Political Acuity in Parks

by Brodie Schmidt & Kristie Derkson

Brodie Schmidt is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada.

It is becoming increasingly accepted that the establishment of protected areas in Canada is entangled in political processes (Botchwey & Cunningham, 2021; Bella, 2007). Botchwey & Cunningham (2021) offer further supporting context in this article to, “suggest that the political characteristics of protected areas do not lend themselves easily to politicization, but […] at the federal level, and provincially in Alberta, the rate of protected area establishment is becoming increasingly tied to electoral politics, suggesting some politicization”. Taking this a step further, this blog highlights that these politicized elements do not dissipate once park establishment takes place. The power structures, motivations, and underlying influences associated with established protected areas are guided by the very politics that brought them into being.  Even if not overtly so, public servants live in an inherently political world – parks people being no exception (Siegel, 2020).  

How can and do public servants navigate this political parks world? 

I sat down with Kristie Derkson, an interim issues advisor and full time senior policy planner from Alberta Parks, to discuss this question and her approach to political acuity. The conversation we had can be encapsulated through answering three questions: What is political acuity? Why do park leaders need it? And how does one practice political acuity? 

What is Political Acuity? 

In this video we hear Dr. Peter Constantinou discussing the topic of political acuity, through an interview with Municipal World CEO Susan Gardner. Constantinou explains that, “political acuity […] is the idea of knowing and understanding how – in the wider context – all the various unknowns of daily life impact the decisions people make. It is also […] knowing when to do something and when not to do something, or understanding when something will be acceptable and when it will not”. The Ontario Municipal Social Services Association (OMSSA) offers their own definition of political acuity through their workshop website, framing it as being, “… about judgement; understanding an issue, its origins, and the players, developing an approach, and knowing when to act”.  

Why Should Political Acuity Matter to Park Leaders? 

Kristie echoed this view in our interview, and took it a step further by emphasizing that we need to be able to understand the political landscapes of our organizations. She says that political acuity can help to understand the power structures, motivations, and influences at play in the government decision making process, and moreover, the implications that these decisions have at policy making and public levels. Through strengthening one’s ability to practice political acuity, park leaders are better equipped to navigate politically sensitive situations, and in knowing what to advise to leadership officials, and when.  

As said by Kristie, “… a lot of parks folks are quite focused on the operations, and the day to day in the field, but there’s another aspect of it, right? We work under democratically elected governments who may or may not have differing ideas of how we operate, and sometimes that causes joy, and sometimes that causes conflict with our work and within ourselves. […] sometimes there’s also gaps in understanding about what is needed, or what is desired and why, on both sides, and I think that […] Political Acuity can help translate it. It’s almost like they’re two separate columns, and political acuity […] can be the bridge that helps them connect and see each other’s viewpoints and get things done with a little bit more understanding of each other”.  

Now that we have framed the topic of political acuity generally, we can narrow in on the main themes that have come from this conversation which are of relevance to park leaders. I asked Kristie if she could speak to how, exactly, political acuity helps her to maneuver through barriers in her work. Her response, although uniquely situated within her own position, provides some profound lessons learned that could translate well to other park leaders’ situations.  

“Some of the main challenges I’ve been facing with Political Acuity is that a lot of times, as  I previously mentioned, there is a disparity between what is desired on the government end, compared to in both operations and the field, and so trying to get a solution where both parties are satisfied is often impossible. […] The steps to take here can be tricky but the ultimate solution is that we practice truth to power and inform the decision makers; however, when it comes to voicing up concerns and recommendations, sometimes flexibility on timing and knowing who and what to include is the key to success. This can be an issue for a lot of us and it takes a deeper understanding of the public zeitgeist, the political climate, and appropriate timing of issues. Often success stems from having the foresight to do the work beforehand and putting it on a shelf to wait and have it ready and on hand when the timing is right.”

This theme, which I thank Kristie for nodding towards, regarding the gap between overhead mandates and local realities, has emerged through a few discussions I have had with various park leaders this year. From Kristie’s experience, honing in her political acuity is supporting her efforts to be the bridge and translator between the two. Perhaps practicing political acuity could improve connectivity within your network as well.

How does one practice political acuity?

