IPP Program Journey: Solving Complex Problems in Albany

Guest blog written by David Galin

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Implementing Public Policy  Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 7-month blended learning course in December 2019. These are their learning journey stories.

Coming into this course, I was under the impression it was going to help me better understand the nuances of implementing policy from a roadmap that was created for every situation.  I was a bit nervous we would be taught a rigid set of procedures on how to implement policy – something that was made for every situation but really only worked for maybe one out of every ten, if we were all lucky.  Thankfully I was very wrong.  I learned about a theory that works for those situations that aren’t rigid and need meaningful analytical evaluation.  Situations where you need to think outside the box, need support from your authorizers, but also need to continually build a team.  Situations where you are not only implementing policy but in fact problem solving.  Read: messy, confusing, complex situations.

I learned there truly are a variety of issues – complex and complicated and everything in-between.  I think this is a principle that sometimes you think about in the back of your head but start to say to yourself you’ve overcomplicating the issue and that can’t be.  Turns out, it is.  I learned that you need to see things for what they are but also be willing to look past the first layer of the issue.  You need to unpack the problem.  People are very quick to hear what they think the issue is, and immediately try to come up with solutions.  Sometimes the issue isn’t complicated and that type of problem solving can work.  But sometimes the issue is so complex that you need to spend a significant amount of time unpacking the problem.  Taking the time to understand the hurdles in front of you and the hurdles that may be hidden beneath the surface, before developing a game plan. 

The other thing I learned is that PDIA is as much about relationships as it is about process.  Building relationships – before, during, and after iteration and implementation – is very important.  Having established relationships can cut down on the time needed to build them when trying to solve a complex problem, and helps foster a sense of trust – not only with your authorizers, but with your peers.

The entire process is designed to create a constant feedback loophelping you to review whether your potential solutions are working or not, but also to getting you working with other people, obtaining and re-affirming authorization from your superiors, and brainstorming additional methods to tackling an issue.  When it comes to our problem, we were able to learn that data-driven decision-making is optimal to use as part of PDIA.  Having data and being able to evaluate it before and after the feedback review helps to determine whether that iteration was successful or not.  We made progress narrowing down some of the core issues behind the perceived sub-optimal performance of See Click Fix, including no consistent methodology of using “acknowledged” vs. “closed,” and have also seen a decline in days to acknowledge and days to close as part of the expanded use of ipads as part of our improvements.

Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Solving Complex Problems in Albany

IPP Program Journey: Three Lessons of PDIA, or the Art of Public Policy

Guest blog written by Olga Yulikova

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Implementing Public Policy  Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 7-month blended learning course in December 2019. These are their learning journey stories.

It is not surprising to anyone who is a part of the PDIA community that Matt Andrew’s book Building State Capability uses medical metaphors and examples to describe public policy. Like Matt, I too believe that policy-making is a form of therapy for society’s ailments. (Wouldn’t be great if all bureaucrats took a version of a Hippocratic Oath upon entering the service to build a person-centered practice?) And just like medicine, policy work is uncertain and difficult. And the more you learn, the more you understand your limitations. PDIA offers a way to make that task of healing societies a little less treacherous.

I decided to enroll in Implementing Public Policy (IPP) class because I was stuck. I was stuck and I was helpless. I was stuck and I was helpless and I was miserable. I needed something to fix my misery. Coming into the class, I had no idea what to expect. At first I did not really understand the language of PDIA. It all seemed too cerebral to me. My problem was about very poor and unskilled older people who are trying to get a job, any job and just can’t. They rely on the state’s program I administer to help them. The program has limited federal funding and can accommodate less than one percent of the eligible population. We do all we can to help as many as we can, but half the people we serve are just not getting the jobs, even when the economy is fine. Agencies that I work with ask me for more funding, but I don’t have it. All I can do is provide creative solutions to help them. And it is not a new problem for me – after all I have been doing my job for ten years – I simply ran out of ideas on how to solve the problem of chronic and persistent unemployment for this vulnerable population. After ten years of public service, I felt I was a failure.

IPP started with a bang for me – there were people from all over the world with the energy and enthusiasm unmatched in my day to day reality of a state office. They were all highly accomplished, driven, enthusiastic and yet everyone had a similar problem to mine, they all were struggling with their “problems.” Corrupt governments, indifferent agency heads, low budgets, unclear guidance – all familiar aches. We became a team in just a few days. We shared so much in common. Our individual problems became common problems, individual pains became a common condition. And the fantastic and practical PDIA team became our therapists, our mentors on our individual paths to alleviate some of the pain we felt for ourselves and the people we advocate for in our work. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Three Lessons of PDIA, or the Art of Public Policy

IPP Program Journey: Disaster Resilience in Australia

Guest blog written Jorida Zeneli

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Implementing Public Policy  Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 7-month blended learning course in December 2019. These are their learning journey stories.

