Public servants know that most public administration issues are messy, complicated and seldom lend themselves to a right and wrong issue. The National Public Administration Case Competition lets students from schools of public administration practice the art of policymaking on real world topics.
The fourth annual competition will be held at Dalhousie University in Halifax on February 6, 2015. Sponsored by the Case Study Program of IPAC and the Canadian Association of Programs in Public Administration (CAPPA), with the support of CGE, KPMG and Policy Options, 11 schools of public administration will be sending teams to compete. Many will have had internal competitions to pick their teams. Academic coaches will support their teams in preparing to address a complex public policy and administration case before a panel of select judges.
This competition has evolved rapidly into a showcase of talent for public administration students in Canada. Case study competitions emphasize the leadership and innovation needed to address the complex challenges faced today by the public service. Studies have shown that competitions provide impetus for learning and motivate students to achieve higher measures of success.
Participation by the teams – composed of graduate students of public policy and administration and faculty coaches – demands critical thinking, encourages versatility, develops presentation skills, and fosters team work and collaboration, which are critical ingredients for innovation and success in today’s workplace. Not only does this case study competition nurture student achievement, it is also a vehicle to enhance the programs offered by the participating schools of public policy and administration. And it reflects the growing interest in case studies as a teaching tool.
Case competitions are well known in the business school environment. However, they are relatively new in public administration. Certainly, this is a first for Canada and one that both CAPPA and IPAC see as important to sustain. They see that it does raise the profile of their programs and build synergy among the programs. They also see that they can showcase the incredible talent of their students and enhance the public discourse on important public policy and administration issues.
The case challenges are designed to extend the real world of public administration to a specific set of problems, often overlaying them with fictional and factual events that only serve to complicate matters. That sounds a lot like the real life of public administration.
The competition has two stages, both taking place on a single day. The first round involves a complex and detailed case sent out to teams a week in advance. They analyse and research the case and prepare their solutions and their recommendations. They are also challenged to address all the ramifications of the issue, not just to seek out the right solution. That involves considering the reactions of stakeholders, the other governments involved and, of course, the all important media and public reaction. The students are challenged to come up with realistic ways to move forward. As in real life, there is very seldom one single answer and there is often a lot of process involved.
The students then present their case to a panel of judges from government and the private sector. To accommodate all the teams, there are two parallel series of presentations to two sets of judges. The winner of each stream then faces off in the Lightning Round, an exciting final event taking place before all the participants and audience members. In this, a short case is given to the two winning teams twenty minutes in advance of their meeting with the judges. This will be a more urgent situation in which they have to advise on the course of action to address the issue.
Last year’s case, Don’t Advocate on My Loonie, forced students to address the complex and demanding issue of advocacy among charitable institutions and the potential threats to Canada. The Lightning Round involved the sudden withdrawal of an EU member from the Euro market.
In 2014, the University of Toronto, also the host, emerged as the winner; runner up was Dalhousie, this year’s host.