Why CAPPA Matters

This week I have been participating online in the annual research conference and AGM of the Canadian Association of Programs in Public Administration. CAPPA is the professional association for Canadian academics in the field of public administration, similar to the Canadian Economics Association or Canadian Political Science Association. As the thumbnail for this post on my home page I’ve used CAPPA’s logo, which incorporates a stylized representation of Canada’s geography. (Personal disclosure: I served as CAPPA’s President from 2003 to 2007, but I’ll discuss that at the end.)

A Vibrant Community

My strongest impression is that CAPPA represents a vibrant intellectual community. Some of the papers presented in the first day discussed:

  • an edited book of case studies of Canadian public policy successes (a supervised injection site in Vancouver, managing the Great Lakes ecosystem, the federal policy review of 1995-96, and federal support for Canada’s research universities),
  • an analysis of time allocation by deputy ministers,
  • the Parliamentary Budget Office’s recent initiative to cost out federal party platforms,
  • election candidacy by federal public servants,
  • lessons learned teaching public administration online,
  • developing digital competency for public servants, and
  • using AI to do policy analysis.

And that was all in the first day and a half! These are all important topics of academic research and professional practice and I learned something from each presentation. (Second personal disclosure: as mentioned in a previous post, I presented my research on Canadian political narratives.)

Highlights of the AGM included reports about the graduate student case competition, which was successfully moved online this year, and the accreditation board, which is overseeing a process of self-scrutiny and external review for graduate programs that choose to undergo it. Kudos to CAPPA President Brooke Jeffrey; Kathy Brock, Chair of the Accreditation Board; former President Andrea Rounce, Chair of the conference organizing committee; and former President Robert Shepherd, Chair of the case competition.

Why CAPPA Matters

CAPPA had its origins in the academic caucus of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC), which at least in terms of membership numbers is primarily a practitioner organization. IPAC had the wisdom sixty-four years ago to create the academic journal Canadian Public Administration. In effect it invested in engaging its academic members to build intellectual capital that practitioners could ultimately use.

While CPA has been enormously important as a publication outlet for Canadian public administration academics, our community has additional needs that IPAC cannot easily meet. We need a place to discuss the research that will ultimately result in articles published in books, CPA, and other journals. We need a space to discuss our academic programs, our pedagogy, and the concerns of our students. CAPPA is the forum we created for these purposes, and as CAPPA has flourished, it has been increasingly helpful to us.

The Perfect Gift

I served as President of CAPPA for four years – a long time for the leadership of an academic organization – because I had an agenda. Part of the agenda was to move CAPPA out from under IPAC’s umbrella by building our own website, rather than just occupying a page several levels down on the IPAC website, and by setting up our own bank account, rather than having IPAC manage our finances. The analogy to a young person asserting their independence is obvious here.

In addition, during my presidency our community decided to establish an accreditation process. We recognized that accreditation would be onerous both for the review committee and for programs seeking accreditation, but we believed it would enhance the quality of programs that chose to undergo it and would help them argue for resources within their universities.

I also worked to strengthen the relationship between CAPPA and the federal government’s Canada School of Public Service (CSPS). I had the good fortune that former Cabinet Secretary Jocelyne Bourgon was serving as President of CSPS. At the top of her agenda was renewal of the federal public service (La Releve, as she called it) and she and I both realized that renewal for the federal public service would necessitate renewal for the public administration professoriate, which twenty years ago was not growing and was aging.  (For much of the last 20 years, university budgets have been increasing, and Bourgon’s argument has found receptive ears. Several universities established master’s programs in public administration, policy, or management; there are now a total of 31, according to a paper just presented by Ian Roberge and Judy Oduro.)

I achieved enough of my agenda in four years that I decided to pass along the reins of leadership. I am glad that CAPPA presidents now serve two-year terms, enough time to make an impact. And I’m delighted that my successors have made their impact through initiatives like the annual research conference and student case competition, both launched a decade ago.

When I completed my term, my colleagues presented me with a midnight blue Dunhill ballpoint pen. (The Dunhill brand is now part of Montblanc.) The pen is elegant and heavier than standard ballpoints. I use it every day and it has become a personal icon. Not only does it remind me of CAPPA, but its elegance and weight inspire me to attempt to write with grace and gravitas.


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