Innovation 2023 five minutes with… Yvan Gauthier of Canada’s Artificial Intelligence Accelerator

By on 26/03/2023 | Updated on 26/03/2023

In this sister series to our ‘Five minutes with’ interviews, we share insights from the civil and public service leaders who spoke at our Innovation conference. The event took place in London on 21 March 2023, and welcomed 1,000 public servants from 50 countries – and more watching live online – to hear about how their peers are developing new approaches to policymaking and service delivery.

In this interview, Yvan Gauthier, head of the Artificial Intelligence Accelerator at the National Research Council Canada – who joined the conference session on innovation in AI – tells GGF about the public servant he most admires, what is needed to succeed in AI, and why it’s important to remember that “lions don’t chase mice”.

You will be able to watch all Innovation 2023 sessions – on topics including digital transformation, data, skills, inclusion, cyber security, future of work, leadership, and procurement – on the Innovation website soon.  

Which civil servant – past or present – do you most admire and why?

Dr George Lindsey, a veteran of WWII and former chief of the Operational Research and Analysis Establishment at Canada’s Department of National Defence, where I started my career. Dr Lindsey built a worldwide reputation as an authority on deterrence policy, naval welfare and strategic analysis. In all of these areas, he applied a data-driven, statistical approach to decision support. A lot of Dr Lindsey’s work would be called “data analytics” or “AI” today.

What have you achieved in your career that you are most proud of?

On a few occasions during my career, I was trusted to build new teams of data scientists in support of different government organisations. Seeing these teams grow and deliver high-impact work for senior decisionmakers, military and civilian, has been extremely rewarding.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your working life?

During my first year in the public service, my director general at the time told me: “Yvan, lions don’t chase mice”. I understood then the importance of carefully selecting the projects I work on, and focusing on those that will bring the greatest value to the institutions I work for.

Which country’s civil service are you most inspired by and why?

I must say that I have been impressed by many UK initiatives in recent years, such as the Government Digital Service, the Data Science Campus, and Programme Nelson. The UK has been ahead of other countries in the data and digital space. I also had the chance to work with the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) from 2006 to 2008 as part of an exchange. I learned quite a lot during those years about how to build quantitative analyses that are robust and can inform major procurement decisions.

Can you name one lesson or idea from abroad that has helped you and your colleagues?

Dr Melvin Greer, chief data scientist at Intel, recently reminded an international panel of the importance of the “two Ms” for AI teams – i.e. to Measure and Market accomplishments.  This is something I am trying to get better at and is indeed critical to succeed in the AI space.  We need to keep educating public servants at all levels of the benefits of investing in data, analytics and AI.

What is your favourite book?

I really enjoyed Moneyball. Michael Lewis is my favourite author.

What is your dream holiday destination?

I have been dreaming of a trip to Japan for a long time. I am planning a vacation there with my wife and kids within a couple of years.

What was your first car?

An old 1986 Renault Alliance that I bought from my grandfather. Renault used to sell cars in Canada but they don’t anymore… their cars were simply not made to survive Canadian winters!

More from this series: 
Megan Lee Devlin, UK Central Digital and Data Office chief executive
Ann Dunkin, US Department of Energy CIO
Peter Pogačar, director general of Slovenia’s Ministry of Public Administration
Laura Gilbert, 10 Downing Street chief analyst
Martin Ledolter, Austria’s Federal Procurement Agency managing director
Sana Khareghani, former head of the UK Office for AI
Kristiina Kivirand of Estonia’s stockpiling agency
Christine Bellamy, director of publishing, GOV.UK, Government Digital Service

Want to write for GGF? We are always looking to hear from public and civil servants on the latest developments in their organisation – please get in touch below or email [email protected]

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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