University of Waterloo alum Jaimie Ruth Park gave a keynote speech at FWD50, an international technology conference held in Ottawa on Nov. 1. Park graduated with a degree in global business and digital arts (GBDA) in April 2020, then packed her bags and moved to Victoria, B.C., where she currently works for Button Inc., a startup that builds digital systems for clients like the provincial government. This work was what attracted the attention of FWD50 organizers.
Growing up, Park was fascinated by many things: music, theatre, games, and especially technology. Growing up in the digital age, several aspects of technology caught her attention, influencing her eventual decision to attend UW in 2016, where her passion and ambition took off. While at UW, she was heavily involved in campus life activities, joining the GBDA creators collective and co-founding the JamNetwork music club.
FWD50 is a Canadian organization founded in 2017 that hosts an annual conference focused on technology-related issues. The event is meant to be a “gathering of the world’s leading public sector innovators.” However, amid innovation, questions about such technologies’ societal impacts are only sometimes asked. ‘Good’ or ‘bad’ can be sidelined in the name of ‘useful,’ and this issue is what FWD50 aims to address. The organization envisions a way for technology to benefit people while avoiding demonized or idealized visions of a technological future. One specific focus of FWD50 is the government. In 2018, they published a government technology manifesto arguing in favour of digitizing government processes.
“In the immediate future, [Digital Government] can streamline the way countries govern today, improving antiquated processes and updating how citizens and the government interact at every level,” the manifesto states. “In the long term, we can reimagine what’s possible for nations, anticipating pitfalls while putting the best innovations to work.”
For Park, being asked to speak at the conference just two years after graduating was an honour — and a surprise.
“It feels wild. We know that imposter syndrome is real, and I definitely felt it when writing my speech,” she said. “But since graduating, I’ve put myself out there and worked on so many projects that I often forget that I graduated. The key is, once you complete one thing, you have greater confidence to go and do the next. And so on.”
The conference took place in a large, spacious building in Lower Ottawa called the Aberdeen Pavilion, resembling a warehouse on the inside and a church on the outside. The vast room shined with red and blue lighting, accompanied by a funky, futuristic form of lo-fi music. The many in-person attendees were vastly outnumbered by those participating in the conference virtually.
Park’s talk was titled “How Public Trust is Won and Lost Through Service Delivery.” The crowd of approximately 200 people comprised leaders in government, technology and business. Park began by comparing the infrastructure of technological networks that humans have built to those in nature, comedically describing it as the “Wood Wide Network.” Her speech highlighted the importance of building technological systems that work for Canadians.
She cited real-world examples, along with her own research and experience. Park mentioned the Swedish Employment Agency’s plan in 2013 to emphasize engagement with the people using their services, as well as her own work at Button Inc. She stressed the value of collaboration within large systems, arguing that this is particularly important within complex networks such as the Canadian government. With teamwork, Park argued, many aspects of government could be made more efficient, transparent, and improved overall, leading to an increase in public trust.
She asserted that the public’s trust in government has substantially decreased since the pandemic, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development statistics from 2021. The underlying problem, she said, lies in the technological systems used by the government and their inability to foster effective communication with the public. She cited the long wait times for passport renewals as one particularly annoying example, with results having a detrimental effect on engagement.
“A lack of citizen engagement in government is the status quo,” Park said.
After describing problems that currently exist in digital government, Park concluded optimistically. She views this problem as an opportunity to more effectively and transparently serve Canadians, which is what she hopes to achieve at her company. She works alongside a myriad of public and private-sector innovators who are in the process of carrying out this transformation. After the talk, Park met with people who shared similar interests. Facilitating this dialogue is a central purpose of FWD50’s conference.
In an interview with Imprint, she offered concluding advice to current UW students who may wish to pursue a career in technology:
“Take a breath. Love yourself, love people around you. Do fun stuff, and enjoy university while you are in it,” she said.