“I think initially some people just have a more inherent ability, or they have more inherent political acuity, their emotional IQ is a bit higher, their personal friendships, they are much more approachable… But I think it can be learned, and I think it can be learned through […] experience, mentoring, and developing those key personal relationships that can provide insight and support that other means cannot.  It is important to support and help other co-workers out across the ministerial spectrum when you can. Those types of initiatives and support, beyond helping the public service in general and making it better for everyone, are remembered and can offer you the same if needed.   […]”

The experience that Kristie alludes to when discussing political acuity development is multifaceted. Operational experience, “knowing the hierarchy, and the processes without them being written down”, is one tool that Kristie identifies as being useful in building political astuteness. Moving beyond recognizing the ebbs and flows of the system you work within, to including interpersonal effectiveness and emotional intelligence in your toolkit, is key. In doing so, Kristie believes leaders are likely to improve their, “awareness of other people […], and their desires and wants and sort of unspoken messages that are coming through”. Beyond primers on emotional intelligence, are there tools that park leaders can use to strengthen these experientially-based skills?

Kristie says, yes: “The tools that I use are working groups. I try to never do anything on my own, I always have people that I consult with. I always do a lot of communicating and engagement internally. I think that a big key to political acuity is communicating and talking to the people involved, including those on the ground and in the executive chairs, and trying to figure out what exactly is the issue, what exactly are the solutions desired, and how can we make them work for everyone. It is imperative to get the field and operations staff on board with executive decisions because they are the ones that will be carrying them out and the success and longevity of the decisions depend on staff buy-in. Likewise, it is imperative to get what is working and what is not on the ground up to the executive so they can make the decisions as informed as possible.”

Through exposing herself to numerous perspectives whilst conducting work, Kristie’s personal experiences and understandings are expanding. Adding to this idea of personal experience, Kristie also notes the significance of others’ experiences and learning from those, both internally and within your broader network.

“I actually went and got myself a mentor from a different ministry who gave me some tips. I have a mentor who used to be a minister, who is retired right now, so I get tips from her. I guess it’s a collaboration, and it’s a team, right?”

On the note of mentoring, Kristie also reminded me that, “you have to bring something to the table as well. You can’t just say, ‘hey, can you be my mentor?’, you have to have something to offer too”. In reflecting on her own experiences with mentoring, Kristie mentions that “I reached out to people and I made those relationships. Purchased breakfasts with ADMs in charity auctions, went to book signings, joined side-of-desk initiatives within government, volunteered outside of government[…] I did all of that, and I put in the time and effort to build those relationships myself”. Although formalized mentor programs offer great opportunities for learning (ex., Project Learning Tree (PLT) Canada’s Green Mentor Program), Kristie’s journey through political acuity has centered strongly around personal relationships and the experiences that extend from them.

“I think personal relationships are a huge part of political acuity”, says Kristie. Although she also acknowledges the barriers to fostering those relationships within some workplaces: “I think the government misses out on these team building exercises very often, and that’s unfortunate because I think if we did [have those opportunities], we’d be more effective. […] When I worked in private industry, for example, we would have barbecues at lunchtime, or one day we showed up at work and the boss had rented a bus and we all got on the bus and we went go karting. It was just a surprise”.

Building a strong work team culture through personal relationships allows for folks to get on the same page, or strengthen trust and communication abilities to get onto the same page. It is important that staff are aware of other projects and programs going on in the organization, and that can come from natural conversations. In other conversations with park leaders, they have recognized the need to prepare staff to be able to answer questions that the public has about projects being implemented, even if they are not directly involved; if anything, supporting the ability to know who to direct questions to. How can public servants build personal relationships with peers in lieu of team building opportunities characteristically tied to private business?

“Go for lunch or have coffee with people! Sure, you’re going to sit and talk about your dog for 20 minutes, but then you might also be like, “hey, what do you think about this topic?” and they’re going to give you their feedback, and you’re going to learn things”. 

Like any relationship-based skill, Kristie also reiterates that political acuity is not a box-checking exercise.

“ I think it’s a lifelong, ongoing process. I don’t think anyone “achieves” political acuity, you know? You’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to go the wrong direction sometimes, you’re going to suggest something at the wrong time, and what you do with that work is you just take it, put it back on the shelf, and then you wait until you can sense where it will be welcome again. You just have to have patience with political acuity and you have to make mistakes. […]. Also, looking at the relationships you make with people, make them solid. If someone does something nice for you, have their back. That’ll get you way farther than any report that you write.”

In Closing

After reading this blog, we hope that leaders in the parks and protected areas field are better equipped to identify the political undertones within their day-to-day work. Moreover, through sharing lessons learned from Kristie’s own unique experiences, readers can hone in their own skills related to political acuity. Through seeking out multifarious experiences, mentorship opportunities, and strengthened personal relationships, individuals are well positioned to practice truth to power in politically acute ways. 

