Register for our virtual discussion on Leadership Through Crisis # 3

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Join us for our third virtual discussion on leading through crisis with Matt Andrews on Friday, April 10th at 9am EST via Zoom. Register for the virtual session now!

This week we will begin with a series of questions that we received via chat during last week’s session and were unable to answer because of time. Here are a few of them:

  • How do you best gain community buy-in to a response strategized and enforced by institutional and government actors?
  • Given how long this crisis is expected to last, what advice and strategies would you recommend to prevent burnout among leaders?
  • Usually pandemics last for years. We cannot have highly restrictive government measures for too long. Already the economic damage has been huge. What would the governments likely to be doing after the current rounds of lockdowns and restrictions to tackle this

Thank you to all those who attended our second session last week and for engaging with us. We will be posting the recording soon.

BSC’s new Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in crises. Each blog offers a few ideas as well as questions for reflection, thus creating a space for learning and contextual reflection.

 

IPP Learning Journey: PDIA Helped Me Find My Way and My Voice

Guest blog written by Yasmine Robinson

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.

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At first I was not sure how PDIA would be applicable to what I do as an urban planner, but as I listened to Matt’s first lecture about why policies fail, lightning struck. Over the years I had witnessed the adoption of many policies that were not successful for a variety of reasons, and often as one of the people responsible for implementing those policies, I felt that I was set up to fail. I knew that a flawed policy could not be implemented to achieve its original function but I didn’t have the tools or vocabulary to communicate this to those who mattered.

The key takeaways from the course felt so obvious after the fact – why wasn’t everyone already doing this?

  • Define what success looks like
  • The problem might not really be the problem
  • Consider the user
  • Engage your authorizers

Through this course I was able to understand a few important things about my challenge of plan implementation:

  1. My problem wasn’t really the problem – deconstructing and reconstructing showed me that there were several problem areas that needed to be addressed. Simply organizing myself in this way set a clear path forward which felt empowering and alleviated a lot of the frustration I had been dealing with.
  2. Change needed to happen at every step of the planning process – especially public outreach.
  3. Bringing authorizers together helped to break down the various silos of government so that decisions could be reached as a group and nobody was “out of the loop”.
  4. I can’t do it all alone – creating a team that allowed others to grow and learn moved the process along faster and kept up momentum even during slower times.

Continue reading IPP Learning Journey: PDIA Helped Me Find My Way and My Voice

Public Leadership Through Crisis 13: Tolbert Nyenswah on leading through Liberia’s Ebola epidemic

written by Matt Andrews

The Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in the face of a crisis (like the COVID-19 pandemic).

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Tolbert Nyenswah is a Senior Research Associate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In 2014 he was the head of the Liberian Incident  Management  System (IMS), leading the operational aspects of the government’s response to the Ebola epidemic. Following this, he led the establishment of Liberia’s First National Public Health Institute and became its First Director General and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) 2017-2019.

This is a podcast of a conversation with Tolbert on his experience (interviewed by Peter Harrington and Matt Andrews). Brief summary thoughts follow, with questions for leaders facing crises today.

1.  This can be terrifying

Tolbert relates to the Covid-19 challenge facing many leaders, noting that he was asked to create the Incident Management System when the crisis had already begun  (not in preparation for it): “When you’re in a dire situation where people are in the streets, [you have] no best practice testing capacity … and you are setting up an incident management system at the same time … Before you really understand what the process is about, especially when information is weak …”

I  am sure may leaders feel like this in the face of crisis: unprepared and with much to do. In addition, Tolbert  notes, the country was in a politically fraught position: “The president was in a very, very uncomfortable position as a leader .. in fact political leadership were calling for the president’s resignation [arguing that] the government should step down.”

At 6:38 into the interview, Tolbert simply says, “It was terrifying.” If  you feel you are in the same boat … read on – terrifying things can be dealt with. Continue reading Public Leadership Through Crisis 13: Tolbert Nyenswah on leading through Liberia’s Ebola epidemic

Public Leadership Through Crisis 12: Course correct; it’s hard, but you must—and can—do it

written by Matt Andrews

The Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in the face of a crisis (like the COVID-19 pandemic).

