BSC 2019: The Year in Review

9 mins read

written by Salimah Samji

Reflection is a key part of the PDIA iteration process and as I have done in previous years (20172018) here’s a look back at what we @HarvardBSC achieved in 2019.

Some highlights of the year include: training and engaging with 740 practitioners around the globe (incl. degree programs, executive education, online courses and direct policy engagements with governments); publishing 9 papers and 54 blog posts; activating our PDIA online course alumni community of practice; releasing a new 12-part podcast series on the Practice of PDIA; translating our content into Spanish and French; and last but not least … drum roll please … launching Harvard Kennedy School’s first blended learning Executive Education program Implementing Public Policy, designed to equip policymakers around the world with both the skills to analyze policies, as well as the field-tested tools and tactics to successfully implement them.

2020 promises to be another exciting year for us. Here’s a few things we have in store for you: releasing our PDIA Toolkit in French, Portuguese and Arabic; publishing blogs written by our Implementing Public Policy program alumni; launching our new long read podcast series; and sharing our experience on creating and sustaining communities of practice with you. To stay tuned, follow us on twitter, or subscribe to our blog and podcast.

Here’s a month by month playback of 2019.


BSC Faculty Director Matt Andrews chaired the executive education program entitled, “Public Financial Management (PFM) in a Changing World” at the Harvard Kennedy School. 47 PFM practitioners from 25 countries participated in this program.

PFM 2019
BSC collaborated with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative in their Cross-Boundary Collaboration Program held in New York City. Director Salimah Samji served as a City Team facilitator during this program.

Matt Andrews published a paper entitled, “Who wins in the World Economy and English Football,” which explores whether the gains from the last generation of growth have been distributed in ways that foster ‘catch up’ by lower tier countries, and whether we see these countries ‘catching up’ by moving into higher tiers. This analysis of the world economy is then compared to English football, where over 90 clubs play in an multi-tier league system.

Matt Andrews and Salimah Samji co-taught the class entitled, “PDIA in Action: Development through Facilitated Emergence” at the Harvard Kennedy School. 60 Masters students successfully completed this course.


Matt Andrews attended a workshop organized by Francis Fukuyama at Stanford University with 16 other public policy educators from around the country, to present innovative approaches to the teaching of public policy and to explore opportunities for collaboration. The members of this group drafted and released a Statement on Education for Public Problem Solving  which BSC signed.

We offered our flagship 15-week PDIA online course and 151 development practitioners in 11 countries successfully completed this course in June.

BSC engaged Anisha Poobalan, who has previously worked with us in Sri Lanka, to lead and activate our PDIA online course Community of Practice. This was in response to what we had learned from our experience with creating communities of practice.

Ricardo Hausmann and Matt Andrews co-chaired the executive education program entitled, “Cutting Edge of Economic Development“, at the Harvard Kennedy School. 40 development practitioners from 17 countries completed this course.

BSC released a podcast featuring the paper, “Public Policy Failure: ‘How often?’ and ‘What is Failure, Anyway?” in which Matt Andrews analyzes 400+ World Bank projects to better understand how they define success.




Responding to the demand of making our PDIA Toolkit accessible in other languages, BSC officially launched the Spanish Caja de Herramientas PDIA complete with subtitled videos. 15 students in Tegucigalpa, Honduras piloted and tested our translated toolkit.

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BSC began a collaboration with the RISE (Research on Improving Systems of Education) Programme to better understand how education systems build capability, innovate, and improve their practices. Through this engagement, the BSC team seeks to understand understand how organizations within systems are able to nominate, evaluate, and adopt innovations—and build the organizational capability to do each of these things. Marla Spivack, the RISE Research manager, joined BSC to lead this effort. To learn more read this blog by Lant Pritchett.

Matt Andrews wrote a blog entitled, Why do public policies fail? Categorizing the challenges, in which he proposes three macro-issues affecting policy success and failure, with 9 more detailed factors within these areas (see image below).

