Last September, the Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) Women’s Network was approached with a proposal to develop an event for their calendar: a case competition. The idea was a policy development game that would draw on the department’s internal resources and the energy and enthusiasm of employees to create a unique space for learning. Friends and colleagues from across the department gave their time, ideas and skills, and with their valuable help, we delivered an amazing learning experience over 10 days in late April 2011.

The Science & Policy Team Challenge was modeled after business school case competitions but with a public policy twist: the problem was embedded in a case study created just for NRCan. In round one, teams had 48 hours to prepare a written submission. Finalists were invited to participate in round two, a presentation of their work to a panel of senior executives and academics.

The deep sea oil platform disaster scenario explored in the case study exposed participants to a real-life situation that had significant implications for NRCan. Teams from across the department, including two regional teams, brought their own expertise and abilities to the table in collaboration and in competition with their friends and colleagues. Their proposals brought light to many elements of the problem from both science and policy perspectives.

There were six employees on the steering committee with backgrounds in policy, programs and planning. We drew on our personal and professional networks to gather support from senior executives, middle managers, employee networks, academics, information technology professionals, our colleagues and others from across NRCan. The positive response from the department was encouraging as we were operating on our own, with no approvals processes to catch our mistakes.

We were very pleased to have nine teams register and play the game, with a total of 46 players. There were seven teams from the National Capital Region and two regional teams: one from Victoria and one from St. John’s. A nine-member panel helped us create the evaluation criteria and apply them to identify the top three written submissions. Several teams asked for written feedback so that they can do better in next year’s event.

The challenge responded to several departmental priorities, including NRCan Renewal, science and policy integration, Web 2.0 collaborative tools, official languages, and staff engagement. We never intended to fully resolve these challenge areas, only to create a situation in which people had the chance to learn things that will help them every day, and have fun while they were at it.

There is a wealth of knowledge and creative energy at NRCan, and the Science & Policy Team Challenge allowed us all to explore what is possible when we make space for learning.

All together, more than 80 people were involved in the first challenge. Like other high-quality adult learning endeavours, the ratio of learners to leaders was about 1:1. We would argue that just as much learning occurred in the community that helped to create and deliver this event. Many questions remain for next year’s steering committee, such as how best to engage with regional participants and handle the inevitable technological complications that ensue, how to accommodate mixed-language teams, and how to effectively advance science and policy integration through future team challenge events.


Sarah Jane Fraser is a senior policy analyst with Natural Resources Canada.



And the winner is …

After an agonizing wait while the judges deliberated, the Atlantic Canada Energy (ACE) Team won the inaugural Science & Policy Team Challenge. The ACE team is the NRCan complement of the Atlantic Canada Energy Office located in St. John’s. Created as a partnership between the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and NRCan, the office is a unique integration of science and policy, which provides a new way to look at issues from a number of perspectives. Co-location, shared work-planning and common vision go a long way in effectively achieving science policy integration in our view. The challenge allowed us to further develop our analytical skills, in working with a diverse range of personalities under a short timeframe, which is not unlike our day-to-day jobs. In that way the challenge offered a way to practice what we preach as a department and demonstrate our collective strengths.