For further resources regarding the topic of political acuity, please see below. 

Further Resources on the Topic  

Canadian Association for Municipal Administrators Political Acumen Toolkit  

“Recognizing the importance of political understanding to the role of senior administrators in local government, the Board of the Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators (CAMA) formed a Committee to find ways of strengthening political acumen as a core competency for CAOs, their direct reports, and the next generation of municipal leaders. The Political Acumen Toolkit is the result of the efforts of this Committee.” 

Hartley, J. & Fletcher, C. (2008). Leading with Political Awareness: Leadership Across Diverse Interests Inside and Outside the Organisation. Leadership Perpectives: pp. 163 

Abstract: “This chapter examines some current limitations of leadership theory which focuses on leadership in rather than of the organisation and which underplays the skills of leading across diverse and sometimes competing interests both inside and outside the organisation. We propose an alternative view of leadership which we call leading with political awareness but political astuteness, or political savvy are also expressions of this capability. The chapter is based on a large UK research project with middle and senior private, public and voluntary sector managers, which involved a literature review, focus groups with 41 managers; a survey of 1,475 managers and 12 interviews (details in Hartley et al., 2007). The chapter does not report on the empirical findings, but rather sets out some themes concerned with why leadership increasingly needs to take into account political awareness skills; the contexts where such skills are needed; how politics and therefore political awareness is conceptualised; and crucially, a framework of political skills. The chapter argues that political awareness skills raise new questions for leadership theory because the research takes into account the leadership of difference leadership outside as well as, inside the organisation, and the strategic context of leadership.” 

This article shared a 5 part political awareness framework that identifies the skills that public servants need in order to develop political awareness. They are:  

  • Personal skills: self awareness, curiosity about others, openness to change 
  • Interpersonal skills: ability to influence others, negotiating skills, handling conflict to arrive at positive ends 
  • Reading people and situations: understanding the motivations of other individuals and organizations, ability to utilize this information to predict likely outcomes of interactions  
  • Building alignment and alliances: understanding how individuals and organizations with apparently conflicting objectives can work together to achieve goals  
  • Strategic direction and scanning: long term thinking to further the goals of the organization without being distracted by short term problems

Ontario Municipal Social Services Association Political Acuity Workshop 

“This course is specifically designed for public sector leaders and staff who wish to move into leadership roles. Building your political acuity will help you and your team to influence decisions, achieve organizational objectives and deliver results. This one-day course will cultivate your political acuity by developing the skills and knowledge you need to navigate the complex formal and informal systems within your municipality as well as the external political environment.” 

Siegel, D. (2020). Public servants and politics: Developing acuity in local government. Canadian Public Administration 63(4). 

Abstract: “A good relationship between council and senior staff is essential for the successful operation of the municipality. However, the academic treatment of the council-staff relationship has lagged real-world expectations. The purpose of this article is to extend the literature on council-staff relations by identifying the competencies associated with the concept of political acuity needed to maintain this good relationship.

La reussite du fonctionnement d’une municipalite depend essentiellement d’une bonne relation entre le conseil municipal et les hauts fonctionnaires. Cependant, la perception des universitaires concemant la relation entre le conseil et les fonctionnaires est en decalage avec les atientes du monde reel. Cet article vise a elargir la documentation sur les relations entre conseil municipal et fonctionnaires en identifiant les competences associees au concept de perspicacite politique necessaires au maintien de cette bonne relation.”



Bella, L. (1986). The politics of preservation: Creating National Parks in Canada, and in the United States, England and Wales. Planning Perspectives, 1(3), 189–206. https://doi.org/10.1080/02665438608725623  

Botchwey, B. S., & Cunningham, C. (2021). The politicization of Protected Areas Establishment in Canada. FACETS, 6, 1146–1167. https://doi.org/10.1139/facets-2020-0069  

Hartley, J., & Fletcher, C. (2008). Leading with political awareness: Leadership across diverse interests inside and outside the organisation. Leadership Perspectives, 163–176. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230584068_12  

Municipal World. (2018). Political acuity: A guide to managing conflict in the workplace. Youtube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qLePOssTT0&ab_channel=MunicipalWorld.  

Siegel, D. (2020). Public servants and politics: Developing political acuity in local government. Canadian Public Administration, 63(4), 620–639. https://doi.org/10.1111/capa.12381 


Connecting with Local Water and Inuit Harvesting Rights

by Nathaniel Rose

This blog post was created in collaboration with Sandi Vincent, practitioner with Parks Canada.

Nathaniel Rose is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada.

