Guest blog written by Catalina Riveros Gomez, Irina Cuesta Astroz, José Luis Bernal Mantilla, Juan Carlos Garzón-Vergara, Juan David Gelvez Ferreira.
This is a team from Colombia working for an independent think tank called Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP). They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in December 2018. This is their story.
In many cases, people use to think that public issues are so complex and it is necessary to re-structure the system to improve or to change a reality. On the other hand, many academics argue that the solution is already done in other part of the world, so we just have to implement what worked in other country/city and the problem is solved. However, the public affairs are complex, it changes and have different reactions depending the time and the territory. With that in mind, this course taught us many things:
- First, we learned that it is possible to advance in the solution of complex problems, developing small and concrete actions. To do this, it is important to understand that there is no single solution, but we can have multiple alternatives, from which we learned and adapted our responses.
- Second, we understood that we should not have a fixed plan, but a strategy opened to change based on what we have learned. A key tool for this is iteration to identify what adjustments do we need to do to move ahead.
- Third, we learned how the iterative process works in practice, and why it is relevant not only to ask what we did, but also what we learned and what we will do to solve it.
- Fourth, not everything that presents itself as a problem is actually a problem. As highlighted in one of the sessions, many times what exist are solutions disguised as problems. This is a key element, as it facilitates the formulation and dissection of the problem into small pieces that can then be addressed independently.
- We also learned that time management and expectations regarding possible goals are very important. We had to adjust our expectations about the results we could achieve and set up realistic and doable actions.
- Finally, we also learned that it is important to translate ideas into practice, because it is through actions that we can learn and adjust what we want to do. I understand better the “try, learn, adapt” method and how the iteration process works.
What progress did you make or what insights did you have about your problem through this process?
- It was very useful to deconstruct the problem, as well as start looking for solutions through the iterations of the last weeks. They allowed us to advance in the identification and characterization of the municipalities that have most reduced coca in recent years, as well as in the review of international experiences in countries such as Peru, Bolivia and Thailand. They also became an opportunity to talk with people in regions about how they perceive the implementation of the peace process, especially the PNIS. All this, as well as the exchange between the people of the team, enriched us.
- Although all iterations were important, I believe that one of the most important developments is through positive deviation. This approach allowed us to identify those municipalities that are free of coca crops for several years, and then go on to analyze what policies or institutions developed there that did not allow the replanting of coca.
- We used to use the same data and indicators that the government and the international organization uses. With this course we made more questions and try to understand what can we do as a research in a think tank. Now, we are trying to suggest this “new” indicators in other spaces. We are also trying to implement more field work with the policymakers.
- The nature and complexity of the problems that we face in our work forces us to think on multiple potential solutions. The reduction of violence, the regulation of illegal economies and the mitigation of the impacts of the armed conflict, require multiple interventions from different formal and informal institutions. To pretend that there is a single solution for problems that have different manifestations in multiple territories and that have diverse causes is an error. Our challenge is that the solutions that we identified don’t actually achieve what we want; many times, we insist and insist without adapting what we are doing.
How are you using or will you use what you have learned in this course?
- First, we are planning to write a policy paper with the information that we recollect in the field work and research more about why some municipalities don’t have illicit crops or why some municipalities eradicated and nowadays doesn´t have any hectares of coca crops. With those questions we will elaborate some informs that will be discuss within the national government and the local farmers.
- Another reflection that will serve us for our future work in the FIP, has to do with the use of experiences and international models to solve problems. We must be very careful when implementing foreign solutions to domestic problems, since these can not be implemented without taking into account the local context. Serving in another country does not mean that it can immediately be applied to the Colombian case. For this reason, although case studies outside of Colombia are very useful, they should feed and support domestic developments, but at no time should they be replaced.
- Finally, the construction and deconstruction of the problem. As we mentioned, the course allowed us to strengthen our capacity for identification, writing, analysis and deconstruction of problems. Resources such as the fishbone diagram or the triple-A change space will be of great help for future projects that we are going to perform in the think tank.