My last blog post recounted, briefly, how Liberia changed the organizational structures it used to respond to the 2014 Ebola crisis, mid-stream through the crisis.  I wanted to tell the story primarily to demonstrate how the country ultimately adopted a flat, fast, and  flexible ‘snowflake’ like structure  (in the Incident  Management  System). Studies show that other countries and organizations adopt similar structures when facing crisis, including Korea during the MERS crisis and private corporations. In upcoming blog posts I will discuss how you might think of adopting a similar structure—especially establishing your core team, thematic focal points, and thematic teams. Even as I share these ideas, please remember that there is no one-size-fits-all crisis response organizational structure; the experience suggests that you do need to adapt your organization to the realities of your crisis  situation, but the structure that works for you will be heavily contingent on your situation.

In this post, however, I want to pause and reflect on an implicit challenge embedded in the Liberian story: how do you, as a leader, course correct when you realize you’ve made mistakes in responding to the crisis? The shift in Liberia was in ‘how’ the government was working, but you could also have shifts in ‘what’ your response looks like, ‘who’ is involved, and more. How do you, as a leader, make these changes and still maintain support and confidence of your followers?

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This is a tough topic for any public leader. But it is really important. As discussed in earlier blog posts, you will make mistakes and/or realize there are things you did not know and have to adapt around. It is impossible not to make mistakes when you face the uncertainty associated with crisis, and the many questions posed by such uncertainty—What should we do? How should we do it? When? Where? With whom? For whom? For how long?  At what cost? Your mistakes will arise because decisions are based on biased and half-informed assumptions and ways of thinking common when dealing with what Michael Osterholm calls the “fog of war” (in  relating to influenza pandemics):

“The “fog of war” describes the level of ambiguity in situational awareness experienced by participants in military operations. The term captures the uncertainty regarding one’s own capability and the capability and intent of the adversary during battle. The conceptual similarities between the fog of war and the fog of pandemic preparedness are unmistakable:

  • We really don’t understand our capability … to respond.
  • We have only a very general sense of what the pandemic influenza virus is capable of doing in terms of human illness or the social, political, and economic collateral damage.
  • We can’t predict with any certainty how the next pandemic virus will behave …”

Continue reading Public Leadership Through Crisis 12: Course correct; it’s hard, but you must—and can—do it

Listen to our second virtual discussion on Leadership Through Crisis

Thank you to all those who attended our second session last week and for engaging with us. If you missed the session, you can listen to it here.

Governments are most important in times of public crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals—no matter how talented or self-reliant—look to their governments for help, to empower or deploy the powers and potentialities of the collective. But many people tasked with leading public organizations in times of crises struggle to know if and how to rise to the occasion. This is a particular challenge in governments that have low capability or are trying to build capability: leaders in such situations can easily feel like captains on small boats facing high winds and big waves.

BSC’s new Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in crises. Each blog offers a few ideas as well as questions for reflection, thus creating a space for learning and contextual reflection.

 

 

IPP Program Journey: Remember the Sherpas!

Guest blog written by Marco Mastellari

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.

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When I came in to the course, I thought to myself that what I really wanted to learn was a predesigned structure or framework, if you will, that would allow me and my colleagues down in Panama to approach policy problems in an organized way, or pre-structured format. This is exactly what I found in PDIA, but with a huge difference in focus. My focus was a solution driven approach, I knew what the problem was, or at least I thought I did; I knew what the solution was to that problem, I thought I had identified it adequately; and what I thought I needed was a pre-established path to implement that solution. Oh, was I wrong! I was approaching policy implementing in a self-absorbed manner. Complex problems, surrounded by uncertainties and plagued with what ifs, just cannot have a preconceived solutions, we have to work, iterate, get things wrong, re-think, do the leg work, to then put all the pieces together and then maybe, just maybe, we may find ourselves in the right path towards solving the problem. IPP taught me a very humbling lesson as well. That while our human nature moves us towards approaching problems with a preconceived solution, this manner of acting, more often than not, results in failed policies. And we see this approach daily from authorizers; it is so common to hear a Minister or Director, asking public servants “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions!”. IPP and PDIA has opened up for me a completely new way of attacking policy problems, of thinking about public policy, and most importantly it has shown me, and consequently my colleagues in my country, that problems are better approached from within, utilizing the intellect and experience of our own people, people that know the stakeholders, that can reach genuinely the grassroots; instead of using prepackaged solutions flown in from abroad.

