Guest blog written by Raunak Thapa, Sayujya Sharma, Shraddha Gautam, Srizu Bajracharya, Natasha Kafle, Sameer S.J.B. Rana
This is a team of six development practitioners working for an NGO in Nepal called Daayitwa. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in May 2019. This is their story.
We first came to know about the PDIA Course through our colleagues at Daayitwa, who had previously taken the course. They told us how it would help us understand the problems we were working in as an organization. We were very excited about what it does and how it works.
Daayitwa works towards building an entrepreneurial environment for youths in the country – the majority of whom are leaving the country every day for better opportunities in foreign countries. However, most have fallen to work for labor jobs. Some countries in the middle east house many Nepali workers, who sometimes do not return to the country, to their families because of their dire financial situation at home.
Daayitwa since its initiation has been working to make an enabling environment for youths through its different programs: Fellowship, Rural Enterprise Acceleration Program, Leadership Course, and Yuwa Aaja! (Youth Engagement for Youth Employment.)
The six of us (who took the PDIA course) actually come from different entities under Daayitwa; however, we were keen to understand the experience that our friends who had taken the course appreciated so much. Initially, we didn’t comprehend many questions like what is our problem? Who does this matter to? When would be the appropriate time to take actions? How do we work towards the problem?
Sometimes, when you come into an organization – there is already a set way of doing things, which everybody follows. But the PDIA course, helped us (the six of us) look at problems we were looking at in more detail, and gave a chance to work closely and to understand how to deconstruct the issues that we were working to identify solutions.
Before the course, we lacked clarity in understanding the situation of domestic youth employment in Nepal and had fewer interactions with our team members. Many government, organizations, and private sector were providing solutions for youth unemployment; however, their efforts have not addressed the problem thoroughly.
The PDIA course helped us identify: what was missing, and how to have a better understanding of the situation, set achievable objectives, identify where are our change spaces, stakeholder mapping, etc. One key learning from PDIA for our problem ‘Youth Unemployment in Nepal,’ has been realizing the necessity of working towards a dynamic sustainability as a country. Youth unemployment is not an issue that can be solved all at once in a specific span of time, but it is a problem that can be tackled bit by bit, as we keep building on solutions and our knowledge. During the first few weeks of the course, our team seemed unclear about our problem statement. Most of us looked at our solution as the problem. For example – ‘how to engage youth for youth employment.’ But as we delved deeper with PDIA, we began to understand where our capabilities lie and where we can start to work.
One key takeaway from earlier in this course is the concept and practice of isomorphic mimicry, through which organizations gain or try to gain legitimacy by looking like another functional organization. Essentially, it is a situation of form without function. This is interesting because it accurately describes numerous development organizations both in Nepal and abroad that not only rely on projecting functionality but also on doing work that is primarily guided by “best practices.” Coming back to us, we feel, it’s always important for us as a team and as an organization to be asking ourselves whether we’re practicing isomorphic mimicry or whether we have truly contextualized the work that we do and interventions that we make.
In the process of trying to tend to the problem of domestic youth unemployment in Nepal, our team realized that our problem is extremely word heavy. Therefore, we had to break the idea of youth unemployment into many factions to be able to get to the core of the issue. This was possible due to the Ishikawa diagram and the several ‘Whys’ we asked ourselves in the process. Upon identifying the different aspects of the issue, knowing what we wanted to iterate in the time we have, helped us organize ourselves to plan further activities.
In this process, we made a few signs of progress, such as enhancing the leadership capacity and skills of the team members, mapping key stakeholders, setting appointments with them, pitching our ideas to them and so on. Additionally, an insight we developed through the AAA analysis is that, contrary to our initial assumptions, we as an organization actually do not have much scope for action on many areas related to this problem. However, in the places where we do have some scope like with dignity of labour, we can and will continue to work to carve a more enabling environment for change in this broader ecosystem that involves many different actors.
This course has taught us to go deeper into the problem rather than dwelling on the superficial statement of problems. Questioning the question helps us get to the core of the issue. Furthermore, setting the team norms are extremely important for keeping the team together for completing the tasks at hand in a professional manner. However, the value of this course can and will only come out if we actually use what we have learned within our team and organization. Within the group, that works on issues related to youth leadership, we have used the AAA analysis to chart out our monthly and yearly strategic plan and have also used some of the PDIA reflection questions (What did you do? What did you learn? Where are you struggling? Have you asked for help?), during our one-on-one meetings and group discussions.
PDIA has opened open up ways to look at problems from many different angles; it has helped us to deconstruct and construct solutions around it and finding suitable solutions iterated through contexts and realities.
We, as a team as well individuals, have learned that no matter how wicked the problem is, understanding the problem and iterating actions will undoubtedly lead us to the solution. Learnings like these will support us in making critical decisions while moving things, PDIA is a tool, and if used correctly, ensures success.