Employees at Natural Resources Canada are strengthening their science policy knowledge and networks through the design and delivery of, and participation in, an innovative, grassroots case competition.
The first Science and Policy Team Challenge was run in 2011, and two years later, the game has incorporated additional learning elements, drawn in new players and partners, and become established as a signature event within the department.
To play in the Team Challenge, employees from across NRCan join in teams of three to six and compete to provide solutions to a science policy integration issue.
Using the case material and any other information available, teams of NRCan employees analyze tricky problems, submit proposals for action, and communicate and defend their findings before a critical audience made up of senior executives, academics and business professionals. Teams do all this under incredible time pressure and with limited resources.
Case competitions are a good example of the case study-based teaching method. With the Team Challenge, we have demonstrated that the case method is a great fit for learning at NRCan. First, because we can create a simulated environment as full of life and detail as the real world, and second, because we can take advantage of the connection made in a game between learning, curiosity and play.
Schools of business, law, medicine, as well as pilot training, the military and emergency personnel, use the case method to challenge their students to learn quickly, ask the right questions and make decisions under pressure with imperfect information. A case competition is like the Olympics of the case method.
Participating in a case competition draws and holds people in a team and shows them just how much they can achieve when they work together. Through the game, learners challenge their assumptions and build a framework they can use to respond to similar situations in the future.
Using the case method demands more of learners than traditional instructor-led training. Case-based learning is active, exciting, compelling and enduring – for learners, the case method can also be risky, high-pressure and difficult.
Games such as case competitions are immersive and encourage players to learn from their mistakes. They are also a great way to motivate learners, using novel and surprising situations to trigger peoples’ curiosity. Curiosity – even more than discovery – is what motivates us to fill gaps in our knowledge and understanding, and makes learning a pleasure.
Inside the Team Challenge, we have tried to create a learning environment that draws people into the case, open up opportunities for learners to become leaders, and encourage people to make smart choices even before they see the case material that we have prepared.
The three original cases that we have written for the Team Challenge, on offshore oil and gas, toxic mine tailings, and green energy technology, have grown teams’ expertise in policy research and analysis, science and technology, consultation and communication, risk management, writing, and coaching, along with best practices for briefing senior managers, public speaking and developing presentations and posters.
Over the past three years, more than 120 people have played in the Team Challenge, and more than that have been involved in the design and delivery of every aspect of the game, from case writing to event planning, managing IT to communication. We have depended on volunteers, in-kind resources and light-handed guidance from our Champions over the past three years, Cécile Cleroux and Geoff Munro.
This year’s Challenge was a great success. We saw strong departmental participation despite constraints of the operating context: 38 players in seven teams played the game, supported by 11 subject matter experts, 12 evaluators, eight coaches, and five judges, together with a 10-member organizing committee – roughly 80 participants in total.
The Challenge offers learning opportunities not just for the players; for example, coaches received training and evaluation to support development of their supervisory skills, experts enhanced their science to policy communication skills, organizing committee members strengthened their leadership, presentation and organizational skills, while all deepened their departmental networks.
For NRCan employees who enjoy the challenge of game-based learning, the Team Challenge has been an opportunity to push their limits in an environment of support and exploration.