Experimentation Works 2

Moving Forward Through Uncertainty

Experimentation Works
4 min readJul 10, 2020


Photograph of a tree-lined, winding road leading into fog. Chosen to represent uncertainty in moving forward.
Photograph by Katie Moum, via unsplash.com

At the beginning of March, over 100 people came together to celebrate the launch of the second cohort of Experimentation Works — our immersive learning experience which brings together a wide range of experts in experimental design and matches them with departmental teams who are advancing exploratory or experimental research to better understand what works.

Not long after, our team co-wrote a blog post about the launch. But by mid-March, the impacts of the COVID-19 began reverberating across the public service. We did not share our first blog post, because like most of you, we wanted to learn how to better adapt and move forward through uncertainty.

What we originally wanted to say

When we wrote that first post, we were excited to share with you the growth and depth of Experimentation Works projects. EW has grown from a modest 4 team cohort in 2018–2019 to a 2020–2021 (EW2) cohort of:

  • 12 project teams
  • 5 observe & learn teams
  • 30+ experts representing almost 20 federal departments
  • 4 external organizations

The collective knowledge, dedication and brain power in our cohort is amazing with experts ranging from backgrounds in neuroscience to computer science and with project teams focused on everything from multi-species conservation to Gs&Cs reform to reducing barriers to youth employment. You can see the full cohort details here.

Finally, we were excited to talk about the learning experience and the launch event itself (which featured Marieke Goettsch and Teo Firpo from Nesta’s Innovation Growth Lab and Trina Rytwinski from the Canadian Centre for Evidence-Based Conservation).

And we’ll still talk about many of these things as time goes on, but at the moment we’d like to talk about how we pivoted.

What we’ll say instead (for now)

After the unprecedented GOC-wide shift to teleworking due to COVID-19 public health measures, it became clear to us that our second cohort of Experimentation Works couldn’t continue “business as usual”. We knew we needed to be flexible given how much the context and the needs of Canadians, including public servants, had changed.

We wanted to be empathetic to the needs of our project teams and experts. And we also had to learn more about those needs to plan a way forward.

To begin with, we did two things:

We sent out an email to share what we know so far from our end and to reassure teams that while our intention was to continue forward with EW2, we also understood that each team might be facing new challenges to their capacity to carry on.

We also asked our project leads and experts to complete a survey. We needed to know whether people were able to continue full steam ahead, at a reduced capacity, or if they needed to pause entirely.

This exercise gave us the data we needed to decide how best to go forward.

Over the past few months, we’ve been proceeding on a more flexible path that will allow projects that are still a ‘go’ to continue ahead, while others who had to slow down were able to do so and still continue to be part of the cohort experience. For us this has also meant modifying our ambitions in terms of learning and engagement with our cohort. We’re proceeding at a different pace, and that’s okay.

And so the journey continues

Experimentation Works is, at its heart, a learning journey. Learning journeys are inherently difficult but also incredibly rewarding.

We’re encouraged by all the project teams who are continuing their research efforts during this time, and the experts who are supporting them. Looking at the year ahead, our second Experimentation Works cohort will have been a success if we can still learn from the projects themselves, but also from how things have changed; how we adapted, pivoted, and leveraged opportunities within the crisis. Even though some projects may have changed, we’re confident there is a lot to learn throughout the next year, which is the true measure of success.

At the launch event in early March, one of the things we pushed participants out of their comfort zone by asking them to take part in a singing exercise (led by Helen Daniels). Some participants liked the exercise and others didn’t, but we like to think the discomfort a lot of us felt singing was at least a taste of what’s to come as our participants continue their learning journey: there are times when learning & applying new methodologies challenges us, with or without COVID-19.

We’re hoping to get into a more regular blogging routine: stay tuned for future Experimentation Works blogs to meet the members of our cohort and peer into the work they’re doing.