When information is a public asset
It’s been four years since Alyssa Daku walked across the podium to collect her Master of Public Administration from the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS). It was a good day, the culmination of four years of part-time study while holding down a full-time job. But after investing all that time and hard work, Alyssa was ready to skip the big day itself—until her daughter Madison put things in perspective.
“She was horrified,” Alyssa says. “She said, ‘Mom, you have to go—we’re finally graduating!’”
Alyssa went and so did Madison, wearing a new dress and carrying a big bouquet of roses. Since then, Alyssa’s career has taken her in unexpected directions. “It’s been an incredible experience. I’ve had great opportunities that have allowed my career to progress.”
Exploring new grounds
Alyssa’s first post-JSGS job was with the City of Regina. “I was hugely inspired when Glen Davies, Regina’s City Manager, was a guest speaker in one of my classes. He talked about being a leader in local government, about change and change management from a leadership perspective. It was an epiphany, because until then my only exposure to public policy had been at the provincial level, I’d never worked at the municipal level before.”
Intrigued, she pursued a job with the City and was able to do a mentorship with Davies. During a three-year tenure that culminated as manager of Corporate Information Governance, Alyssa helped lead the City’s award-winning Open Government initiative. It began with the 2012 launch of the Open Data portal, which made nine sets of City data freely available to citizens, businesses and application developers; a year later this had increased to 27 data sets. Next came the launch of Open Engagement, which uses social media to promote citizen engagement and information sharing, and Open Information, which provides access to internal City records deemed in the broader public interest.
“We had an amazing team and great support from City leadership,” Alyssa says. “It was one of the more exciting opportunities I’ve been involved in, and it opened the door to my current position with eHealth.”
She moved to eHealth in 2013 as the Director of Information Governance; a year later, she moved up to VP Strategy, Quality and Risk. Ehealth is responsible for developing and implementing the provincial electronic health record—that is the abridged definition. Behind the scenes, it is more complicated. “I’m responsible for the Kaizan Promotion Office (corporate strategy), portfolio management, risk management, information governance, legal and policy, privacy, security and patient safety,” Alyssa says.
“It’s a broad portfolio, but the common theme is balancing strategy and risk. Strategy is helping to create the vision and align with overall provincial strategy; risk centres on mitigating the risk associated with achieving that strategy, such as security of personal patient information, legislative compliance and informed decision making. It’s definitely an interesting dichotomy, but that’s the nature of my world.”
Alyssa’s career journey began with an undergraduate honours degree in political science, after which she worked as a policy analyst for the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health. A keen interest in civic engagement and public policy led her to JSGS, where one of her first classes was Comparative Public Policy.
“That class challenged the way I thought. It made me think more critically but it also spoke to the analytical part of me,” Alyssa says. “I’m a data-driven person. Understanding how the availability of information influences a citizen’s ability to engage and a government’s ability to make decisions based on evidence really resonated with me. From that day until now, evidence-based decision-making and citizen engagement in policy-making has been a major thread in everything I do; it’s my passion.”
Another eye-opener was learning to identify a problem in order to create a clear problem statement. “One of my professors used to always challenge us to get a clear policy statement and go after the data to understand root causes. I guarantee that all graduate students struggle to get this right, but it is so important. If you get the problem statement right, your root cause analysis and everything that follows is on target: you know the problem you’re trying to address,” Alyssa says. “Now, I’m the one challenging my team to clearly identify the problem and understand root causes. It’s critical, especially in LEAN, because if we don’t understand root cause and have a clear problem statement, we’re applying a bandage instead of a solution.”
Paying It Forward
As just about every JSGS grad knows, it takes more than a degree to open career doors. “I’ve had so many great mentors: Greg Argue and Kathleen McNutt at JSGS, Glen Davies at the City of Regina, Pauline Rousseau at the Ministry of Health and now Susan Antosh here at eHealth—I’ve learned from them all,” Alyssa says. “I have also been lucky in having mentors who are supportive of women in leadership positions and the balance women need in life to pursue an executive level career. I have had such good experiences, and I love having the opportunity to pay it forward.”
Alyssa currently mentors two employees, and she regularly reaches out to JSGS to ask about up-and-coming grad students. “I stay plugged in, partly because I enjoy the people and the connections, but also because I know the value of the program.”