Case competition

The winning team, back row (l to r); Sarah Homsi and Sally Twin. In the front are: George Melika-Abusefien, Thomas Goyer, and Kokul Sathiyapalan.

Making a case for first place

Five Faculty of Arts and Science Policy Studies students recently made history, winning the 2024 National Public Administration Student Case Competition.

“This is a huge achievement for our students and the School of Policy Studies as this competition is extremely competitive,” says team coach and Policy Studies Professor Eugene Lang. “This is the most prestigious public policy case study competition in the country, all the top graduate schools compete in it.  Queen's has never won it in the 12 years we have competed. This year we prevailed over 11 of the top graduate public policy schools in Canada.”

The best a Queen’s team has ever finished in the competition is third in 2016.

The winning students included Thomas Goyer, Sarah Homsi, George Melika-Abusefien, Kokul Sathiyapalan, and Sally Twin. Professor Lang was joined as a coach by Jianyuan (Andy) Hu. Professor Lang noted most of the students on the other teams were comprised of second year students—I don’t know this for certain but it is my assumption that most schools would choose more experienced students while the FAS students were only a couple of weeks into studying this field as the School of Policy Studies offers this as a one-year program.

The case this year was Phoenix Rising… Again? Taking Control of Federal Procurement and preparation for the event started with team selection in October. The students were presented with the case 10 days before the virtual competition day.

“In comparison to other institutions, such as Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy or University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, Queen’s School of Policy Studies differs as its MPA program is one year rather than two,” says Sathiyapalan. “Winning this year means a great deal to us as it represents the quality of student our school admits. We hope this victory will be the gold standard for future teams that will participate in this esteemed competition.”

The case presented required teams to go through the stages of case study review:

  • The overall policy and operational effects of this series of events to define the problem and issues.
  • The risks inherent in responding and in not responding.
  • Strategic options with preferred approach.
  • Suggestions for the process for moving towards the strategic approach.
  • Implementation issues and suggested course of action (including financial implications).
  • Issues related to communication, collaboration, stakeholders, and suggested courses of action.

“You don’t know what you’re getting into in terms of the actual subject until 10 days before but developing skills around briefings, presentations, policy analysis takes place over months,” Professor Lang explains. “The final product was a 15 slide PowerPoint and a 20-minute verbal presentation then you receive 20 minutes of questions from a panel of judges.”

The judges this year included: Mark MacDonald, Head judge, EY; Patrick Comtois, Director General of Enterprise IT Procurement, Shared Services Canada; Michele McCutcheon, Director of the Benefits Delivery Modernization Procurement Directorate in the Procurement Branch, Public Services and Procurement Canada; Ron Morrow, Executive Director, Supervision, Bank of Canada; Donna Smith, Director of Evaluation, Employment and Social Development Canada; Philippe Thompson, Chief Finance, Results and Delivery Officer, Indigenous Services Canada.

Professor Lang says this competition is unique and it’s the only one that’s truly national. It’s presented by the Canadian Association of Programs in Public Administration and endorsed by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada.

“This competition was a culmination of months of prep work developing our skills in policy analysis, followed by 10 days of intense work on the case provided to us,” says Homsi. “We would meet at least twice a week in the fall term, working on cases from previous competition years. This process also helped us refine our team cohesion and discover what everyone's unique skills are. Our dedication to nurturing each other's improvement is a huge part in why we won.”

To learn more about the event, visit the website.