Guest blog written by Eleanor Sarpong, Maggie Jones, Marco Mastellari, Mohamed Hejres
This blog is written by the alumni of the Implementing Public Policy Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Alumni of this program become part of HKS’s Implementing Public Policy Community of Practice. These are the first set of Moderators of this Community. This is a reflection of their learning journey.
When we graduated from IPP in December 2019 and began our journey together as a Community of Practice, 2020 was only a few weeks away. A new voyage. A fresh start. However, none of us could have predicted what the first six months of 2020 would bring. The world seemed to be on fire – and in some places, it was.
It quickly became clear that our prospect for 2020 might be different than what we originally envisioned on our fresh, clean page of a new year. Our original challenges became more complex and in some cases they changed altogether. However, this is where the lessons of PDIA enter perfectly into play. PDIA is no stranger to the unknown and well-equipped our Community not only to enter the next phase of IPP, but to face new quandaries of an undecided future.
As we reflect over our time together, it is important to tie all these learnings back to the PDIA process. We hope we will be able to provide valuable insights by reflecting on four key check-in questions that continue to guide our work.
What did you do?
Over the past six months as moderators, we posted weekly announcements, shared blogs and videos, told personal stories, and hosted several Zoom calls. We were able to help each other better understand our environments and constraints we were working in. Occasionally, we would nudge discussions in WhatsApp or send reminders in hopes of engaging the group. Thanks to several active members in our Community, these discussions were always welcome, often sparking new ideas and resources. These conversations continue to connect us, even though we are thousands of miles apart.
It is important to note that absolutely none of this would have been possible without the help of Anisha and Salimah. Under their leadership and guidance we never had to worry about what blogs or links to share, questions going unanswered, or whether or not an idea was a good one. The constant feedback and support we received – and continue to receive – is remarkable and we are so grateful for the opportunity to work with them.
What did you learn?
One of the beautiful things about a Community of Practice is it allows you to return to the classroom and continue to apply the learnings immediately in your work. As moderators, we were given the opportunity to dive back into class notes from impactful sessions and listen to podcasts and videos from those that have guided – and continue to guide – us through the PDIA process. Writing blogs and announcements became opportunities to share and encourage others through their own journeys through experiences and encouraging rich conversation. We felt like we were contributing to something quite special, a new way to bring us all together, especially in times of uncertainty.
Our Community of Practice is truly unique. Many of the bonds that were made in Cambridge continue today. It is not just about PDIA or the “work,” but also about friendship and genuine connection. Our worlds got bigger, which means our understanding of each other and our empathy did, too.
What are you struggling with?
We quickly discovered that engaging with 40 different people all in countries and timezones can be a challenge. We needed to rethink our engagement strategy. In order to reach as many Community members as possible, we used several different methods, including Canvas, WhatsApp, and Zoom and even tried to touch base during different times of the day. Even then, about half of the group seems to engage on a regular basis, but we remain hopeful we will be able to increase this percentage.
We conducted an engagement survey in hopes to answer some of our key questions: How often do you read the announcements? What is your preferred medium of communication? What time of day is best for you? What can we be doing differently? in order to ensure our Community continues to provide value and insight to its members.
We hope to focus on the PDIA process, recognizing how we use it, and share these experiences throughout the Community, regardless of where we are in the process, whether initial problem analysis, identifying action steps, taking action, checking in, sustaining authority and legitimacy, or adapting and iterating. By doing so, we will be able to maximize the practice of PDIA in our work, troubleshoot risk, and recognize new entry points and ideas that may have previously gone undiscovered.
But perhaps one of the greatest powers of engaging in Community of Practice is this: to support each other as we work to leave the world better than we found it. To listen, to learn. To “take risks about something we care about.” To share the joy of wins and grief of losses together. To shift our next six months into something completely different than the first.
As our dear colleague and friend, Jori, described, our Community of Practice is really Community of Purpose. It isn’t just about solving the complex challenge at hand, but tackling it together, supporting each other, and learning along the way. On July 1, we will pass the baton on to the next group of moderators who will serve as our lighthouse through whatever fog our little boats must navigate. Although we don’t know what will happen next, we take comfort in knowing our lamp will be kept lit by an amazing group, providing glimmers of hope through our unknown seas.