ClassAction: SCPA 301: Understanding policy making 

By Russ Cooper

Left to Right: Fabienne Gabillet Dyke, Catherine L’Italien, Dania Habib, Anna Goldfinch, Mallory Lawton and Pauline Lambton Magnifying glass

Left to Right: Fabienne Gabillet Dyke, Catherine L’Italien, Dania Habib, Anna Goldfinch, Mallory Lawton and Pauline Lambton

When the atrium of the Samuel Bronfman building is packed with students, profs and community members participating in a lively discussion surrounding food safety and sovereignty that’s followed by local organic wine and cheese… it might be hard to believe it’s homework.

But it was for one group of students from SCPA 301: Social Debates and Issues in Public Policy Analysis.

As part of the curriculum, the class, taught by School of Community and Public Affairs Vice Principal Margie Mendell, organizes panel discussions by inviting players from varying standpoints involved in an issue assigned to them at the start of the course.

“The purpose of the class is for students to understand the processes of policy making,” says Mendell, “and to identify the different groups in society that either have an impact on those processes or are impacted by those policies once it is implemented.”

The class of 25 is divided into groups of four to six and is assigned an issue they’ll be examining all year. This year, students also tackled the Caisse de Dépôt situation, the role of government in the economy, the future of the Turcot Interchange and the changing nature of work. Their panel discussions will be held March 2, 9, 16 and 23 respectively in the Bronfman atrium.

Along with the panel, each group is required to write a collective paper on their assigned issue as a year-end project.

For the class’ first panel on Feb. 2, the invited panelists included certified organic farmer Sabrina Martinez, coordinator for the Food Sovereignty Coalition Frederick Paré, Community Liason Director for food bank Moisson Montreal Zackary Rhissa, and Steve Aitchinson, owner of local vegetarian eatery Burritoville, a resto dedicated to purchasing and serving local produce.

For both semesters of the six-credit class, students learn about organizations involved in an issue, “not to judge them, but rather to see how effective they are at influencing policy,” says Mendell, who also serves as Director of the Karl Polanyi Institute (see Journal, Jan. 15, 2009).

“The students always invite people directly engaged in the issue; from organizations to government to businesses,” she says. “We want people who are on the ground so they can engage with the general public.

“The class is interesting because the students have to research the issues they are assigned and identify the key organizations, groups and individuals involved, as well as organize and publicize the event. The course develops many different skills.”

SCPA student Anna Goldfinch says she and her co-organizers, “…were really happy when we were assigned this topic and we wanted to be as sustainable as we could for our event,” she says.

To contribute to the effort, they decided to arrange for the reception organic wine from the Eastern Township community of Dunham, Que., and organic cheese, donated by Burritoville.

Goldfinch, who works with Moisson Montreal, says she’ll be taking much of what she learned during the panel forward. “The issue is so vast, but it’s so local. It’s a global problem, but the solutions are within communities.”


Concordia University