During the winter months around Igloolik, Nunavut, the sun sets in November and doesn’t rise again until the end of January. Slowly, the daylight grows and the world around us warms up. Everyone loves spring in the Arctic after a cold and dark winter. As a teenager in Igloolik I especially loved to go camping for spring break-up, when the sea ice breaks up and the ocean opens for the summer. Towards the end of May – beginning of June, my family and I traveled across the ice in qamutiik pulled by snowmobile to Igloolik point. We spent the month of June on the land, waiting at seal holes, fishing in cracks in the ice and enjoying the sun and spring weather. When the ice had broken up at the beginning of July, we traveled back to town by ATV or boat.

I had spent many hours with my cousins silently waiting at agluit, seal breathing holes, being in and a part of my environment. When a seal came to my hole, my uncle came to where I was and showed me how to respectfully harvest it. This time spent camping is one of my favourite memories, and learning traditional knowledge camping with my extended family has helped shape me as an Inuk. “Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) encompasses the entire realm of Inuit experience in the world and the values, principles, beliefs, and skills which have evolved as a result of that experience. It is the experience and resulting knowledge/wisdom that prepares us for success in the future and establishes the possible survival of Inuit.”(3). I spent that spring break-up learning Inuktitut terms, observing the weather, gaining a deeper understanding of my environment, and strengthening my cultural identity. I’m grateful for spending so much time on the land and treasure the time I spent with my family.

Inuit exercising rights under the Nunavut Agreement have unrestricted access to all Parks Canada protected places in Nunavut. Inuit are not considered “visitors” when in Parks Canada administered places in Nunavut, and can hunt, trap, fish, harvest berries and other materials, collect carving stones and establish outpost camps in Parks Canada protected places. 

After I shared this story with Nathaniel, our conversations shifted to the recent water crisis in Iqaluit NU. In October 2021 Iqaluit’s drinking water was contaminated with fuel and a do not consume order was issued. For nearly two months the city of approx. 8000 people relied on bottled water or trucked river water. This event put a clear focus on access to drinking water and the quality of water on a broader scale.

I (Nathaniel) wanted to look into bodies of water in my local area, and whether or not they were drinkable, so I turned my attention to Georgian Bay. Georgian Bay is home to many provincial Parks and one National Park (Georgian Bay Islands National Park – visited many times by the Group of Seven who painted its pristine landscapes). I have spent my summers here since a child, at a family log cabin right on the south shores of Georgian Bay. I remember we used to have a hose running from the lake, to our lawn, to water the lawn and the garden. But I don’t think I ever drank from the lake directly. I definitely swam in it, and still swim in it during the summer to this day.

I was very interested to learn when Georgian Bay water became undrinkable for residents and when the shift occurred from being able to drink it directly, to having to have it filtered. My guess is this happened this century (in the 1900s). With the pollution from many motorboats (used mostly for leisure boating and fishing) and nutrients like phosphorus from agricultural runoff, the water quality has diminished and is now filtered (where I am) by the local town, Thornbury. The water comes from Georgian Bay but must be treated to be fit to drink.

According to Pat Chow-Fraser, Professor at McMaster University, permanent and seasonal residents on Georgian Bay used to drink water directly from the lake (1). However over time, it got more polluted and required treatment. In isolated bays, where the water exchange is low, the lake became infested with Blue-Green Algae, caused by agricultural runoff from local watersheds.

Today, the water quality (though it still needs to be treated) is deemed relatively good in Georgian Bay. However, in more urbanized areas like Severn Sound, in the southeast corner of the bay, increased nutrient levels (eutrophication) have led to excessive plankton blooms, aquatic plant life and reduced dissolved oxygen levels (1). Eutrophication, caused by agricultural runoff in local watersheds, can prove toxic to fish, birds, humans and other wildlife.

 The cold water parts of Georgian Bay are home to fish such as Lake Trout and White Fish, while the warmer waters are home to Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, Northern Pike, Muskellunge, Walleye, Yellow Perch and others (1). It is important that we protect these fish, and the local bird populations that rely on them for sustenance. This will help support a healthy and biodiverse ecosystem.

It is also important to human swimmers, and I argue, everyone who drinks from the lake. Think about it: wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all drink directly from our fresh-water lakes? If fish could swim free of toxins, and we could swim with no worry about toxins as well? Have you ever drunk directly from a lake or river? My guess is this is a rare experience today in urbanized areas of Canada.

