Becoming a public policy advisor or analyst offers a unique chance to make a real difference in the lives of millions of Canadians.
This country faces complex policy challenges in many domains, from healthcare and housing to the environment and social welfare. There is steady demand for skilled policy leaders who can develop effective solutions and drive positive change.
Ryan Kelly is one of those leaders. He has extensive experience as a policy analyst and program advisor with both the municipal and provincial levels of government. He also teaches the Public Policy and Administration certificate here at Kompass.
In this interview, he shares some of his own fascinating background in public policy and explains what to expect from the course.
Q. Ryan, can you tell us a bit about your education and professional background?
Ryan: I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, where I majored in political science and public policy and minored in Latin American studies. I also completed a master’s degree in public policy analysis from what was at the time the University of Toronto School of Public Policy and Governance (now the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy).
I started out working as a Program Consultant at the Ministry of Tourism. I helped small municipalities fund redevelopment projects focused on recreational infrastructure, like hockey arenas and baseball diamonds.
I also began volunteering with different political campaigns at both the municipal and provincial levels, and I fell in love with how fast paced and dynamic the work was.
Later I joined the office of the Associate Minister of Health as a legislative assistant and issues manager, which was very much my dream job at the time. Over the next few years, I moved between different minister’s offices and eventually worked for a councillor at city hall as a policy and communications advisor.
After a pandemic layoff and a period at home looking after a new addition to the family, I’m proud to say I’ve recently accepted a role as the policy director for the York Region Police Service Board, where I will be assisting in crafting operational and governance policy.
Q. What inspired you to pursue a policy role?
Ryan: Politics has always been my passion. I realized once I was working within a large bureaucracy like the Government of Ontario that there are countless possibilities in terms of the roles and subject matter you can choose to work on, but your options are limited if you do not have a background in policy. So it was a logical step to advance my education with a focus on policy development.
Politics is a grand debate about what’s best for everyone in society. But to truly understand the debates taking place about what the government should or should not be doing, you absolutely need to understand (internally) how government works.
Essentially, public policy is the study of the government toolbox. What tools the government has, when and where those tools can or can’t be used, and how the government uses them is key to understanding the political debates unfolding every day.
Q. Is this your first teaching role?
Ryan: I was a teaching assistant for a first-year political science course and I really fell in love with it. I thought back to when I was in my first year of school and I realized that most people know very little about how the government works or what it can and can’t do. So having the opportunity to teach first-year students was something I found really inspiring.
Since then, I’ve obviously grown my own skills and added 20 years of real work experience. I think that will give my incoming students a valuable perspective going forward.
Q. What are the main learning goals of the Public Policy and Administration certificate?
Ryan: I think the folks that take this course are going to walk away from it with an understanding of where our tax dollars go and how the debate happens on where those tax dollars should go. They’ll understand what frames the actions of the different political parties.
In this course, we start at a pretty basic level and get more advanced using very concrete examples from real life. We take examples from the news and say, why did this happen? How did the debate come together, and why did we decide on a particular course of action?
Take issues like mask wearing or a national dental plan or how a wildfire in one place can impact the air quality of another community 1,000 miles away. I’m really interested in examining these real-world examples and challenging the students to come up with solutions.
Q. Who is this training geared toward? Who would benefit from taking the public policy certificate at Kompass?
Ryan: Anyone who wants a better understanding of how the government works could benefit from this course. That includes lawyers, public servants, and other professionals.
Also, people who are in more of an academic space but are working on topics related to policy will find it helpful because they’ll have a better understanding of how their research can feed into policy development.
Q. Why are policymaking skills in such high demand? What makes now a good time to enter this field?
Ryan: The challenges facing governments across the country are getting more and more complex. Think global warming, misinformation campaigns, pandemics, forest fires—the list goes on. The world is changing more rapidly than government has been able to adapt.
For instance, say a river overflows its banks in central British Columbia. It’s largely small municipalities that are responsible for maintaining that infrastructure. But when the flood impacts people downstream right across the province or even in other provinces, how do we address that? Who is ultimately responsible? What are the constraints involved?
The more people who are knowledgeable about what we can and can’t do, the better equipped we will be to deal with those challenges in the future.
Q. What would you say are the biggest rewards of working in public policy?
Ryan: Being able to make positive change and adjust the system to make sure people’s needs are met is a very good, very rewarding feeling. Working in public policy gives you the opportunity to develop and deliver positive change for everyone.
There are a lot of impacts that a single decision might have that aren’t necessarily clear right away. But if you understand the way policy is formulated and the way government operates, it’s a good start to understanding what impacts your decisions might have 10 or 20 years down the road.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE PUBLIC POLICY AND ADMINISTRATION CERTIFICATE
The Public Policy and Administration certificate runs for seven weeks (extendable up to 14 weeks). Training focuses on how policy is developed, the realities of working in a policy role, and the specific skills and attributes required to succeed in policymaking.
The certificate is delivered online with dedicated instructor support.
Click below to explore the training in more detail and chat live with an admissions advisor.