IPP Program Journey: Remember the Sherpas!

Guest blog written by Marco Mastellari

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Implementing Public Policy Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 7-month blended learning course in December 2019. These are their learning journey stories.

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When I came in to the course, I thought to myself that what I really wanted to learn was a predesigned structure or framework, if you will, that would allow me and my colleagues down in Panama to approach policy problems in an organized way, or pre-structured format. This is exactly what I found in PDIA, but with a huge difference in focus. My focus was a solution driven approach, I knew what the problem was, or at least I thought I did; I knew what the solution was to that problem, I thought I had identified it adequately; and what I thought I needed was a pre-established path to implement that solution. Oh, was I wrong! I was approaching policy implementing in a self-absorbed manner. Complex problems, surrounded by uncertainties and plagued with what ifs, just cannot have a preconceived solutions, we have to work, iterate, get things wrong, re-think, do the leg work, to then put all the pieces together and then maybe, just maybe, we may find ourselves in the right path towards solving the problem. IPP taught me a very humbling lesson as well. That while our human nature moves us towards approaching problems with a preconceived solution, this manner of acting, more often than not, results in failed policies. And we see this approach daily from authorizers; it is so common to hear a Minister or Director, asking public servants “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions!”. IPP and PDIA has opened up for me a completely new way of attacking policy problems, of thinking about public policy, and most importantly it has shown me, and consequently my colleagues in my country, that problems are better approached from within, utilizing the intellect and experience of our own people, people that know the stakeholders, that can reach genuinely the grassroots; instead of using prepackaged solutions flown in from abroad.

Some of the key learnings I got from this course are humbleness, optimism, and pride of purpose. I came into the course with a problem “Chronic Illnesses Patients don’t have access to Medicinal Cannabis” and a solution, “We need to pass a bill in Congress to legalize Medicinal Cannabis”. At approaching the problem with PDIA we found out that even though passing a Law was a part towards a solution, it was only one variable, only one, in our problem deconstruction diagram. There were many other iterations to be made before even thinking about talking to congressmen about passing a Law. However, as humbling the experience may be, it creates an environment of optimism. The process of constructing and deconstructing our problem, showed us the incredible amount of work that we needed to do, before getting to a Bill, and this outline of work to do allowed us to organize responsibilities and breakdown the problem into smaller tasks, with the opportunity of showing quick wins along the way, which in turn creates the environment of optimism needed to keep attacking our challenge through PDIA.

The amount of work and responsibilities that arise from deconstruction of the problem is so big, that motivation is highly needed to keep up. Motivation came from doing something worthwhile, something that brings hope to patients and gave me and our team the pride of purpose. I found that nothing motivated me more than knowing that the work we are doing has a positive impact on a population that desperately needs our help, patients in pain, that have not found anything else more than Cannabis to mitigate their suffering.

Our work during these past few months has taken us up to the point of successfully reaching out to a large number of members of the legislative branch and officers from the executive and achieving the submission by a powerful member of the health committee in Congress, of a bill to regulate Medicinal Cannabis, its uses and activities. Our team achieved having one of our members being appointed to one of the seats of the subcommittee on Cannabis. We expect that hearings in the National Assembly of this bill will take place early March, and our work from now until then will entail socializing the science behind the properties of Medicinal Cannabis and bringing testimonies to Congressmen, so they are correctly informed on the subject, when the bill reaches the voting process.

I would like to finish up by saying that nobody knows how to best approach local problems than local policy makers and practitioners. Trusting yourself and in the capabilities that your local assets have or can attain is the most important and sane way to go (remember always our friends the Sherpas).

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To learn more about Implementing Public Policy (IPP) watch the course and testimonial video, listen to the podcast, and visit the course website.

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