New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network

What is the best way to eat an elephant?

What is the best way to eat an elephant?

Last June NBSPRN held an event called Expanding the Economic Development Policy Discussion, with a keynote speaker and 4 expert panelists: Dr. Yves Bourgeois (Urban Studies Institute), Susan Holt (NB Business Council), Monica Chaperlain (BCAPI – Saint John), and René Boudreau (Research and Innovation Council).

Our panelists sparked an engaging discussion with the audience about what good economic development policy looks like. You can read the take aways here. The weekend of February 21st we continued the discussion but this time with a twist: employ the principles and practices of an accelerator program to economic development policy research.

Bob Sutton a leading researcher in innovation at Stanford University states: “A place where intense innovation happens, often combines people who know too little and people who know too much”.

Event organizers invited participants from graduate students and seasoned academic researchers to community organizations and executive level policy makers to form teams around wicked problems, and design research projects to produce wicked knowledge. Our intention was to apply the wisdom of the Zen notion of combining masters and neophytes and producing the tension between massive expertise and the ability to see with fresh eyes.

Collaborate to Innovate

We often hear the phrase “we need change” or “we need to innovate”.  These phrases are too often followed by unchanged behaviour.  If we are serious about change we need to do things differently.  Doing things differently requires us to think differently in how we design our activities.  Thinking differently must be supported by seeing things differently, through fresh eyes. The only way to see things differently is to learn from each other, from a diverse “each other”. The best way to learn from each other is to work together, as a team, with a common goal. We must collaborate in order to innovate.

The Hon. Andy Scott established the social policy research network to advance evidence-based policy development in New Brunswick. He was committed to citizen engagement and the notion of networked governance.  He would say: “you bring everyone to the table so that everyone wins”.

As part of our effort to develop mechanisms and processes that will honour Andy’s legacy of advancing evidence-based decision making and community engagement we tried something new.  With Research to Impact, we sought to adapt the methodologies found in business accelerator programs, to the policy research space.

Framing Wicked Problems

The Opening Panel was chosen to get participants thinking about how to frame impactful research questions that could influence economic development policy in New Brunswick.  The panel included: 1) an academic who spoke about research and evidence-based policy development; 2) an economist from GNB who spoke to the state of the New Brunswick economy; 3) a community leader and 4) a policy maker to speak to “wicked problems” from the government and community perspectives.

Generating Wicked Ideas

Following the panel Sally Ng lead the participants through the process of generating research questions and ideas aimed at informing economic development policy in New Brunswick.  The goal of a great question is to help us get past old myths and ways of seeing things, to develop the new way of thinking that will solve the wicked problems.

By the end of the weekend participating teams pitched policy research projects, and were evaluated by a panel of judges.  The winning team, U2Work, proposed a research project that leveraged the data harvested by to close the employment gap. Their research question investigated how high usage of career sites in New Brunswick schools impact student engagement.  Their purpose was to draw upon existing tools to improve students’ pathway to success in the workforce. One of the things they found was that “career exploration and awareness activities at the middle school level are more likely to establish an effective program plan of study”. To view their project as well as others from Researhc2Impact, click here.

Research2Impact seeks to increase policy research capacity and connect knowledge producers with knowledge users.  A participant of the event, Meranda McLaughlin, stated: “As a student, Research2Impact was a fantastic learning experience.  In just 48 hours, I made great new connections, enjoyed informative workshops, learned new research strategies and proposal development techniques, and gained valuable insights from both mentors and participants.  I am confident that the lessons learned will add value to my future research and policy-related endeavors.  I highly recommend Research2Impact events to undergraduate and graduate students alike!”

The next event is tentatively scheduled for the Fall of 2014 in Moncton, NB.

For more information about the Research2Impact program or to subscribe to our newsletter, email

Copyright 2013
A Ginger Design