but evidence requires time. Take the time you need to build up that evidence, even if it means saying no in tough situations. Saying no requires a strong sense of identity, and knowing your core mandate as a team.




Photographer and SEO specialist. I work with small business owners and creatives across Canada. I write poetry and other things

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Sierra Duffey

Sierra Duffey

Photographer and SEO specialist. I work with small business owners and creatives across Canada. I write poetry and other things

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