When I came to IPP my motivation level was at the lowest it had been in a decade. After two years of struggle to revamp the policies that underpin resource allocation, operating on the edge of the established processes, knocking on many doors, speaking to many people, pouring a lot of sweat and long hours, agitating, engaging, consulting, and facing much resistance for the sake of resistance rather than for sake of progressing the work, I had managed to get something over the line that I believe was a much improved product. There had been several attempts to do so from predecessors, but these had failed. By the looks of it I had succeeded, but I did not feel that way. So I had a bunch of questions and I was hungry for good answers, not non existing silver bullets, just credible insights:  What went wrong and what went right? What insights can I gain into working better and smarter next time? What are the organisational processes that supported me and what hindered my work? How can I manage these more effectively? How can I make meaningful change count? How can I prevent myself but also other people around me from burning out? How can I empower people to drive change? How can I sustain their motivation? How can I support their curiosity?

So the IPP started and it must have been on day 2 when Matt Andrews was talking about the roles that define project success that I had one of these enlightening and so scary realisations at the same time – I had taken over most of the key project roles for pretty much all projects I had been involved in: Ideator, problem identifier, organiser, convenor, empower, authoriser etc. not just for a bit of time, but for the entire duration of these projects, as a complete outsider in a team of accountants. In the same classroom, I was surrounded by incredibly passionate, capable and bright people from all over the world with similar experiences. I learned three lessons in those first two days:

  • Lesson number 1 – I was not alone and shared pain is half the pain and shared joy is double the joy. Loneliness in the workplace is real – so surrounding yourself with a community and sharing the risks/ benefits is the only healthy and sustainable way to approach complex problems that need creativity, perseverance, motivation, skill and a diver’s breath.
  • Lesson number 2: Operate and team like a snowflake molecule that has a strong centre and is linked, however not two of them are the same, so make it unique and tailor it to the context and problem at hand – yes to chemistry!
  • Lesson number 3: Leadership is about risk and restraint (thank you Monica Higgins) – we all have our Everests to climb!

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Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Disaster Resilience in Australia

IPP Program Journey: Improving Roadside Ecology in Calgary

Guest blog written by Andrew McIntyre

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Implementing Public Policy  Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 7-month blended learning course in December 2019. These are their learning journey stories.

Public policy is hard. Mitigating climate change as biodiversity continues to decline, tackling growing wealth inequality, and building a healthy, pluralistic society in the face of rising authoritarian populist movements across the world are just some of the most significant problems facing governments in 2019. These problems are complex, but we must summon the will to tackle them. To paraphrase an insightful colleague in our Implementing Public Policy (IPP) cohort: as practitioners of public policy, our passion to overcome our challenges must, by necessity, be greater than the problems themselves. 

Only governments can truly address collective action problems and market failures. Governments also need to be able to address changing policy objectives and public expectations in the face of institutional and cultural inertia that resists change. But too often governments select the wrong tool for the task. Around the world we’re witnessing a breakdown in public trust and confidence in governments as the traditional public policy tools and processes used by governments fail to deliver the results necessary to meet public expectations and solve the complex problems we’re facing. Too often the risk-averse culture within public administration prioritizes the traditional approach to project management – what our IPP coursework referred to as “plan and control” – over the incremental testing, learning and building on successes. The erosion of the governments’ legitimacy in the face of these mounting complex problems calls for new tools.

So for me, IPP solidified many of the critiques I’ve long made – or simply felt but hadn’t yet clearly articulated – about how governments do their public policy work. Further, IPP presented a clear alternative approach to test and learn as we make progress incrementally on policy problems. The Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) method is actually quite straightforward. The simplest explanation of PDIA is that it focusses on correctly diagnosing and categorizing the problem(s) to be solved and then seeking authorization to create a space for learning and testing in order to scale up what works. This is in stark contrast to “plan and control” which is often mandated by governments – including the City of Calgary – as the only acceptable approach project management wherein a “solution” is quickly arrived at without much thought. The resulting work is structured around achieving this “solution” in a linear, sequential fashion. By spending more time carefully defining and testing the elements of the problem(s) PDIA helps ensure that governments address the delta between project success and the outcomes being sought. PDIA seeks to rectify why projects are often successfully completed but do not actually solve the problem.

Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Improving Roadside Ecology in Calgary

IPP Program Journey: Improving Tax Compliance in Uganda

Guest blog written by Doris Akol

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Implementing Public Policy Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 7-month blended learning course in December 2019. These are their learning journey stories.

My previous experience with public policy has hitherto been mainly as a formulator of organizational policies which are then implemented by other units and more recently as a first hand implementer of fiscal policies passed by the Government for revenue collection. Frankly speaking, I had never quite addressed my mind to that fact that the process of implementing public policy is akin to being on a rollercoaster of thrilling adventurous fast paced rides, being stuck on a cliff and sometimes being dropped off that cliff (when the policy creates a backlash during implementation).

Eight months ago, I started on a process of walking the public policy implementing journey. This started with a definition of the policy challenge I am facing for which a solution is required. I selected a challenge relating to improving compliance for taxes, especially in the informal sector of our economy.

Reporting for the in-person training at Harvard was like a dream come true in itself…. I mean, this was me at Harvard! Meeting accomplished and likeminded professionals from all over the world, all seeking answers to the question, “how does one successfully implement policies for impactful change” was another fulfilling experience. We were all looking to better our communities or other spheres of influence and make great impact though public policy.

