internship recap ontario digital

Storytelling inside government; it’s not what you think

Hi! We’re Tanya Coyle and Skaidra Puodziunas – part of Team Engagement at the Ontario Digital Service. Our work is focused on amplifying the stories of public service teams delivering simpler, faster and more accessible services for people. This July, we welcomed our first cohort of Digital Engagement/ Communication interns from the Humber public relations (graduate certificate) program.

We are grateful for the positive attitude, unyielding curiosity and total passion that our interns, Diana Stepczuk and Meghna Bajpai, brought to every assignment. 

We asked them about their experience interning with us and below is what they had to share. Enjoy! 

What motivated you both to apply to our digital engagement/communication co-op positions? 

Diana: So many things. I’ve always had an interest in government – my undergrad major was in political science – but also this job posting was just different. I really liked how it emphasized the role as an in-house storyteller, and it provided specifics on the variety of skills you’d get to build on. It was also really refreshing to see a job posting not ask for a cover letter; instead, this posting asked us to send our resume along with a maximum 180 character explanation of why we want to work at Ontario Digital Service. And, I love a good writing challenge.
Meghna: I found it unique. The job description was so easy to comprehend in terms of what we can expect out of this role and what the organization would expect from us. I have always been a digital enthusiast and I knew being a part of this team will only give me more options to explore. Now that I am here, I have learned so much about being digital in the public service and that there is still so much more to learn, moving forward. 

How was our interview process?

Diana: It was different from other interviews, in a good way. I really liked the questions you asked, which were a lot more creative than the usual comms-job interview questions. I remember being asked which political leader I’d want to write for, or which current news stories the government should be paying attention to, and felt like you actually cared about how we’d bring our unique interests to the role. I also appreciated how you kept us informed throughout the process, telling us that if we didn’t hear back by X date we wouldn’t be interviewing, and then telling us which day you’d let us know whether we’d landed the role or not.

Meghna: The interview was my favourite part of the recruitment process. I felt like you both asked questions that allowed me to demonstrate what technical and soft skills I could bring to the team. Up until your interview, I had been stressed trying to find a placement amidst a global pandemic. The interviews I was getting were highly structured with panelists asking variations of, “so why do you want to work with us,” with little creativity in questions overall. You both set a comfortable, engaging atmosphere, even though it was fully virtual. 

Can you describe the working environment at the Ontario Digital service? How has it been working remotely? 

Meghna: One of the first challenges I was confronted with was finding ways to form meaningful relationships with my new team while being physically apart from everyone. Fortunately, right from the start I felt the warmth and support from the Ontario Digital Service community. I have never worked in an environment so encouraging of new ideas, with colleagues who support and validate your thoughts, serve as a bounce-board as you navigate your roadblocks and make it a habit to check in on your mental and physical wellbeing.  I’d like to see other organizations demonstrate and prioritize mindfulness and care for their colleagues.

What assignments are you particularly proud to have worked on? 

Diana: I’ve really enjoyed helping to plan the Regional Digital Government Summit at FWD50.

For people reading this who don’t know, FWD50 is an annual global digital government conference that brings together technologists and industry leaders to discuss progress and innovation. It’s been a cool opportunity to work with folks in other regional digital government hubs, like California, and one of the sessions we’ve planned is actually focused on the value of storytelling in government – this is my JAM! 

I’m really inspired by all of the panelists, so I was pretty excited when you asked Meghna and I to moderate the session. Not only was it a chance for us to speak with experienced government storytellers who we look up to, it also showed us that as our managers you trust us to lead a public discussion on behalf of our team. So thanks!

Meghna: No two days are the same. I get to sink my hands into so many different projects. I’ve been able to contribute to a few different teams, one of them being the Digital Training Team.  I’ve been actively supporting a Digital Ask-Me-Anything session series, which aims to equip public servants with the skills and insights they need to work in agile and distributed ways and to bring the Ontario Digital Service standard to life. I’ve been serving as a moderator for these sessions and it’s helped me gain so much confidence with public speaking and delivering presentations, virtually. 

Another very exciting project I supported along with Diana was the Regional Digital Government Summit at global tech conference FWD50. We hosted a storytelling session with some of the most prominent storytellers in government teams across Canada and the US. I am also proud to be a part of the wellness group in the Ontario Digital Service and help facilitate mindfulness sessions for the entire organization.

Which one of our digital leadership principles resonated most for you during your placement with us and why? 

Diana: Challenge everything! This is something I always got in trouble for growing up, so I laughed when I saw it was an actual leadership principle at ODS. As a communicator, it’s my instinct to ask millions of questions until I understand the reason for something – it helps me communicate it properly. So, the answer, “we’ve always done it this way,” just doesn’t do it for me. But the skill I’ve been working on in this role is to change from asking millions of questions, to learning how to ask the right questions.

Meghna: Embrace the chaos. It just caught my eye. You’ll be fooling yourself if you believe there is not one moment of chaos in a place you work.  I value organizations who encourage employees to bring their full selves to work and meet them where they are at. At the ODS, I felt this. I was able to work at my own pace, understand things gradually and never felt micro-managed. All of this, in my opinion, is so important. With competing priorities, communicating with your managers is the key to ensure the work is not being compromised and I always felt I had a clear communication channel to my teams and my collaborators. The work moved quickly but everyone embraced the chaos by jumping in to help wherever possible and were always approachable. 

What would you tell PR interns who are on the fence about exploring opportunities within government?

Diana: I’m pretty sure students who are on the fence have the impression that government communications will be boring, so I really want to stress that they’ve got it all wrong! I haven’t been bored a single day of this job, and it’s rewarding to contribute to projects that you know have an actual impact on people’s lives. Get off that fence!

Meghna: Ah! As someone who never imagined being a part of the public service, let me tell you one thing – it is an experience worth exploring. If you’re someone who likes to tell stories and is interested in the digital world, you don’t want to miss out on this opportunity. We’re all here to grow and personally, everyone should get a taste of various industries before settling in. The government will only give you a fresh and a better perspective on the world of communications. So, like Leonardo Dicaprio said in Inception , “Don’t you want to take a leap of faith?”

To learn more about Ontario Digital Service, follow the organization @ONDigital and sign up for job alerts.

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