written by Salimah Samji
International development experts often tell us that they cannot do PDIA because the project processes within their organizations do not allow for flexibility. The truth however, is that all development agencies have some sort of instrument that does allow for experimentation and flexibility. Here’s an example of how a Pay and Performance project in Sierra Leone explicitly used PDIA principles.
Civil service reforms are complex in and of themselves. If you add, a lack of capacity to implement programs, multiple reporting lines, demoralized civil servants, a lack of coordination amongst key agencies, and a low-level of trust, the potential for success of such a reform decreases significantly. Recognizing this, the World Bank team decided to use the key principles of the PDIA framework with support from the Leadership for Results (LforR) program for their Pay and Performance Project in Sierra Leone. The rationale for this was to bring a broad range of stakeholders together and facilitate a process of collective problem and solution identification, as well as to introduce experimentation and adaptability during implementation.
They began with some short-term results-focused Rapid Results Initiatives (RRIs) in Year 0 and Year 1. The pilot was instrumental in building the confidence of the local civil servants by demonstrating that progress was possible in their context and gave them a sense of ownership. In addition, the short feedback loops facilitated rapid experiential learning about what results were actually achieved for both government and the World Bank staff – in PDIA terminology, we call this strategically crawling the design space.
Specifically, they used a two-pronged, learning-by-doing process, which included:
- Structured team coaching throughout the implementation process: A locally based rapid results coach who had an in-depth understanding of government and public sector reform was hired to provide support to teams on a daily basis. The coach:
- Facilitated problem solving at multiple levels in the system with team-level work,
- Helped create action plans by breaking a huge daunting task into smaller easier to digest chunks,
- Motivated the teams despite the challenges, and
- Created an opportunity for the teams to learn from each other and to see how their work fit within the larger picture.
- Facilitated leadership fora for dialogue: One-day strategic leadership convenings between leaders and implementation teams were held at critical points. These retreats served to review progress and learning, problem-solve, facilitate reflection, make strategic decisions, and course-correct where needed. In PDIA terminology, we call this maintaining the authorizing environment.
After 20 months of implementation (February 2014), they had several hard results. More importantly, there was stronger inter- and intra-agency collaboration and increased trust and communication. The teams actually had the capacity to do things themselves. The flexibility at the design stage allowed more politically and technically feasible solutions to emerge.
So, large bureaucracies can do PDIA and it doesn’t take forever. Bottom-line: the mundane matters and cannot be ignored for a project to succeed.
Roberto O. Panzardi and Kay Winning are in the process of publishing a paper with more details on this project. You can read about the preliminary results here.