The Beaver River flows into Georgian Bay and is a major spawning spot for Salmon. Every year you can watch the salmon swim upstream to where they lay their eggs

Motor Boats

Apart from agricultural runoff,  motorboats are one of the major polluters of Georgian Bay. From fishing to leisure boating, motorboats have existed on the bay since the early twentieth century (4). Though not as busy as the Muskoka region (a major cottage getaway location in Ontario), there are still a significant amount of motor boats on the Bay today. According to an article published by Georgian Bay Forever, a local conservation group, a 20 HP 2-stroke outboard engine that operates for 1 hour makes 11, 000 m3 of water undrinkable (2). That’s a lot of water that is now unfit to drink, from one motor boat engine. A 5 HP 4-stroke outboard engine (which is the latest technology) still produces 38 times the amount of hydrogen and nitrogen oxide emissions than a small gas-powered car does (2). Therefore, even if there aren’t a lot of motorboats on your lake or river, they can still have a large impact.


Electric powered boats are a viable solution as they are emission free. They use an electric battery instead of an Internal Combustion Engine. Kerry and AJ Mueller, owners of an electric fishing boat and pontoon, said they can fully charge their battery at their house in as little as 7 hours (2). They also have a solar charging option so you can charge your boat as you go boating (2). However, there are financial barriers involved as electric motors are more expensive. There is also limited availability and less choice to date. However, if there were government incentives, like there are for electric cars, this option could become more affordable.

Using an electric motor costs approximately 1/5 the price of gas, depending upon your region (2). They don’t release emissions that contribute to water or air pollution.  In the Georgian Bay area, 34% of total community air emissions are from waterborne transportation. That’s a large chunk of emissions that could be reduced if people switched to electric boats.


How does this relate to Parks? Parks have a unique position as many are situated on, or have water running through, their park or protected area. My hope is that this will inspire you to look into the history of the body of water in your area or park, and it’s history of pollution. Is the water in your park drinkable? What are the major polluters to the water in your park? Are there any solutions out there, (eg. encouraging electric boats or enforcing a ban on pesticides), that you can implement?

Call to Action
We invite you to connect with your local water system, and encourage you to learn about indigenous groups and harvesting rights in your area. Please share what resonates with you.


1) Chow-Fraser, Pat. “Water Quality: A Middle Great Lakes Dilemma.” Georgian Bay Great Lakes Foundation, https://www.georgianbaygreatlakesfoundation.com/water-quality/. Accessed 16 March 2022

2) Sargaent, Heather. “Electric Powered Boats Reduce Pollution Emissions, But They Also Make Boating More Enjoyable”.  GBF Winter 2022 Newsletter, Georgian Bay Forever, 2022. https://georgianbayforever.org/flipbook/winter2022/6/. Accessed 16 March 2022.

3) Tagalik, Shirley.  “Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit: The role of Indigenous knowledge in supporting wellness in Inuit Communities in Nunavut”, National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health, 2022. https://inuuqatigiit.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Inuit-IQ-EN-web.pdf. Accessed 28 March 2022.

4) Hatherly, Gerry. “Boating History: Gidley Boats”. Canadian Yachting: Canada’s Boating Source, Digital Magazine, April 11, 2019. https://www.canadianyachting.ca/home/digital-archives/96-boat-reviews/boatyards/5007-boating-history-gidley-boats. Accessed 29 March 2022.

Photos of Georgian Bay and the Beaver River ©Nathaniel Rose

All other photos ©Sandi Vincent

Collaborating to Capture the ‘Healthy Parks Healthy People’ Movement in Canada

There are many ways to talk about the value of parks to society. However these ideas are often globally generalized and difficult to apply to decision-making in a specific context. The “Healthy Parks, Healthy People” movement is one such conversation: spoken of often and enthusiastically, but not cohesively understood in Canada.

Recently, nearly two dozen parks and protected area researchers, practitioners, and advisors teamed up under the leadership of Dr. Chris Lemieux (@ultravioletprof), Wilfrid Laurier University Associate Professor and John McMurry Research Chair in Environmental Geography, to remedy this lack of understanding of how parks are linked with public health in Canada.

The article, entitled The ‘healthy parks–healthy people’ movement in Canada: progress, challenges, and an emerging knowledge and action agenda was published in May, 2022 by the open-access International Journal of Protected Areas and Conservation (PARK) and is available free of charge to anyone interested in considering and increasing their understanding of a range of issues related to Healthy Parks, Healthy People.

In addition, supplementary material linked to the article provides relevant, evidence-based recommendations that can help inform decision-makers seeking to incorporate Healthy Parks, Healthy People into their programs and planning. These recommendations also offer a useful roadmap for researchers hoping to work in this field.

