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Community Transportation Dispatch by Co-Design

Nova Scotia has 21 Community Transportation Operators serving mainly vulnerable populations in rural areas. The CTOs were unable to feasibly procure a common dispatch and scheduling solution that met their needs, leaving them with inefficiencies and inability to meet growing needs. The Outpost for Public Sector Innovation designed a new approach to co-designing and procuring solutions to complex challenges. Together with stakeholders, partners and vendors, two viable solutions were developed.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Nova Scotia is a small, eastern province in Canada of 1,000,000 citizens with expansive, and growing rural communities. Community transportation provides Nova Scotians 250,000 rides a year. It is an important enabler to the successful implementation of government policies that include poverty reduction, accessibility legislation, cultural inclusion, and workforce participation. ​

Community Transportation Operators (CTOs) are non-profits who operate with thin margins and thinner budgets. In 2012, their dispatch and scheduling system was discontinued leaving CTOs with little opportunity for growth, improved efficiencies or the ability to address the growing needs of seniors, people living in poverty, people with disabilities, youth and rural communities.​

In 2017, funding was provided for the procurement of a new dispatch and scheduling system to address these needs. Multiple groups embarked on valuable work until it was determined that the creation of a solution would require an innovative approach. ​This challenge was unique and complex because of the regional, remote, and diverse needs of the communities serviced, and the CTOs providing the services, and the very real challenge of limited internet accessibility in many of the province's rural areas.

​The Outpost for Public Sector Innovation (OPIN) was invited by the Nova Scotia Department of Public Works in late 2020 to design a new approach to meet the challenge and test a new way of co-designing and procuring solutions to complex challenges. ​

The new Innovation Procurement approach and project followed three stages:

  • Request for Supplier Qualifications (RFSQ): an RFSQ process run in a new way in partnership with Government Procurement to engage stakeholders, partners and vendors in discussions about desired outcomes, shared values, and commitment to new approaches. Vendors were then selected to participate in co-design based on their experience and qualifications, proposed solution and approach, a submitted case study, and proposed resources, resume and references. and invited to sign a collaboration agreement.
  • Three-phase Co-Design: two vendors were each provided an upfront grant to engage in a four-month process of discovery, ideation, prototyping, testing and evaluation with stakeholders, partners, and users. This consisted of 48 hours of project and vendor meetings, the development of consistent project documents, schedule, and data files, 6 hours of stakeholder and vendor onboarding, 16 hours of vendor and stakeholder engagements, and 16 hours of prototype evaluations. This resulted in two successfully co-designed solutions for a modernized system that provides efficient, appropriate, and adaptive dispatch and scheduling tailored to the needs of users. The co-design process was run separately and concurrently with each vendor.
  • Procurement: vendors successful in the co-design process submitted their iterated solution for consideration. One solution was selected by stakeholders for implementation.

The outcomes of this project included:

  • Two dispatch and scheduling solutions: two successfully co-designed solutions tested and evaluated in real time with upfront issues addressed prior to procurement and implementation.
  • Multi-sector collaboration: inclusive, user designed and tested solutions that engaged partners from private sector, non-profits, networks, citizens, and government departments to work synchronistic with two different vendors.
  • Innovation Procurement partnership: a new RFSQ co-design process that was open, experimental, and pushed boundaries by merging rules of procurement and principles of design.
  • Tested process and deliverables: a new library of procurement and co-design documents, plans, evaluation and testing instructions and session design for future project use and learning.

​With the implementation of the new solution scheduled for Fall/Winter 2022/23, together we solved a decade-long problem that will support some of the most vulnerable communities in Nova Scotia and the growth of community transportation into the future.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

This project is innovative in the following ways:

  • Working together with Government Procurement, we were able to successfully marry procurement processes which are rule-bound and constrained with a co-design process that is emergent and flexible. This resulted in a new Innovation Procurement Partnership and process that can be replicated.
  • This approach hadn't been tried in Nova Scotia prior to this project. We were breaking new ground. Along the way we remained agile, pivoting when challenges or new insights emerged, and building the process as we moved forward.
  • The vendors hadn't before engaged in this kind of co-design process with their clients and users. Insights gained in this project resulted in changes to products for all clients, not just for Nova Scotia.
  • The novel approach and solutions developed enabled Community Transportation Operators to find efficiencies, optimize routes, collaborate across organizations, and plan for the future growth and needs of citizens.

What is the current status of your innovation?

The Community Transportation Dispatch by Co-design project was completed in March 2022. This new approach to developing and procuring solutions to complex challenges resulted in the procurement of a common dispatch and scheduling solution for the 21 Community Transportation Operators. Feedback on the new Innovation Procurement approach was gathered, and lessons learned informed the development of a framework and playbook that can be used to replicate the process for future projects.

