PDIA Course: Taking the classroom to the field and the field to the classroom

4 mins read

written by Salimah Samji

When we launched the first PDIA online course in November 2015, we had a burning question: Is it possible to teach PDIA in an online environment?  To answer this question, we essentially PDIA-ed our way forward by learning, iterating, and adapting our online course – and the answer is a resounding YES!

As of the end of last year, 804 development practitioners in 75 countries have successfully completed a version of our free PDIA online course.

PDIA online course poster Dec 2017

Here’s what we have learned through our journey (the text in quotes is from course participants):

1. Learning is effective when it is related to practice in one’s own environment.

  • The PDIA in practice course was rigorous and it was very useful to be able to apply skills learned in the course to real-life problems in real time.”
  • Linking the course very explicitly to the day-to-day work we’re doing was great, both for learning and for motivation
  • This course has encouraged me to think more deeply about the process through which challenges can be tackled in a more realistic and, therefore, meaningful way.”
  • I enjoyed the course because everything was so practical, and so real.

2. Reflection exercises allow practitioners to internalize learning and to apply them to their work.

  • Reflections help reinforce learning.”
  • Reflections were very useful because I saw them as an opportunity to help me put into perspectives how the concepts, strategies and principles learned could be applied to my current work context.”

3. Practitioners are often hardwired to sell solutions and not to solve problems. The process of constructing and deconstructing problems in PDIA, using the 5 whys and fishbone diagram, helps to better understand the problem one is trying to solve. We spend two weeks on this alone because there is a lot of unlearning to do (many define their problem as a lack of a solution).

  • The fishbone diagram taught me a practical way to focus on the problem and not the solution.”
  • It has been an amazingly gratifying journey to unlearn and learn after many years and i have truly enjoyed every moment of this course over the last 3-4 months.
  • “The fishbone sets the tone for tackling a problem. It allows for all parties to get involved in defining the problem and the likely causes of the problem…from that point some level of consensus building around tackling the problem begins.”
  • The fishbone diagram was most important was most useful for me because I learned to approach my work different by conducting a deeper analysis and I found myself even changing the entry point of one of the projects that I’m working on.”
  • The fishbone helped the group to brainstorm and pinpoint all the complex dimensions of our problem. What I particularly liked about this activity was to see how the discussion helped each of us to question our initial assumptions and consider new dimensions that we had not even thought about.”
  • I also realised that solutions should arise from the end users and not the consultant.

4. Practitioners are often paralyzed in the face of complex problems. The process of sequencing and using the triple A change space analysis in PDIA help to break problems down into smaller more manageable pieces and identify potential entry points for change.

  • for me, the triple A change space analysis was revolutionary in being able to see where to start in problems which at first seem impossible to solve…and how to start even on the aspects which seem resistant to change.
  • The Triple A change space analysis was an excellent way to conceptualize a problem and work on small, implementable solutions.
  • What I learned has reinstated my belief that wicked problems can be solved – just take small steps.”
  • I realized that I can be an effective change agent for contributing tremendously to reduce some of these problems.”

5. The only way to learn PDIA is by doing PDIA. The iteration is where one experiences the power of PDIA.

  • Finally someone showed me how easy it can be to encourage team members to take the action on the project with an immediate effect, hence keep it going and what’s more important to keep the team involved and motivated to action throughout! That was crucial, as it showed me how much time can be spared when people must fulfil tasks that are much smaller and doable within shorter period of time, instead giving them a huge tasks and wait months before they will start to work on them.”
  • PDIA course has opened up a new way to see and solve problems and taught us better ways to engage with our problems and find solutions through iterations.”
  • the iteration was the most useful exercise as it allowed to experience firsthand the situation in taking actions based on assumptions and to feedback the reality checks on the ground to further hone our assumptions and the next steps.

6. Sustainable change requires collective and synchronous learning (i.e. teaching teams who are working together to solve a problem).

  • For our organization, the engagement has just begun and the knowledge we harnessed on this course would indeed be very helpful as we navigate on the epicenter of complex challenges on our daily lives as a people, community and nation at large.
  • My team is now empowered to contribute more meaningfully to the policy formulation and design process in our region.”
  • This course has helped develop a working strategy for an existing real time problem and taught us how can we continuously improve our proposed solutions. Making the whole process sustainable and self improving.”
  • It has taught us about teamwork and how to work through team dynamics in a very constructive manner.”
  • I learnt that teamwork is the bedrock of achieving and solving complex challenges when applying the PDIA concept.

The video below is from the Doing Development Differently conference in November 2016, and highlights the journey of the PDIA online course.

To learn more about PDIA download the Building State Capability book.




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