PDIA Course: 1,000+ alumni in 3 years

3 mins read

written by Salimah Samji

Wow – I can’t believe that we’ve trained 1,112 development practitioners in 86 countries through our free PDIA online course! When we first launched this course in November 2015, we thought that training 50 people would be wildly successful. So my friends – the state of the PDIA course is strong!

I want to pick up where I left off, exactly a year ago, when I shared what we had learned.

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Here are some responses that we received from course participants.

  1. Overall comments:
    • I think the most important thing i have learned is that problems and solutions must be thought through over and over again … I think that we are used to thinking problems have unique and specific ways to be solved, and we plan that in closed and rigid structures, that leave very little space for modification and adaptation.”
    • This course has really changed my perspective on development. Coming from a developing country it can get frustrating seeing failure all around but after doing this course, there is hope and with a group of like-minded people and this knowledge, I believe we can do great things.”
    • This course provided me with a structured approach to resolve complex problems which is very rare for a course. I will be able to use this for many different situations.
    • Critical things that I have learned throughout the process were that firstly is that authority is centre to any intervention, secondly not meeting targets do not necessary mean no progress but that lessons learned also contribute towards progress made, and thirdly building networks are critical in ensuring that other stakeholders become change agents for the specific strategies.”
  2. What did you learn from the iterations you took?
    • How to be clear about your assumptions underlying your action steps. How it is important to reflect and learn lessons from your actions at regular intervals. How to adapt, where necessary, next actions based on your reflections and lessons learnt.
    • Helped identify small steps that could be done … Because of the review process it was good to identify what we were able to achieve and why and also to understand why we were not able to achieve the things we couldn’t and then to think of how it could have been done differently.
    • Any problem can be solved if broken down into more manageable pieces. When addressing these manageable pieces sequentially, this leads to novel learning and engagement and interaction fostering emergence, which is the key to finding and fitting solutions to complex problems.”
    • The first thing I’ve learned with iterations is that complex challenges are not achieved in one big step or in short exercises. Instead, complex problems are solved through tight iterations of action that generates learning and engagement, both fostering the emergence of new capabilities, ideas, and solutions to pressing problems. The second thing is sometimes things do not go as planned which lead to revise your action plan for the next steps. The third thing is when you first draft your iteration, you must have a back- up plan should things not happen, the iteration must be flexible so that changes can be made in the process.
  3. What did you learn from the online discussions?
    • Our readings of same thing can be vastly different…”
    •  “It was interesting to see different viewpoints emerge on the topics. The larger group setting makes it very enriching.”
    • different perspectives and opinions from different contexts and dealing with different problems.”
  4. What helped you stay motivated over the 15-week period? 54% of the respondents said it was their teams, and 33% said it was the learning itself. In their words:
    • The content of the course was very interesting and practical.  Further, I could identify concepts and tools which I could apply as potential improvements in my own work environment.  The fact that I could make the connections between the course content and the capacity building programme that I managed really made it easy to stay motivated.”
    • Compared to similar courses, this course was very innovative and engaging. I really was curious every week to see what’s new. Group work based on a real issue, motivated us to continue the course.
    • Mainly, the coherence between the modules, which involved you and motivated you to continue with the exercises. The course proposes a work cycle that is coherent, limited in time but in which you see your initial work evolving.”
    • This course was unique in several respect; the video lectures were short and to the point. It conveyed what was there in the essential reading which helped us understand the theory in a better way. Also, at each week we had to submit the assignments without fail, this also is one of the factor which helped us in completing this course. Third, the team assignments and the reading materials with online discussions all helped us in gain clarity on the course. Also, as each assignment was graded, it motivated me to perform well and get the maximum marks in all the assignments.”

It is awe inspiring to see the progress that our course participants make over the period of 15-weeks. I know many of their names but have not met most of them. BUT last month Anjikwi Mshelbwala from ActionAid in Nigeria, who took the course in the fall of 2017, visited us at Harvard. He graciously agreed to record a podcast. Here’s a picture of the recording.


One of the new things we added in the last iteration of the course (ending December 2018) was a blog written by each team about their PDIA learning journey. We will be releasing these posts beginning this week, so stay tuned!

Download the PDIA toolkit to learn more about our approach.



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