June 1st, 2015
Recently I was walking along Bayview near Eglinton with my teenage son. Two joggers passed by, then a few seconds later they stopped and I heard one of them call out “Professor Borins.” I turned around, he came up to me and said, “You probably don’t remember me, but I took your public management course years ago. I played the role of prime minister in your budget simulation, and it was one of the best learning experiences I ever had in university.”
Having my now teenage son with me was crucial. Given normal teenage skepticism about the parental unit, it was rewarding to have him hear a stranger saying I did something right. And I also have a witness for my story.
The course the former student – now a lawyer who jogs on weekends, he told me – was referring to is MGSC03 (Public Management).
The course is an introduction to public management. It’s aimed not only at students who think they might work in the public sector, but also students who are interested in the public sector because they simply want to know how it functions, or because they anticipate that their work in the private sector might put them in contact with government. Because the public sector accounts for approximately one-third of the Canadian economy, quite a few of our management students will spend at least part of their careers in the public sector or dealing with it.
As my former student attested, there is a large experiential component to the course. In the middle of the course, we have a budget exercise. Students form teams that represent the spending departments (Health, Industry, Natural Resources, Human Resources) and the central agencies (Prime Minister, Minister of Finance). The spending departments must allocate either a collective budget increase or a collective budget cut. The Prime Minister and Minister of Finance are there to lead the process but not necessarily to dictate the outcome. The simulation involves web-based research about the departments, advocacy, and then negotiation. Over the years, I’ve had feedback from many students that it was a great experiential learning exercise.
A second experiential learning component is the crisis management exercise. I’ll walk into class one day with a “black swan” scenario, ask one student to be the prime minister or minister in charge, and other students to come up with a plan. This year’s crisis: with the support of the singer Shakira, leaders of the Aboriginal community advocate a boycott of the Pan-Am Games and plan demonstrations. How should the federal, provincial, and municipal governments respond?
My presentations in the course involve explaining the basics of how the public sector operates, in particular the linkage between political leadership and public sector implementation, and then applying that knowledge to a number of contexts, such as financial management (the budget exercise), crisis management, management of information and information technology, and human resource management. A general election at the federal level will be held next October 19, and I will explain the outcome and discuss the agenda of Canada’s next government, whichever party (or parties) form it.
I will be giving MGSC03 winter semester on Tuesdays from 11 to 1. I look forward to working together with you, experientially, to understand the public sector and the skills you need to be an effective manager in it.