Students from the University of Saskatchewan Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy Students’ Association are helping not-for-profit and charity organizations in the province by providing free research, analytic and strategic services.
Aptly named, The Policy Shop was formed as a student consulting group that could provide pro bono work to groups seeking additional policy capacity for their organization.
After spending the fall developing the framework and tools needed to execute this project, a small group of initial student volunteers including Andrew Coffin, Sara McPhee Knowles, Travis Reynolds, Cody Sharpe, Kristopher Schmaltz and Mike Veltri, with assistance from faculty advisor, Peter Phillips, began working on the Policy Shop’s first project in January. The Policy Shop entered into an agreement with the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) to complete a report on the provinces long-term debt policy.
“SUMA expressed concern that due to rapid economic growth in the province and the need for municipalities to make major investments in infrastructure, that municipalities are constrained by their debt limits,” explained Kristopher Schmaltz, coordinator of The Policy Shop. “They wanted to know the impact of current debt-limit policy and if there are policy changes that could or should be made to address this concern.”
The Policy Shop began reviewing the rationale of current provincial policy around municipal debt limits, looking at the role utility debt plays in debt limit calculations and conducting comparative research on other jurisdictions to see if other policy alternatives are used elsewhere. In March, the group headed to Regina to present their interim findings to the SUMA Board of Directors, with a final report due to be completed in May.
“As the voice of urban governments in Saskatchewan, SUMA is engaged in a variety of policy issues,” commented Sean McEachern, senior policy advisor with SUMA. “Unfortunately, we are not always able to immerse ourselves in specific issues. When the board of directors asked for an analysis on municipal long term debt and the affect it is having on our members to address demands of growth, SUMA policy staff viewed this as an opportunity to engage the Policy Shop. Since the first meeting, the students engaged in this project have acted in a professional manner, have met all timelines and displayed a firm understanding of the issue.”
He added that the SUMA Board of Directors were extremely impressed with the interim findings and the presentation they did on this project and pleased to be working with this group of students.
Students equally appreciated the opportunity to gain experience in a professional environment.
"Working with the Policy Shop has provided an opportunity to develop my policy analysis skills in a real-world setting with tangible outcomes and genuine impacts in the community,” explained Michael Veltri, MPA student and policy shop member. “It has also helped expand my network of resources and contacts in both the public and not-for-profit sectors. The valuable experiences I've had with the Policy Shop have been central to my graduate training at Johnson Shoyama."
The group hopes to make this a long-term initiative to provide ongoing, student-led experiential learning opportunities to current MPA, MPP and PhD students. The Policy Shop will be partnering with the United Way of Saskatoon and Area on their next project and as student interest increases they hope to connect with the many other charities in the community requiring assistance with policy capacity.