Implementation of the solution across the Province will begin this Fall 2022. Given the upfront engagement and participation of users, partners and stakeholders, and the multiple testing of the solution, we anticipate a successful implementation.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

The success of the project depended on the engagement and participation of a broad and diverse group across all project stages:

  • Government Departments brought subject matter expertise and funding
  • Private Sector brought technical expertise to build the solution
  • Citizens provided first voice experience
  • Community Transportation Operators provided first voice experience and subject matter expertise
  • Community Transportation Network provided a central organization to house solution

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

120 people participated:

  • Three Government Departments sponsored, funded and led process.
  • Two external Canadian vendors developed new solutions and gained unprecedented access to users
  • Citizens (riders) participated in co-design to inform solutions
  • CTOs (drivers, dispatchers, managers) participated in co-design helping to create ownership over the process and buy in for solution
  • Nova Scotia Community Transportation Network representing all CTOs was eventual owner of solution

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

The solutions achieved greater than 20% increase in transit productivity and significant reduction in effort on scheduling and route optimization. Further evaluation by users and stakeholders resulted in one solution selected for implementation.

Interviews with partners and stakeholders were conducted to evaluate the new Innovation Procurement approach. Impacts included:

  • Informed decisions and solutions: vendors worked with users to co-create their custom solution.
  • Diverse and inclusive engagement: dedicated buy-in and participation by a broad, multi-sector group.
  • Trust and confidence gained through a transparent and consistent approach.
  • Mindset shifts as stakeholders are ready to own new ideas, processes, technologies, and change.
  • Strengthened relationships by finding common ground and values while working together in new ways.
  • Long term strategic value as Community Transportation Operators can now be responsive to emerging and growing needs of citizens.

Challenges and Failures

Challenges included:

  • Starting a project with a stakeholder group that had been underwhelmed by previous attempts to solve their challenge.
  • Trying to facilitate a flexible, emergent co-design within the constraints of a procurement process.
  • Starting and finishing this project during the pandemic meant that some resources were pulled into health priorities.
  • Two elections in one year brought changes in Ministers and mandates. Support for project was not guaranteed. These realities slowed the project during the first stage (RFSQ).
  • Communicating and reassuring a few risk-adverse partners that this approach was fiscally sound.

The ability to build relationships and trust early on with partners, vendors and clients was paramount. With trust came commitment and engagement and a tremendous belief in the value and vision for building and supporting a solution for the longer term. When trust came internally, grant funding was approved and key to securing commitment from vendors.

Conditions for Success

Conditions for success included:

  • Senior leadership support was critical to secure the resources (human and financial) to experiment with a new approach to solving this challenge.
  • Active engagement and participation from the client, partners, users and stakeholders in all stages of the process was key to the success of the project.
  • Flexibility, openness, curiosity, trust were all important enablers to the success of the project.


While the solution has been co-created, tested, iterated and recently procured, it has not yet been implemented. Implementation is scheduled for Fall/Winter 2022/23. Once implemented, this good news innovation story can be widely shared across the organization and one might expect that other government departments will see the direct benefit in co-creating service/solution prototypes through a similar process with selected respondents and service operators.

Also, now that process/learnings/legal precedence has been set – time required should be shorter – and therefore an attractive option.

We know that similar was done in municipalities in Ontario and MaRS but on low cost solutions (less than $100,00). Nova Scotia proved that while more complex/challenging, the approach can be scaled for larger than $100,000 solutions.

Lessons Learned

The biggest learning for us was how to effectively integrate co-design with procurement processes and tools. Trying to be creative and push boundaries within an existing procurement tool (Request for Supplier Qualifications) was challenging and took more time than we initially hoped.

Ensuring outcomes are measurable and that the evaluation criteria allows the team to easily and effectively select the right vendors is key. Now that we've gone through the process, we anticipate the next project will move more quickly.

Another learning is related to what happens post-co-design. Our involvement concluded at the end of co-design and the final evaluation of the solutions. Our involvement saw well-established timelines and a sense of urgency during the co-design phase. Post co-design, it has taken longer to move to procurement and implementation. We wonder if this final phase had been continued with a role for OPIN, if the previous sense of urgency and momentum might have continued.

Anything Else?

We'd like to share a quote from an Administrator of one of the Community Transportation Operators and a participant in the project:

“The co-design experience helped create an ownership in the process which will facilitate increased buy-in of the final solution. By being able to provide real-time, real-world examples of current obstacles and allowing the vendor to interact with those obstacles, participants were able to accurately see how vendors would be able to meet the stated objectives, as well as get a sense of their curiosity, flexibility and responsivity.”​

- Community Transportation Administrator

Year: 2022
Level of Government: Regional/State government


  • Implementation - making the innovation happen
  • Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
  • Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways

Innovation provided by:


Date Published:

26 January 2023

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