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BSC Faculty affiliate Michael Woolcock published a paper entitled, “Reasons for Using Mixed Methods in the Evaluation of Complex Projects,” in which he argues that the key characteristics of ‘complex’ interventions – numerous face- to-face interactions, high discretion, imposed obligations, pervasive unknowns – rarely fit neatly into standard evaluation protocols, and thus require the deployment of a wider array of research methods, tools and theory.

BSC launched the PDIA learning Journey blogs series featuring our online course alumni from Cambodia, Colombia, Ecuador, Indonesia, India, Jordan, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Paraguay, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Ukraine, and Vietnam. We published 31 course journey blogs in 2019.

Matt Andrews conducted a two day training at the Millennium Challenge Corporation on tools, techniques, and innovations that promote policy and institutional reforms and strengthen the ability of countries to deliver public services and policies essential for poverty reduction through growth.

BSC Faculty Associate Alice Evans published the paper entitled, “Incentivising Pro-labour Reforms,” in which she shows that countries may reduce labour repression if they perceive this as conducive to export growth. Listen to the podcast.


BSC hosted a panel entitled, Building State Capability: How Can Governments Better Implement Policies? featuring Matt Andrews and Jorrit de Jong at CID’s Global Empowerment Meeting (GEM 2019). Watch the video.


BSC Faculty Associate Lant Pritchett also presented a session entitled, The Big Stuck and Premature Load Bearing: Good Laws are the obstacle to Rule of Law, at GEM 2019. View slides and watch the video.



BSC launched Harvard Kennedy School’s first blended learning Executive Education Program Implementing Public Policy, designed to equip policymakers around the world with both the skills to analyze policies, as well as the field-tested tools and tactics to successfully implement them. This is a 7-month long program where you work on your implementation challenge. To learn more, watch the course and testimonial video, listen to the podcast, and visit the course website.

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We completed our first round of engaging with government teams in Honduras,  helping a newly formed unit in the Presidency apply PDIA in its work with other line ministries. The first cohort included 7 teams of 63 government officials working on issues of electricity, communication, bureaucratic processes, agriculture, small business growth, and tourism. Matt Andrews and Tim McNaught attended this workshop. Our experience working in Honduras shows that you can have a centrally located group—that brings the authority of the chief executive—working hand-in-hand with the rest of the administration to address complex challenges while producing new, sustainable capabilities (working processes, technical know-how, connections and relationships, and more). For more read PDIA for Delivery Facilitation.

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The work of BSC was featured in the Harvard Kennedy School’s Magazine. “Local officials often feel powerless to address the big problem, but they can address the small components, and do address them.

Ricardo Hausmann and Matt Andrews co-chaired the executive education program entitled, “Leading Economic Growth” at the Harvard Kennedy School. 70 development practitioners from 29 countries completed this course.


We welcomed the first cohort of our 7-month Implementing Public Policy Executive Education program to Harvard. During the week, program participants explored different implementation methods that could be used to achieve their policy goals. These methods include:

  • Plan and Control (Programmed Implementation) – effective when there are low levels of uncertainty and little new learning is needed.
  • Adaptive Management (Agile or Design Thinking) – appropriate when the general direction of the policy is known, but more specifics about the policy product or context is needed.
  • Facilitated Emergence (Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation) – a “learn while you go” strategy used when there are high levels of uncertainty about political support, context and available resources, and a lot of learning is required in the implementation process.

At every juncture throughout the week, participants applied what they learned in class to their own implementation challenge. The participants even wrote lyrics to a PDIA song in the tune of the song YMCA! To learn more, watch the course and testimonial video, listen to the podcast, and visit the course website.

Salimah Samji delivered the Keynote address at the USAID Moving The Needle 2019 conference held at the Newseum in Washington, DC. The purpose was to convene decision-makers, thought leaders, donors and implementers around the question: “How can we better leverage systematic, intentional and resourced collaborating, learning and adapting to operationalize and accelerate the shift toward a new relationship with developing countries that supports their self-reliance?”



