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Life as a Professional Guinea Pig: Living the Experiment

Retrospectively speaking, my first seven years in the public service have followed a random path: I’ve segued from real property corporate reporting, to IT projects and portfolio management, to working as a Free Agent acting as a federal regulations policy analyst. I’ve also worked on side projects for the government that were driven by my personal passions and interests (like workplace giving, mobile app development, and connecting people through youth networks). As I moved from junior analyst, to project manager, to supervisor, and enjoyed the experiences these positions offered, I realized diversity of experience has been the name of my game, and that experimentation (whether I was the tester or the tested) has been the defining element of that game.

Reflecting on the first four months I’ve experienced as a participant in the Canada Beyond 150 program, I started to see the connection between what was unique about its construct and why it appealed to me: I was a test subject, the guinea pig, and I was part of a collective that was learning how to expose, measure, and seek answers to difficult and complex questions using new tools and techniques. Here, the tester is also the subject, and the experience throughout the program is the goal, not the result.

It’s not a smooth journey; there are several struggles and frustrations that arise from taking part in an experimental program like this. And these frustrations are exactly why I keep coming back for more.

I am out of my comfort zone

I work with a group of exceptionally intelligent and passionate women doing research on the future of feminist government. Given the nature of our research, tension can be expected when exploring concepts of intersectionality, power, privilege, and system barriers to equality and equity for all people. This can be uncomfortable and disruptive – paradigm shifts (mine and others’) are necessary, but this is a space I feel I can learn from and meaningfully contribute to.

The outcome may be unclear

We are asked to explore a profoundly fraught topic, and consider potential policy recommendations that could affect generations to come. (Un)Feminist thinking of the past has resulted in issues that are still not addressed today, so how do we pull our attention from today’s issues and focus on creating policy for the future? Clarity relies on constantly tested assumptions but also constantly tested potential solutions.

Why do I keep coming back?

Personally: to practice, learn, and grow by continuing to embrace experimentation, or my guinea pig mentality. Professionally, I’d like to see whether programs like ours can mature with a new generation of public servants who are comfortable with the unknown, especially as governments no longer have a monopoly on policy research.

This comfort with the unknown and willingness to explore policy problems and experiment with solutions outside of my traditional thinking is what I would like to continue practicing throughout my career in the public service.

In the words of Emerson, all life is an experiment. For me, I get to be a part of a wonderfully unique experiment that empowers us to change lives on a vast scale. I have a feeling that my paradigm will expand and shift many times before I finish the program, and hopefully the sense of frustration experienced now and again means I’m working on the positive impacts for years to come.

Policy is an answer…
Next Stop: Winnipeg