Sidekick Stories: A Feasibility Assessment on Bringing Varsity Sport to Yukon University
Yukon University and the Government of Yukon team up to explore all the necessary requirements to launch the first university sport program in Canada’s North.
Yukon University traces its history to the founding in 1963 of the Whitehorse Vocational and Technical Training Centre located on the banks of the Yukon River in downtown Whitehorse. In spring of 2020, Yukon College was granted university status and all thirteen campuses were renamed Yukon University.
Home to more than 1,200 students, today the university offers many academic fields, trades, career and professional development courses. At YukonU, students can receive degrees, diplomas, certificates and more.
The university is shaped by its shared values and northern identity. Committed to being a welcoming, collegial and innovative learning community, YukonU is dedicated to promoting lifelong learning. Staff and faculty benefit Yukon, the North, Canada, and the world by creating, preserving and communicating knowledge through their teaching, research and scholarship.
Yukon University aimed to enhance its student experience as part of its growth and evolution as an institution. The introduction of varsity sport was identified as a potential way to support this goal. Yukon is home to a very active sport community (74 member associations) and hosted the Canada Winter Games in 2007. To explore this opportunity, a Steering Committee comprised of leaders in the Yukon community was formed to lead this initiative. Two questions required solving:
(1) What benefits would a varsity sports program at Yukon University bring to Yukon University and the greater Yukon community, and
(2) How might a scalable program be built in order to benefit the territory, both on and off campus?
To answer the questions at hand, Sidekick and T1 took a Design Thinking approach to deliver a feasibility assessment report and implementation playbook. Here’s how it happened:
1. Assembling the Team
Critical to the process was ensuring that the interests and priorities of the Yukon community were well reflected and consulted in our work. Sidekick hired Deeron Vittrekwa, a Yukon local and member of the First Nations community, who supported in providing a local perspective to our findings, and who facilitated discovery interviews directly with members of the YukonU and Yukon community. Sidekick also collaborated with Norm O’Reilly and Victoria Bosco from T1 to provide expertise relevant to the sport and academic landscape.
2. Market Research & Strategic Framing
Starting with the Discovery phase, Sidekick and team conducted secondary market research through sport literature review, benchmarking against comparable models, and research into viable sport competitions. With this, a feasibility framework and assessment criteria was developed.
This phase allowed Sidekick and T1 to get oriented, understand YukonU and involved partners’ why and frame the challenge at hand. A succinct market research and feasibility assessment framework helped frame the next stage of our analysis.
3. Shareholder Research
Next, extensive shareholder research was conducted through the deployment of surveys and interviews gathered from 50 of Yukon University’s students, coaches, employees, recreation staff, Yukon’s community members, sport organizations, and First Nations community members. This primary research allowed for an abundance of local perspectives to weigh in on the impacts of potential implementation of a varsity sport program.
4. Analysis and Solicitation
Leveraging Sidekick’s 4P AssessmentTM Tool, an analysis against Purpose, Passion, ImPact, and People needs was completed. Sidekick and team engaged the university’s Streeting Committee members through an interactive workshop to further explore the impacts, risks, and considerations of a varsity program. Members shared their expert inputs on the feasibility of a varsity sport program through the lens of the each of the 4 Ps with the goal of answering the following questions:
5. Solution Development
With all perspectives gathered and market intelligence completed, Sidekick brought together insights, analysis and outcomes into a final findings & recommendations report to the Steering Committee. The report contained a final recommendation around the pursuit of a varsity sport program, conditions that needed to be true in order to proceed, recommended entry sports should the program move forward, detailed financial and resource investments and forecasts, and an implementation roadmap outlining recommended work streams, sequencing, and stage-gated decision making to guide the program’s implementation.
In the end, Sidekick and T1 recommended a specific implementation approach based on what is truly viable for Yukon University and what would provide the most benefit to the Yukon community at large. Through the lens of the 4Ps, we equipped the team with a critical ‘readiness criteria’ that needed to be met in order for implementation to proceed, and provided detailed assessments of the benefits, challenges, sport and competition entry criteria, and investments required to bring a varsity program to life. Risks, assumptions, and considerations were also outlined for Yukon University to take note of throughout this process.