Access Article

Parks Journal 28.1 (opens in new page)


In this article, we outline progress and challenges in establishing effective health promotion tied to visitor experiences provided by protected and conserved areas in Canada. Despite an expanding global evidence base, case studies focused on aspects of health and well-being within Canada’s protected and conserved areas remain limited. Data pertaining to motivations, barriers and experiences of visitors are often not collected by governing agencies and, if collected, are not made generally available or reported on. There is an obvious, large gap in research and action focused on the needs and rights of groups facing systemic barriers related to a variety of issues including, but not limited to, access, nature experiences, and needs with respect to health and well-being outcomes. Activation of programmes at the site level continue to grow, and Park Prescription programmes, as well as changes to the Accessible Canada Act, represent significant, positive examples of recent cross-sector policy integration. Evaluations of outcomes associated with HPHP programmes have not yet occurred but will be important to adapting interventions and informing cross-sector capacity building. We conclude by providing an overview of gaps in evidence and practice that, if addressed, can lead to more effective human health promotion vis-à-vis nature contact in protected and conserved areas in Canada.


Christopher J. Lemieux, Mark W. Groulx, Rachel T. Buxton, Catherine E. Reining, Clara-Jane (C.J.) Blye, Nadha Hassen, Sara-Lynn (Penina) Harding, Elizabeth A. Halpenny, Melissa Lem, Sonya L. Jakubec, Pamela Wright, Tonya Makletzoff, Mara Kerry, Karen Keenleyside, Pascale Salah van der Leest, Jill Bueddefeld, Raynald (Harvey) Lemelin, Don Carruthers Den Hoed, Brad Steinberg, Rike Moon, Jacqueline Scott, Jennifer Grant, Zahrah Khan, Dawn Carr, Lisa McLaughlin and Richard Krehbiel

Secondments and Acting Assignments: The Benefits and Challenges of Temporary Placements

by Sky Jarvis

Sky Jarvis is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada.

As a youth knowledge gatherer with CPCIL, I have had the pleasure of getting to interview several park Leaders from across Canada. One of the common questions I would ask these leaders is what they enjoy most about working in their positions within in a federal, provincial, or territorial park agency and what sort of advice they would give to younger people. All five of them talked about how much they like the diversity in tasks throughout their careers. I heard how it was always important to let your boss know about the areas you would like to develop and what interested you so that when opportunities became available, they would keep you in mind. Secondly, most of the park leaders said that the advice they would most want to share was an encouraging message to youth and young professionals to not be afraid of trying new things. To not be afraid of failure or feeling like you are “falling behind” when you take new and unexpected opportunities; these side experiences can be amazing opportunities for personal and professional growth. 

Secondment (noun): the detachment of a person from their regular organization for a temporary assignment elsewhere. 

Acting Assignment (noun): a situation where an employee is required to temporarily perform the duties of a higher classification level for a specified period of time. 

Value of Collaboration for Individuals, Teams, and Agencies

Temporary positions such as acting assignments and secondments, allow individuals to gain new experiences. By leaving a familiar role to join a new team, participants are exposed to a whole new set of experiences, tasks, and responsibilities, allowing for the development of new skills. These opportunities can stimulate personal growth and facilitate professional development at the individual level. Professional growth can be observed through enhanced confidence, empowerment, and an improved sense of capability, understanding, and effectiveness. These benefits not only stay with the individual(s) who participate in these opportunities but also have the ability to influence the team and agency through the permeation of new skills and perspectives once they return to their substantive role.  

“It’s very much top of mind for me to think about how people can take these opportunities and then bring back what they’ve gained to their actual jobs, to influence things and create spaces to collaborate” – Jared, 2022 

Temporary positions can build capacity by making space for knowledge acquisition and translation amongst team members and departments through two-way learning experiences. Secondments can be applied to a team setting  to develop knowledge and skills through the inclusion of an expert from a separate agency (Gerrish and Piercy 2014). The Chartered Institute of Professional Development (2021) highlights the role of secondments as a tool for talent development in organizations with flatter management structures by expanding the capabilities, skills, and knowledge of team members within an organization. 

