Guest blog written by Joshua Higginbotham
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.
Coming into the course, I felt overconfident in my own policy-making abilities. Now, I realize that I don’t know as much as I thought I did, and that’s a good thing! My assumptions about the course were that it would be like any other professional development experience, the cliché “trust fall” exercises included. However, it was far more interactive and policy oriented than I imagined, and the best part was that we discussed systems changes.
Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) was the most useful method we learned. In my government’s structure, we meet very often to discuss and contemplate ideas, we travel and work year-round to get ideas from constituents and key stakeholders. However, we only have a very brief, couple month window at the beginning of every year to actually change the law. This drives away innovation and stifles the learning process. This course has inspired me to change that by introducing a Constitutional Amendment allowing for shorter, more often sessions throughout the year so we can learn and adapt every few months rather than once per year.
My problem became many problems throughout this learning process. The fishbone method in particular taught me to break down the problem to truly identify where West Virginia’s shortcomings are. For example, before my Harvard experience, I believed that only job-creation and economic development could change our state; while that is still true, I learned that it takes a myriad of changes to fully transform the state. We have health and wellness attainability standards to meet, infrastructure to rebuild, as well as education and workforce development innovations that must be made. Companies are certainly attracted to our state because of our pro-business reforms but bringing up our own people to unleash their inner entrepreneurship will not occur like we want it to until we attack those other problems mentioned above.
Every legislative session, I would normally only be the lead sponsor on two or three big bills that did overarching changes or improvements, yet the impact would be minimal or gaining support would be difficult. Now, my focus is on the smaller problems. This coming year, I will have around 50 bills for consideration, each making small but meaningful changes that can get more buy-in from stakeholders and are easier pills to swallow than sweeping reforms. This course—the PDIA method in particular—is the reason I am making this change.
Again, PDIA is what I’m using in my everyday work experience. If I’m talking to a company about them moving here or starting up in my state, I try to learn from and adapt from each one of these conversations. There rarely is a cookie-cutter way of doing implementing policies. We often have to approach it differently with every swing of the bat.
To my fellow PDIA practitioners, don’t be afraid to change. It can be hard at times—I can assure you of that personally. As a member of our leadership team in our conservative Republican Party, I can tell you first-hand that convincing people to change is no easy task. But you must be willing to do it. That is the purpose of PDIA, to learn and grow and adapt from each iteration and experience. Despite the difficulties in this, we must be willing to change ourselves before we can push change on others, changing our approaches, changing our methods, changing the tone of voice with which we use to communicate. Change ourselves before we can change others.