Using the PDIA Toolkit to Help a Nonprofit in Philadelphia

Guest blog written by Jamison Hicks

The PDIA toolkit has yet again proven to be both useful and effective in providing organizations with the structural means to continually monitor and evaluate programmatic and organizational success. From a usage perspective, even though the toolkit was created in the US, the majority of PDIA blog posts on implementation seemed to be focused on out-of-country nations. With this simple observation, I thought it right to take advantage of the opportunity to implement the toolkit for a nonprofit organization in the US, namely, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Before I get too far ahead of myself, I think it is important to briefly note how I came to learn about PDIA since I am not a conventional student of the program. While interning at World Vision, the Executive Advisor on Fragile States and my personal mentor Jonathan Papoulidis, introduced me to the toolkit. By reading the free online textbook and watching many videos, I was able to gain a sufficient grasp of the concepts and in turn convert theory to an “empiric”.

One Day At A Time (ODAAT), the nonprofit organization where I implemented the toolkit focuses on substance addiction and homelessness in North Philadelphia. This region has some of the highest rates of opioid use and homelessness in the US. The first step taken was gathering all program or team supervisors into one room to diagnose problems using the Fishbone Diagram. One lesson learned; understanding the language of the organization was a necessity. Terms and questions used were not easily understood by the organization. This resulted in having to continuously adjust the approach.

For example, when trying to figure out the overarching problem the community faced, and the causes of those problems, I found it extremely helpful to use the power of stories. To explain the main problems and their causes, I offered the example of murder. Generally, individuals do not murder others without reason. The motive behind the individual’s actions could be childhood traumatic experiences, pain, loneliness, etc. This analogy helped the organization draw comparisons between the example and the initial question asked. Their main or overarching problem was equated to the hypothetical murder, and their related causes were the equivalents to the reasons behind “said” murder. Stories increased the fluidity and effectiveness of the Fishbone Diagram.

The Authority, Acceptance, and Ability concept was ingenious in identifying organizational solutions. Singularly focusing on Ability, by asking an organization which problems they had the ability to address, was not the best strategy. The organization was unable to clearly distinguish between problems directly and indirectly addressed. The organization thus fell into the trap of overestimating their solutions rather than estimating with accuracy and precision. By asking “What problems do you, as an organization, directly address?”, the organizations could clearly distinguish between the direct and indirect problems.

ODAAT is developing a culture of learning by using the Fishbone Diagram – a monitoring strategy based on iteration and adaptation. Monthly, quarterly, mid-program, and annual indices can now be used to correlate functionality and legitimacy. Monthly indicators will focus on program effectiveness, quarterly and mid-program indicators will focus on qualitative impact effectiveness, while annual indicators will focus on quantitative impact effectiveness.

There are many lessons learned from implementation of the PDIA toolkit, but I will stop here and simply thank you for the opportunity to share this success story.

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