I learned that, policies are a response to a problem or the perception of the existence of a problem. It is in the process of understanding the gap between the existing (status quo) and the ideal situation that a public problem may be identified. This then sets off the thinking process of how the situation may be moved from existing to ideal i.e., how the gap may be closed. This process will elaborate the steps that may need to be taken, the resources that will need to be deployed and the persons/ institutions required to take action in order for the problem to be rectified or mitigated. The end product of the process will most definitely be a policy.

I also learned that for successful policy implementation, it is key to obtain acceptance, especially from authorizers…those power holders with a big “P”, who are likely to ensure your policy implementation is supported, such as bosses or financiers, and those power holders with a small p, who may frustrate the implementation of the policy because they wield power with other influencers. In public policy implementation, it is crucial to identify all those that wield some form of power, overt and covert and seek to bring them along in order for the policy to succeed. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Improving Tax Compliance in Uganda

BSC 2019: The Year in Review

written by Salimah Samji

Reflection is a key part of the PDIA iteration process and as I have done in previous years (20172018) here’s a look back at what we @HarvardBSC achieved in 2019.

Some highlights of the year include: training and engaging with 740 practitioners around the globe (incl. degree programs, executive education, online courses and direct policy engagements with governments); publishing 9 papers and 54 blog posts; activating our PDIA online course alumni community of practice; releasing a new 12-part podcast series on the Practice of PDIA; translating our content into Spanish and French; and last but not least … drum roll please … launching Harvard Kennedy School’s first blended learning Executive Education program Implementing Public Policy, designed to equip policymakers around the world with both the skills to analyze policies, as well as the field-tested tools and tactics to successfully implement them.

2020 promises to be another exciting year for us. Here’s a few things we have in store for you: releasing our PDIA Toolkit in French, Portuguese and Arabic; publishing blogs written by our Implementing Public Policy program alumni; launching our new long read podcast series; and sharing our experience on creating and sustaining communities of practice with you. To stay tuned, follow us on twitter, or subscribe to our blog and podcast.

Here’s a month by month playback of 2019.

January

BSC Faculty Director Matt Andrews chaired the executive education program entitled, “Public Financial Management (PFM) in a Changing World” at the Harvard Kennedy School. 47 PFM practitioners from 25 countries participated in this program.

PFM 2019
BSC collaborated with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative in their Cross-Boundary Collaboration Program held in New York City. Director Salimah Samji served as a City Team facilitator during this program.

Continue reading BSC 2019: The Year in Review

PDIA Course Journey: Lagos Beats Plastic

Guest blog written by Emmanuel Adedeji Animashaun, Sedoten Agosa-Anikwe, Olumide Gregory Adeboye and Eriifeoluwa Fiyin Mofoluwawo

This is a team of development practitioners who work for the Lagos State Ministry of Environment and the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in May 2019. This is their story.

The 15-week long PDIA course has finally come to an end. And it has been a time of multiple discoveries and intensive learning for Team Lagos Beat’s Plastic.

Emmanuel had learned about the course from course alumni, who explained the many advantages the course holds for practitioners in the public sector. He discussed this information with other people and selected individuals who displayed interest in learning a new approach. Together we formed Team Lagos Beat’s Plastic. Selecting a team of like-minded individuals is partially responsible for the team’s success. And this is one of the important lessons we learnt in the earlier weeks of the course.

Our team consists of 4 individuals from different backgrounds, but who are directly involved with work related to the environment. Thus, agreeing on a problem to solve was quite easy because waste management, and especially indiscriminate plastic disposal in Lagos waterways, was an issue that already ‘stared us in the face’. Hence, we started the course with the mindset of learning what is different about the Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) approach, and what role it can play in solving the challenge we selected: plastic waste management in Lagos state, Nigeria. Plastic waste pollution/management is an issue that had not received the necessary attention from agents tasked with waste management. About 20% of total waste generated in Lagos is plastic, which suggests to us the (potential and) need for increased attention either for achieving a cleaner city or economic reasons (or both) if this problem is solved.

The Building State Capability book and other essential readings have been wonderful companions for our team. The first five weeks of the course involved individual work (assignments, reflections and graded discussions) in laying a foundation for the course and future teamwork. In those weeks, we all filled huge gaps in our knowledge of how change works. We also learnt about the big stuck faced by countries.

In those first few weeks, we learnt terms like administrative fact-fiction, isomorphic mimicry, transplantation, and premature load bearing. While these terminologies were new to us, their manifestations were not uncommon in our experience. And when we had completed the modules, we could easily identify these manifestations in various public sector interventions in our country, and outside (in literature). We also learnt that externally designed interventions cannot solve internal problems, where internal capabilities to implement and manage the solutions were low or absent. It was very surprising for us to discover that many of these (external) interventions were actually failing and the lesson for us was that throwing (only) money at a problem does not solve the problem (as we saw in the case of new country South Sudan which was a multi-billion dollar and multi-international agency intervention). And for our problem, we found an example of failed transplantation and isomorphic mimicry in existing waste management systems. Continue reading PDIA Course Journey: Lagos Beats Plastic