CBSA Applies Focused Innovation to address Traveller Errors

Airport personnel helps female traveller at a touchscreen kiosk.


The Client

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) enforces Canadian laws governing trade and travel, as well as international agreements and conventions at Canada’s borders. In 2022, the agency handled almost 50 million travellers.

The federal agency engaged DFFRNT to investigate the reasons for inadvertent non-compliance by travellers and commercial shippers. Once the research was complete, the focus shifted to finding solutions. DFFRNT led an innovation project focussed on ways to reduce these traveller errors.

The Challenge

Building on the earlier research into traveller non-compliance, the emphasis was now on how to minimize the identified traveller errors.

DFFRNT’s evidence-based traveller personas and their report on inadvertent non-compliance informed the solution, as well as the broad experience of the multi-disciplinary team assembled by CBSA.

“Equipped with traveller personas and knowledge of the mechanisms of inadvertent non-compliance, we could generate ideas that address the situation.” Shaun Illingworth,
Shaun Illingworth, co-founder, DFFRNT

DFFRNT’s experienced professionals led a focussed innovation project to seek future state solutions to the slowdowns caused by inadvertent non-compliance.

Ideas and innovation are not synonymous. Innovation is a disciplined process of research and applied creativity. DFFRNT’s process guides clients to ideate possibilities, conceptualize solutions, evaluate, refine and deliver products and services. Innovation at DFFRNT is based on a behavioural approach that leverages research, foresight and data.

CBSA’s efforts to address traveller errors required a directed innovation approach. A pool of ideas was vetted and refined to deliver a few promising concepts.

The Solution

One square wooden block with a lightbulb drawing sits among a field of cubes marked with question marks to depict an innovative idea popping up amid an abundance of questions.CBSA asked a cross-department team for some “wild ideas” that would help address the problem.

This group then participated in a series of idea exploration exercises to generate future-state solutions. Unlike DFFRNT’s innovation program for Canada Revenue Agency, which solicited ideas from across the organization, CBSA’s project was focused on a specific set of problems, requesting ideas from selected people in various areas of the government organization. The group was selected by the project lead to represent a spectrum of domain knowledge relevant to the challenge of inadvertent non-compliance.

In concert with CBSA, DFFRNT developed an evaluation matrix based on standard design criteria (desirability, feasibility, viability) and the business objectives of CBSA. This matrix also captured the comments of the task force, providing context and background if the ideas are reconsidered in the future.

The matrix included an impact assessment and temporal assessment.

Each idea was distilled onto a concept card, a one-page document that explained to whom it applied, how it would be implemented and the problem it solved. All ideas were evaluated across the matrix, with each idea receiving a score on each of the dimensions. Four ideas tied for the top score.

The Outcome

The top four ideas were reviewed. Only one was chosen to go to the proof-of-concept stage. This was an idea for an app, so DFFRNT created wireframes and built a clickable prototype using Figma. With Figma, developers can quickly create prototypes that accurately characterize the user experience.

Colorful, blurred image of airport travellers walking by a departures board depicting the busy, frantic pace of airports that possible innovations and solutions need to consider.The idea that was chosen for full conceptual development dovetails with current online traveller tools used by CBSA. This is one of the reasons it scored well on the matrix, which reinforces the value and precision of this type of assessment tool.

The prototype was developed in concert with an internal working group to ensure it had correct terminology and fit CBSA’s regulatory framework. The concept is now complete, and could be developed if the agency chooses.

The Results

Having gone through this innovation exercise, CBSA now has a core group of employees who know the innovation process; how to generate, conceptualize and refine ideas, and turn them into tangible, demonstrable experiences before investing millions of dollars in development costs. This select group of innovators with relevant domain knowledge will be a valuable asset to the agency.

Dozens of ideas generated by this project did not progress to the conceptual stage – it was not within the scope of this project – but they remain a resource for CBSA.

Interested in cultivating innovation at our organization? Read more about DFFRNT’s work with the University of Ottawa’s Human Centered Innovation Lab and the company’s innovation advisory work with the Canada Revenue Agency, or reach out to the team.


Shaun Illingworth
Dominira Saul


Innovation strategy
Primary research

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