It was the end of April. Carleton students were winding down from another term, finishing exams and finalizing any outstanding final papers.

Well not so for a cohort of 60 students in the Master of Public Policy and Administration. They were just ramping up to take part in a 4-day intensive simulation exercise as part of their capstone project course — a final required component of their degree program which the School of Public Policy and Administration has run since 2018.

“The capstone experience is such a critical part of our program, giving the students a chance to solidify their learning with us and strengthen their professional ties with classmates,” notes Director Jennifer Stewart. “We are so happy we can give our students this great learning opportunity!”

Working in teams, the students received details of the case days before the simulation. They were tasked with working on two aspects of Canadian charity regulation that featured in the 2022 federal budget. The first aspect was the disbursement quota (known within charity circles as the DQ) which is a minimum proportion of a charity’s investments and assets not used for charitable purposes that must be granted each year. The second aspect concerned the rules that guide how charities work with non-charities or non-qualified donees.

A mundane topic, you might think. But as the students dug in and learned from expert speakers, big questions about inter-generational justice, accountability, and public trust arose alongside challenging issues of how to administer a holistic charity regulatory regime through a tax agency.

“The insight the experts provided us was very helpful, particularly if you were like me and unfamiliar with the topic,” Kelsey Johnson, a student in the class said. “I really enjoyed being able to apply the skills I’d learnt over the course of my degree in a more hands-on setting, while learning and receiving feedback from some of the best in this policy field.”

The student teams not only had to learn the intricacies of the file and issues, but their teams also had to take the position of a stakeholder group in the charity policy community — Philanthropic Foundations Canada, Imagine Canada, Cooperation Canada, and others.

In their final day, groups briefed and received feedback from Michael Wernick and Dalton McGuinty, before working under time constraints to produce a joint communique detailing the outcomes of the simulated stakeholder meeting.

“It was an energizing experience,” Professor Graeme Auld, one of the two instructors this year, reflected. “It is incredible to see our students work so effectively in teams on such a tight timeline to produce thoughtful and well-substantiated policy recommendations.”

Professor Nathan Grasse, the other instructor, added: “It was great to watch the students immerse themselves in a policy issue they had likely never considered before; they fully committed to the exercise. Their approaches to working together and creating solutions were impressive.”

Diarmuid Wickham, a student in the course and MPPA graduate in 2022, offered the following in reflection on the course. “The capstone allowed us to work with concepts from classes in an environment that felt very real. A wonderful way to close out my time at Carleton.”

In previous years, the capstone course has covered topics including basic income, smart cities and data governance, rare diseases, and the opioid crisis. Come 2023, another MPPA cohort will spend late April tackling a pressing policy issue — an experience that will cap-off their time at the School.