Brock grad student receives gold medal in national research competition

A Brock graduate student has been recognized as a National Thought Leader in Public Administration.

Rebecca Van Massenhoven (BA ’22), who is completing her Master of Arts in Political Science, was awarded a gold medal in the highly competitive National Student and Thought Leadership Awards, which are jointly offered by the Canadian Association of Programs in Public Administration (CAPPA) and the Institute of Public Administration in Canada (IPAC).

The award process requires students to be nominated by their home institutions for a National Student Award before presenting their original research to a panel of judges in competition for the National Thought Leadership Awards.

Van Massenhoven was among five 2023 National Student Award winners and, following her presentation, received the gold medal for research entitled “Navigating Environmental Governance in Canada: The Importance of Understanding Participatory Environmental Governance.”

In the study, she compared a forest pilot project in British Columbia, a harbour clean-up in Ontario and a fishery board in Labrador to assess the shift toward participatory models of environmental governance in Canada and to examine what can be learned from how each model reflects principles of democracy.

“If we’re taking authority from our democratically elected central government and moving towards models of local participation, there are complex but really important questions about whose voice is getting heard and where accountability falls,” she says.

What Van Massenhoven found was that the inclusion of diverse types of knowledge, including Indigenous knowledge, the adoption of scientific frameworks to mitigate conflict and the prioritization of informal sharing spaces to promote and maintain local participation and engagement were crucial to successful initiatives.

The project originated in Associate Professor Nicole Goodman’s Graduate Seminar in Canadian Politics, in which students voted to engage in a class conference for their final assignment. Students presented posters to experts from Brock and elsewhere, as well as their peers, to receive feedback.

Professor Charles Conteh, Van Massenhoven’s graduate supervisor, nominated her for the CAPPA/IPAC awards.

Conteh says that “the seeds of interest in participatory environmental governance germinated” in Goodman’s course and were “well developed and blooming” by the time Van Massenhoven began her major research paper under his supervision.

“Rebecca’s victory in this year’s competition is both a testament to her excellent scholarship and the mentorship of professors whose courses she took as a graduate student,” says Conteh. “Her accomplishment will raise Brock’s flag at IPAC and CAPPA, the umbrella bodies for scholars and practitioners of public management in Canada, and boost the University’s image in a highly prestigious national forum.”

Goodman says she was “elated” to hear that Van Massenhoven’s experience in the course helped her fine-tune her research.

“Rebecca is incredibly passionate about environmental governance and put a great deal of work into preparing and refining her poster,” Goodman says. “This award is a testament to her talent, effort and dedication.”

In addition to her medal and a monetary award, Van Massenhoven has also been invited to participate at the next IPAC national conference.

She says the experience of refining her ideas through a process of sharing and incorporating feedback has changed her notions of what research is and what it can do.

“Research is a process that can start in one place and take you down a path that you weren’t necessarily anticipating,” says Van Massenhoven. “As you engage with other researchers, you have the opportunity to keep improving, taking feedback, making adjustments and considering the importance of those bigger questions about research design — really thinking about what the important part of a project is.”

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