Alice Evans, Adnan Khan and Lant Pritchett joined us as BSC Faculty Associates and Professors Monica Higgins and Rob Wilkinson joined us as Faculty Affiliates.

BSC Faculty Associate Alice Evans published the paper entitled, “How Cities Erode Gender Inequality: A New Theory and Evidence from Cambodia” in which she suggests that cities raise the opportunity costs of gender divisions of labour – given higher living costs and more economic opportunities for women, and cities also increase exposure to alternatives. Listen to the podcast.

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BSC signed an MOU to work with 5 teams of 46 government officials from the Western Cape Provincial Government and the City of Cape Town, with facilitators from Wesgro, to promote economic growth in the region using the PDIA methodology. The teams worked on five priority sectors which include: Construction and property development; Light manufacturing; Atlantis special economic zone (manufacturing hub that focuses on green energy); Information technology and business process outsourcing; and Commuter transport. Read more.

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Matt Andrews taught the class entitled, “Getting Things Done: Management in a Development Context” at the Harvard Kennedy School. 106 Masters students successfully completed this course.

BSC Fellow and RISE Research Manager Marla Spivack and Lant Pritchett wrote a blog entitled, “Achieving Learning for All Requires Measuring Basic Skills Early and Often; Proposed Changes to the SDG Indicators Would Make This Kind of Measurement Less Common,” in response to the proposed changes to the Sustainable Development Goals’ education indicator 4.

BSC Faculty Affiliate Mark Moore published a paper entitled, “Creative Destruction or Idiot Winds: Schumpeterian Theory Meets the Educational Sector in Developing Countries,” which is an insightful take on the question of how the public sector can create education systems capable of the innovation needed to meet the learning crisis, informed by decades of experience and research as a leading scholar of public governance.  He points out that many mental models of who generates innovations, how those innovations are evaluated and adjudicated as successful, and how those innovations are to be scaled are chimera—attractive in parts but the pieces don’t actually fit together.

BSC Fellow Tim McNaught became our first alumni after having worked with us for three incredible years. We wish him the best in his future endeavors!

The Public Problem Solving website hosted by Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies featured BSC as an affiliated program and has listed our Toolkit and Blog as teaching resources.

In keeping with our value of making our tools and approach publicly available for use by development practitioners around the world, we translated our key PDIA working papers into Spanish. These include:

We also completed the translation of these papers into French. They are currently under review and will be released in 2020.


BSC launched a new 12-part Practice of PDIA Podcast series based on a video series we use in our online course. You can also listen on SimplecastiTunes, Google Play, and Spotify.

We launched our first BSC Builds student workshop series at the Harvard Kennedy School. This is an experiential learning workshop where students get to try new approaches. Faculty Associate Alice Evans led the first session on Overcoming the Despondency Trap.

LeaderNet, an online learning and exchange platform for global health professionals working to strengthen health systems in low- and middle-income countries featured our PDIA podcasts and our PDIA alumni blog.

Matt Andrews facilitated a PDIA problem construction session for the Capital Regional Council of Governments (CRCOG) Transit-Oriented Development group in Hartford, Connecticut.



We hosted our second BSC Builds student workshop series at the Harvard Kennedy School. Arianna Mazzeo, visiting professor at Harvard SEAS led the session entitled, Action Theatre for Public Policy Challenges & Civic Engagement. Through action theatre Arianna mobilizes systemic change to activate new pedagogies, addressing complex societal challenges and co-learning within underrepresented communities and place.


We hosted a virtual closing ceremony for our 7-month Implementing Public PolicyExecutive Education Program. 48 participants from 19 countries completed this course and have now joined our community of practice! It has been an honor and privilege to have had the opportunity to work with these incredible individuals.

We completed our second round of engaging with government teams in Honduras,  helping a newly formed unit in the Presidency apply PDIA in its work with other line ministries. The second cohort included 5 teams of 38 government officials. Matt Andrews and Daniel Barjum attended this workshop.

BSC collaborated with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative in their Cross-Boundary Collaboration Program by creating three problem exploratory online modules. 72 participants across 9 City teams completed these exercises.




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