Some of the key learnings I got from this course are humbleness, optimism, and pride of purpose. I came into the course with a problem “Chronic Illnesses Patients don’t have access to Medicinal Cannabis” and a solution, “We need to pass a bill in Congress to legalize Medicinal Cannabis”. At approaching the problem with PDIA we found out that even though passing a Law was a part towards a solution, it was only one variable, only one, in our problem deconstruction diagram. There were many other iterations to be made before even thinking about talking to congressmen about passing a Law. However, as humbling the experience may be, it creates an environment of optimism. The process of constructing and deconstructing our problem, showed us the incredible amount of work that we needed to do, before getting to a Bill, and this outline of work to do allowed us to organize responsibilities and breakdown the problem into smaller tasks, with the opportunity of showing quick wins along the way, which in turn creates the environment of optimism needed to keep attacking our challenge through PDIA. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Remember the Sherpas!

Public Leadership Through Crisis 11: Reorganizing to address the crisis

written by Matt Andrews

The Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in the face of a crisis (like the COVID-19 pandemic).

I was on a call two days ago with a former student who is now deeply involved in his country’s Covid-19 crisis response. He said something like the following: “Our  government  is not set up to respond to this; there are multiple challenges coming at us all at once, requiring multiple new ideas from multiple places, fast. We just can’t mobilize people properly.”

This is a comment I am sure many leaders would echo right now. You look at your bureaucracy and wonder if and how it will be able to handle this crisis. It’s a little like reflecting on whether a ship built for good weather can really manage a storm.

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The truth is that it probably won’t.

Typical hierarchical control mechanisms seem like they give you the coordination you need in crisis (given that we often look to centralize control during such times) but we can’t control every part of the crisis through singular hierarchies, especially when crises require engagement beyond a single organization or geographic area. Also, no new crisis conforms to the pre-arranged organizational structures we have in our organizations. These structures are typically set up to deal with specific and discrete challenges—not compound problems like we face with threats like COVID-19 (where the initial threat of virus is extremely complex and has multiple knock-on effects).

This is precisely why those who have worked in crisis and disaster management suggest using new structural mechanisms to organize their response. Decentralized decision-making and coordination mechanisms are particularly advocated for use in this kind of situation (see Dutch Leonard’s video in blog post 8, the discussion of such structures in blog post 9, and the ‘part 4’ reference to such in the interview with Shruti Mehrotra in blog post 10).

What matters is that these mechanisms allow you as the leader to identify where decisions need to be made, access information (as best as possible) and ideas to make those decisions, mobilize agents to act on and implement those decisions, and constantly monitor those actions to adapt the decisions as necessary.

In blog post 9 I emphasized that there are different kinds of such mechanisms. My  work on problem driven iterative adaptation (PDIA) has found Marshall Ganz’s snowflake structure as an accessible, organic mechanism to help countries think about organizing themselves to address major problems (often related to crises).

In this blog I want to reflect—very briefly, but with references for your additional reflection—on how Liberia adopted a new organizational mechanism that has elements of the snowflake (being relatively flat, fast, and flexible) to coordinate and empower decisions in response to the 2014 Ebola epidemic. I summarize the  story from Liberia as well as I can in this short blog, drawing particularly on two key  articles, from Princeton  University’s amazing Innovations for Successful Societies case series by Leon Schreiber and Jennifer Widner (or SW), and the Journal Health Systems Reform by  Tolbert Nyenswah, Cyrus Engineer and David Peters (or NEP). I  am not sharing this to suggest that the Liberian Incident Management System (IMS) is the best practice for you to copy or mimic. Rather, the story shows that, Continue reading Public Leadership Through Crisis 11: Reorganizing to address the crisis