“From a management perspective, it’s good for your team because it encourages them to try new things and explore their strengths.” – Jared, 2022 

Temporary positions can also be employed to assist with the creation of bridging relationships between agencies and organizations that may otherwise be disconnected. This approach is common to several sectors, such as healthcare (Hamilton and Wilkie 2001; Bullock et al. 2013) and education (Loads and Campbell 2015). O’Donoughue Jenkins and Anstey (2017) emphasize the importance of building these inter-agency relationships in meaningful ways that enable them to last into the future. They recommend regular communication and collaboration through annual secondments as one such tool for driving changes in the long run. By developing a reciprocal form of collaboration, such as secondments, both organizations will benefit at the individual and team levels (Hamilton and Wilkie 2001; Bullock et al. 2013; Gerrish and Piercy 2014). 

“For example, I have a colleague who works for Parks Canada, they took a year and a half secondment with Health Canada. These organizations are not related by any means, but she left for a year and a half to gain this new experience. During that time, her role in Parks Canada still exists, and eventually, she’ll come back and can share her experiences with a different organization.” – Jared, 2022 

PROS of temp positions 

In a paper written by Dryden and Rice (2008) they highlight a range of advantages that secondees are perceived to receive from participating in temporary positions with a host organization. These advantages ranged from improved sense of motivation and education to increased job security and career development, to experiential therapy associated with getting to “try new things” and “taking a break from the day-to-day tasks”. Furthermore, personal participation in temporary placements can help agencies with succession planning by enabling members to gain the skills and knowledge that will benefit their career position in the long run even when promotional opportunities in the short run may be limited. 

CONS of temp positions 

Interviews are a great way of getting and documenting individual perspectives on a temporary position including challenges that they faced. Debriefing interviews create an opportunity for managers to understand how to better support their staff on this pathway to personal and professional development by better understanding the personal experiences of their team members. Some interviewed secondees have identified the need to balance two workloads, most commonly associated with part-time positions, as a major issue that leads to increased stress and burnout (Gerrish and Piercy 2014; O’Donoughue Jenkins and Anstey 2017). Other potential barriers to the successful implementation of secondments as an effective learning tool can include a lack of planning, limited consensus on defining desirable outcomes amongst stakeholders, and limited metrics for evaluating whether the placement was actually successful in achieving its intended outcomes (O’Donoughue Jenkins and Anstey 2017).  Based on the literature review I’ve done it seems like the barriers that have been identified could be mitigated through increased planning before the process, in order to provide structure and points of contact for people who may be participating in a temporary placement like an acting assignment or secondment.  

“It’s [like] moving water; sometimes it’s moving laterally and sometimes it moves vertically.” – Jared, 2022 

Recommendations to Support Temporary Staff 

1. Managerial involvement and support throughout temporary placements are beneficial. Management can support staff and help negotiate workload adjustments while the new worker(s) adjust to their new role (Gerrish and Piercy 2014). Training should be made available to managers so that they can identify and better support staff who may be showing signs of stress and/or burnout.  

2. Mentorships from experienced project leads and/or persons who previously held this position within the host organization or unit can assist with the acceptance and integration of temporary workers into existing teams (Gerrish and Piercy 2014). Persons in the host organization who are strong leaders or those who have held the position or a similar position should be identified prior to the temporary position starting in order to provide support and advice to the new worker. Diversity and inclusion training could be offered to department staff prior to the arrival of the temporary worker to build empathy around the feelings and stresses of starting a new role in a new job with a new team.  

3. Clear pre-defined metrics informed by participants, involved agencies, and stakeholders can be used to evaluate the success of temporary placements in achieving the intended results. This process of monitoring and evaluation allows for organizational reflection on the values, benefits, and challenges of such opportunities in a way that they can be adapted and improved using collected data and suggestions. This could greatly improve the uptake of secondments and acting assignments in agencies and businesses that may be skeptical of the ability of these approaches to create tangible and verifiable benefits.  

4. A well-planned de-briefing session, including an interview that involves management, team members, and individual participants, may be helpful in gaining insights, assisting with knowledge transfer, and providing closure to the participant(s) after the experience ends. This could help maximize any potential benefits associated with these types of opportunities.  

Evaluating Success

Gerrish and Piercy (2014) held focus groups and interviews with 19 individuals involved in secondment opportunities which consisted of secondees and managers from the participating agencies. This resulted in the identification of five criteria that were proposed for the evaluation of success at the individual, team, and organization levels (Table 1). Originally there were six metrics proposed, based on a secondment consisting of clinical and academic participants. Their impacts have been shortened and coupled under the “enhanced service delivery” instead of “healthcare service delivery” and “education service delivery” so that it could be more easily adapted and applied to a parks and protected areas agency context. Secondments taking place across agencies will likely reflect the aforementioned swap of persons from drastically different government agencies or departments and are intended to generate benefits and improvements for all individuals, teams, and agencies involved. 

