A Battle of the Policy Wonks – Recap of 3rd annual Ford-SPPG Conference

Meaghan Coker

It was a race between forty students, divided into four teams, with four hours to reach the finish line.

This policy battle, better known as the 3rd annual Ford-SPPG Conference hosted this past weekend in Toronto, is a joint initiative of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan and our own School of Public Policy & Governance at the University of Toronto.

Students daring enough to take on the challenge were given four hours to understand the current gaps and challenges of the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Region, develop options and make recommendations on the costs and benefits of establishing a Great Lakes Partnership Council[1], and then present their proposals to a panel of faculty experts.

The case was framed as a rising issue that groups of policy makers, economists, and thought leaders are currently trying to solve, making the prospects of developing recommendations even more interesting.

Before the weekend began, many of the participants would have been unaware of the rich economic and environmental value of the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Region, or the factors that have contributed to its slowed progress and transformation. Upon leaving the conference, participants realized the complexity of the situation, while also better understanding the region’s importance and strategies to ensure its future prosperity and sustainability.

This conference demonstrated the benefits of bringing together the right players. Americans, Canadians – convening around a table to discuss the similarities and differences in our governments’ priorities, our nations’ socioeconomic challenges and political realities. The team environment provided participants the chance to work closely with our public policy counterparts from the Ford School, encouraging a fusion of diverse backgrounds and expertise. This was ultimately reflected in the spectrum of recommendations presented at the end of the day.

Planned by and for students from Ford and SPPG, this conference required us to put our skills to work and grow our knowledge quickly, and for much more than the pursuit of winning. We all crossed the finish line – taking many lessons with us as we move onto our next race.

Ann Arbor Michigan 2013? … See you there!

Meaghan Coker is a first-year student in the Master of Public Policy program at the School of Public Policy & Governance, University of Toronto. She graduated from The University of Western Ontario with two degrees, a Bachelor in Management and Organizational Studies and an Honors Bachelor of Arts in Political Science.


[1] Originally proposed in the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation’s report ‘The Vital Commons: A Policy Agenda for the Great Lakes Century’.

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