Discovery research and findings

The goal of Discovery was to identify how CDS and ESDC can decrease the friction for those who are applying for, receiving, and processing CPP Disability benefits. To meet this objective, the team carried out the following research activities:

Research on the CPPD user journey, user needs, and constraints

  • Conducted qualitative research, interviewing 32 ESDC processing staff, 4 applicants, and 1 medical professional
  • Reviewed the existing qualitative research conducted by ESDC and contractors
  • Reviewed the existing pertinent data related to CPPD and the applicants
  • Developed journey maps for applicants and processing staff
  • Reviewed the policy and the legislation related to CPPD

Technical research at ESDC

  • Learned about the various back-end systems used in processing
  • Learned about the release management process at ESDC
  • Learned about the current cloud capacity at ESDC

Organisational research at ESDC

  • Learned about ongoing and upcoming initiatives within ESDC’s CPP Service Improvement Strategy branch


We created a service map (PDF) which outlines the steps applicants and processing staff have to take to submit and process CPPD applications.

There are a lot of steps in the process and some happen more quickly than others. Through our journey mapping and interviews we found that the main reason that applications can have a prolonged processing time is because of the development steps, which is when the processing staff have to gather more information from applicants or medical professionals to support a decision. Requests for information can be made over the phone but are always followed up with postal mail. Staff then have to wait for supplementary information to come back in the mail to continue their process. The cut off for this waiting period is 51 days, but sometimes files are held for longer.


We developed the following problem statements based on the results of our interviews with processing staff and applicants:

Our CPPD applicants are overwhelmed by the application because the application questions are not easy to answer and it’s not the only application process they go through.

“The questions that are asked on the CPPD form do not have any realistic understand[ing] of what it’s like to live with a disability”

“If I didn’t have all my ducks in a row, it would be so much harder [to fill out the application].”

“My disability is extremely variable; one day I could be good, one day I could be terrible. The CRA tax forms and CPPD seem to be written for people with a constant disability that doesn’t vary.”

Our CPPD applicants are deteriorating in health and finances while they wait to receive a decision, due to the long processing time.

“When you’re not capable of working, you only have so much money in the bank to live off of. It was a worry.”

“Once your health starts to go, it doesn’t get better. You atrophy.”

Our CPPD applicants lose control of their future during the process because they have to rely on others to complete and receive feedback on the application.

“I struggle to get out of the house; going to a post office to buy a stamp and mail it is damned near impossible to me… That’s the reality.”

“I hope they get it.”

“You just sit around and wait.”

Our CPPD staff can’t make the right decisions quickly because they don’t have adequate information to process the applications.

“How the doctor documents is the issue, [it’s] not helpful. e.g. If the client is applying for a mental disability, and the medical report ask[s] for [a] physical limitation, they by-pass this by saying this is a mental problem. They may not say things that identify anxiety, low moods, sleep issues, decrease concentration. At the prognosis section, they quote the legislation and provide information directly from the CPP website. They leave blanks.”

Our CPPD staff can’t make the right decisions quickly because they are limited to sending and receiving information by mail.

Staff currently lack the technology to send and receive information quickly and securely.


Through the things we learned in Discovery, we’ve theorized that reducing the time to get the right decision will best help applicants in getting the support they need and enable them to plan their lives accordingly. This gets to the heart of meeting the applicants’ goal: to receive the benefit as quickly as possible. We don’t intend to propose that shortening the time to get a decision means that the decision will be made with any less care or attention; the importance is that the applicant gets the right decision as quickly as is responsible.

Our hypothesis of modifying how we ask questions on the CPPD applications addresses how applicants are overwhelmed by the application questions, how the medical report often has numerous sections left blank, and how file development adds a significant delay to processing times. We’re aiming to find ways to minimize the need to develop files while still maintaining the integrity of decisions.