Table 1- Six metrics for evaluating the success of a temporary position from Gerrish and Piercy (2014), described and critically assessed to determine potential ways in which these outcomes can be applied to similar positions within the context of a parks or protected areas agency in Canada.  

In most of the literature assessed it has been common to use interviews as a form of individual and organization reflection (Dryden and Rice 2008; Gerrish and Piercy 2014; O’Donoughue Jenkins and Anstey 2017). Such opportunities open up space for discussions and cording of personal experiences, highlighting benefits, skills, and insights gained from the experience and a chance to learn more about the challenges faced from both sides- to better support the individuals who participate in temporary placements. If not already doing so it would be beneficial to have persons who participated in a temporary position undergo a short interview consisting of a mix of open- and close-ended questions in order to learn more about the challenges and benefits of these experiences and what has been gained. 

Furthermore, interviews are beneficial in collecting qualitative data on whether the placement was successful in achieving its intended outcomes, and if it wasn’t how the participant(s) and their team(s) could be supported in achieving these goals and translating their newly-gained knowledge back into their original roles. It would be interesting and potentially beneficial to see agency-to-agency relationships being formed between park agencies, indigenous agencies, and academic institutions in a way that is respectful. This could help with relationship- and capacity-building, but also allow for the dissemination of knowledge between agencies that have seemingly limited avenues for communication and collaboration. 

I encourage anyone who has read this post and wondered about how they could do a secondment or what that may be like- to try this experience and let it be known that you would be open to trying something new and sharing your experiences perspectives with a new team. I think you will find it to be a rewarding experience! 

If you have participated in a secondment or temporary assignment, we invite you to share your advice in the comments below. 


Bullock, A., Z.S. Morris, and C. Atwell. 2013. Exchanging knowledge through healthcare manager placements in research teams. The Service Industries Journal 33 (13-14): 1363-1380. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02642069.2013.815739?casa_token=qlXyT2dOz2YAAAAA:nVk_pwnKHT_I58mgETZWPEEcp4iNzzHHS3cwC22ylPKCsNH5NisH13cwbS88tDEMmxV6IC9z7BO5ivA 

Chartered Institute of Professional Development. 2021. Talent Management Factsheet. https://www.cipd.co.uk/Export/ToPdf?path=%252fknowledge%252fstrategy%252fresourcing%252ftalent-factsheet 

Dryden, H., and A.M. Rice. 2008. Using guidelines to support secondment: A personal experience. Journal of Nursing Management 16 (1): 65-71. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2934.2007.00794.x?casa_token=95HUh92SQskAAAAA:IEeZVBiBPNU-drYJTpQK5Qgh1r97FYFsnAwWY3Hjz55G8-i4Z0kZcHsEVw8A6r9E3vDrtiM-1juEgzTp 

Gerrish, K., and H. Piercy. 2014. Capacity development for knowledge translation: evaluation of an experiential approach through secondment opportunities. Worldviews on Evidence‐Based Nursing 11 (3): 209-216. https://sigmapubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/wvn.12038?casa_token=fnUWDfBwbMsAAAAA:LH4AczEOKTaMy4FfQF_PTo4Si27AcEhwH2VvRvpQg91iQUdRSaisDxTL3ThZrc2mtfMCPsZy8gfPU6wZ 

Hamilton, J., and C. Wilkie. 2001. An appraisal of the use of secondment within a large teaching hospital. Journal of Nursing Management 9 (6): 315-320. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.0966-0429.2001.00257.x?casa_token=P2vzXBYNS5sAAAAA:dxRNeuElUHzjBJKEuIhM0AFBT9QcRhuqsa5QEQUqqwz7R3i8wviO1_4zIx8nblj9ItvLN_RudIgHNdbG 

Loads, D., and F. Campbell. 2015. Fresh thinking about academic development: Authentic, transformative, disruptive? International Journal for Academic Development 20 (4): 355-369. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1360144X.2015.1083866?casa_token=PwYpGVzPjUEAAAAA%3AJf_2ZeOGu2Ohsh5yWIGSIbbKb8AsUTZ7Jis47P_YUx045i3KeYLg5npW3rs_A4XZ2_vT3jDQdhY_UMQ&journalCode=rija20  

O’Donoughue Jenkins, L., and K. Anstey. 2017. The use of secondments as a tool to increase knowledge translation. https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/bitstream/1885/250482/1/01_O%2527Donoughue%2BJenkins_The_use_of_secondments_as_a_2017.pdf