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CRDCN National Policy Challenge

Are you a graduate student with an interest in quantitative analysis? Are you passionate about Canadian public policy? Do you love data? If so, this analytical competition is for you! Seize the chance to examine an important policy issue of your own choosing using confidential microdata. This is also a great opportunity to use your research results to inform real-world Canadian policy-making and propose innovative policy solutions.

Finalists' meeting 2018-19, Ottawa, June 11, 2019. Front row, L to R (members of the jury): Claudia Sanmartin, Chief and Senior Researcher, Health Services Research, Statistics Canada; Hugh Cairns Sr., Analytical Consultant, SAS Canada; Heather  Dryburgh, Acting Director General, Census Subject Matter, Social and Demographic Statistics, Statistics Canada; Dominique Bérubé, Vice -President, Research Programs, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC); Byron Spencer, Emeritus Professor, Department of Economics, McMaster University, and Research Program Director, CRDCN.

2020-21 Competition

In partnership with SAS Canada and Statistics Canada, the CRDCN is pleased to announce the next edition of the National Policy Challenge for Canadian graduate students. The competition is designed to encourage student researchers to share their policy ideas and to promote the use of confidential microdata in developing innovative, evidence-driven policy solutions. The competition will allow selected participants to analyze a policy problem of their choosing with confidential microdata and to present their research findings to their peers and to a jury composed of high-profile researchers who will select the best three presentations.
In order to be selected to enter the competition, students must submit a research proposal by September 25, 2020. Because the timeline this year is compressed due to COVID-19, only applications from projects that have already been approved for RDC access are invited (potential applicants could amend or join an existing contract to apply to the policy challenge). Applications from students from all disciplinary backgrounds, such as: economics, sociology, demography, criminology, geography, industrial relations, education, epidemiology, public health, and business will be considered. Participants will be selected from among the eligible applications received before the deadline.
Competition highlights:
  • National competition across all Research Data Centres (RDCs).
  • Graduate students are given the opportunity to analyze real-world Canadian policy issues using confidential microdata from Statistics Canada with SAS analytics (preferably; or in combination with other accepted open source software).
  • Up to ten proposals will be selected for the competition - applicants will be notified in October 2020 whether or not their proposal has been selected.
  • Data analysis is to be conducted between October 2020 and April 2021 in an RDC.
  • Mentors will be available to support participants.
  • SAS training will be provided.
  • Research findings will be presented at a special one-day event in Ottawa where a jury will select the top three presentations.
Why you should apply:
  • to deal with a real-world policy issue affecting Canadian society.
  • to access Statistics Canada confidential microdata.
  • to improve your analytical and communication skills.
  • to get access to unique SAS training.
  • to get insights from highly qualified research mentors.
  • to meet senior officials and leaders from Statistics Canada, the CRDCN, and SAS Canada.
  • to present your research findings and policy ideas to a jury composed of high-profile researchers and government officials at a national meeting in Ottawa in April 2021 (travel grant will be provided to each project).
  • to win cash prizes awarded to the best three presentations.


  • Graduate students, individually or in team of up to three members.
  • Applicants must have completed a bachelor's degree.
  • Some background in quantitative analysis and statistics is required.
  • The policy challenge proposal must be based on a current active RDC contract (applicants can be added to current projects or current projects can be amended to satisfy this requirement).
  • Applicants must be living in Canada and be registered as a part-time or full-time student at an accredited Canadian academic institution.


  • Data analysis must be conducted in one of the RDCs across the country. Find your nearest RDC.
  • Participants must abide by the usual RDC regulations, including security clearance and the requirement to become a deemed employee of Statistics Canada, in order to be granted access to an RDC (See for details). Note that this process can take some time; applicants are encouraged to begin this process before the results are announced.

 Deliverables and expectations

  • Finalists are expected to attend the one-day special national meeting in April 2021 in Ottawa, where they will present their research results (travel grant will be provided to each project).
  • Finalists will have to provide a PowerPoint presentation in advance of the April meeting.
  • Finalists will have to provide a 300 word testimonial explaining the value of this experience for their academic and professional development by July 30, 2021.

Selection Criteria
Up to ten research proposals (finalists) will be selected to participate in the competition based on the following criteria:

  • Relevance and timeliness of the policy issue and the research question;
  • Choice of methodology and research strategy;
  • Adequacy of the dataset(s);
  • Feasibility of the project;
  • Originality of the project;
  • Overall quality of the proposal, including the clarity of the writing;
  • Letter of reference from a faculty member (see an example here);
  • CV/academic transcript confirming previous training in statistical analysis and relevant skills in quantitative methods.

Review process and selection of the proposals

Each eligible proposal will be reviewed and scored by the selection committee according to the criteria listed above. The proposals that receive the best combined scores will be invited to join the competition.

Applicants will be informed of the outcome of this process in October 2020.

Note that the planned April finals is contingent on the safety of holding such an event in light of the coronavirus outbreak. We will postpone the finals as necessary to ensure the safety of our participants and judges.

Please note that in the unlikely case of a large number of highly qualified applications from a single centre, RDC capacity may factor into the selection process.

Apply now.