BSC 2020: The Year in Review

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written by Salimah Samji

2020 was a challenging year. The Covid-19 pandemic and other crises highlighted the failures of governance and the large economic disparities that exist around the globe. The need to build public sector capability to meet these increasingly complex challenges has never been greater.

Our response to these challenges included convening and training policymakers, as well as practitioners, around critical issues of leading through crises, implementing public policies, inclusive growth, and budgeting in times of uncertainty. Drawing on BSC’s past experience running both online programs and blended learning programs, we put our knowhow into action and pivoted two executive education programs to online. We also provided our students opportunities to work on real-world problems as a way to help them build the muscle memory of solving complex problems.

Some highlights of 2020 include:

  • Trained and engaged with 875 practitioners around the globe (incl. degree programs, online executive education, and direct policy engagements with governments); 
  • Published 89 blog posts; 
  • Recorded 17 podcasts, including a new 4-part series on the 4P model of strategic leadership; and
  • Activated our HKS IPP community of practice.

Here’s a month by month playback of 2020.


BSC collaborated with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative on their Cross-Boundary Collaboration Program, by developing three problem exploratory online modules as part of the pre-work to be completed by participants in advance of their training in New York City. 72 participants across 9 City teams completed these exercises. 

BSC Faculty Director Matt Andrews chaired the executive education program entitled, Public Financial Management (PFM) in a Changing World at the Harvard Kennedy School. 36 PFM practitioners participated in this program.

Matt Andrews and Salimah Samji, co-taught the class entitled, PDIA in Action: Development through Facilitated Emergence at the Harvard Kennedy School. This year we invited alumni of our IPP Executive Education program to nominate real-world problems that the students could work on. You can read more about what student’s learned about dealing with uncertainty, the bias towards finding solutions, the importance of different perspectives, iteration, and team-work.

Class photo taken after final presentations in March 2020.

The process of implementing public policies and solving complex development problems requires working in teams. We released a podcast on building effective teams recorded by BSC Faculty Associate, Professor Monica Higgins, Kathleen McCartney Professor of Education Leadership at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

We launched the first Implementing Public Policy (IPP) alumni blog series featuring their learning journeys. We posted 35 blogs over the year.

BSC Director Salimah Samji led a PDIA workshop at the DFID Education Cadre Learning Day in London, UK. 


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 completed this course.

Matt Andrews teaching in the Cutting Edge of Economic Development Program.

BSC Director moderated a panel on State Capacity and Public Service Delivery in India for the India Conference at Harvard.

We published an article entitled, “How to implement policies with impact? A Policymakers Toolkit” in the Dubai Policy Review.

Figure from the Dubai Policy Review article.

Salimah Samji led a presentation on problem solving tools at the National Association for County Community and Economic Development (NACCED’s) Spring Legislative Conference in Washington, DC.

Participants at the NACCED Spring Legislative Conference.

BSC collaborated with the GovLab to create a module on defining actionable problems for their open source Collective Crisis Intelligence Course.  


BSC Fellow Daniel Barjum traveled to Croatia to conduct interviews with two PDIA teams that had been working on digital governance systems as part of a custom program that Matt Andrews had run in 2019. These two cases studies will be made publicly available in 2021.

On March 15th, soon after the Covid-19 lockdown, Matt Andrews began a blog series on Public Leadership Through Crisis to offer ideas for leaders questioning how they can help in crises. Over the period of four weeks, we posted 18 blogs and held 6 accompanying virtual discussions open to HKS students, alumni, and the public.

Participants in a Public Leadership Through Crisis virtual discussion.

Solving complex problems often involves engaging in difficult conversations. In response to this, we released a podcast on managing difficult conversations effectively, recorded by BSC Faculty Associate, Professor Rob Wilkinson Lecturer in Public Policy and Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Matt Andrews held a session on Can African Countries really Compete with the World? for HKS students during their spring break.

We released our second Audio Policy Paper Podcast which feature audible versions of our academic papers, allowing research from our Faculty and Associates to be more accessible to a global audience. We featured – Public Policy Failure – ‘How Often?’ and ‘What is Failure Anyway?’ You can listen to the audio of the paper or read it. This paper had the most downloads in 2020.


We recorded a new 4-part podcast series with BSC Faculty Associate Rob Wilkinson on his 4P model of strategic leadership. Read the paper and listen to the podcasts.

Rob Wilkinson and Salimah Samji recording the 4P Model of Strategic Leadership podcast.

Matt Andrews shared his insights on leading through crisis in the HKS Deans Council Discussion Series with Professors Julia Minson and Wendy Sherman.

HKS Deans Council Discussion Series.

BSC hosted a webinar on Leading through Crisis for the National Association for County Community and Economic Development (NACCED). 50 participants attended the session.

Even during normal times, government officials in developing countries often feel overwhelmed by the problems they’re asked to solve. Matt Andrews shared his insights on Managing Crisis Without Resources: Developing nations brace for the coronavirus in an HKS Policycast.

Matt Andrews recorded a podcast on The Role of Political Leadership During the pandemic for the Centre for Economic Research in Pakistan (CERP).


Drawing on BSC’s past experience running both online programs and blended learning programs, we put our knowhow into action and pivoted a 5-day residential executive education program into a 10-week online program. 216 participants from 64 countries successfully completed the 10-week program. You can learn more about our experience in this blog.

BSC engaged with the government of Honduras to support their efforts in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. The government requested our help in discovering ways in which to support the private sector during a nationally mandated lockdown, as well as offering viable options on how to best ease lockdown measures over time. BSC played an instrumental role in strengthening relationships and communication between public and private stakeholders in key sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture and energy. Working with 5 PDIA teams, across 8 government agencies over the period of the year, the country managed to rapidly learn and respond to challenges that arose from the lockdown. Results included assuring that there were no disruptions to the supply of food during the lockdown, identifying fiscal incentives to help ease economic hardship, and drafting a novel strategy to bring financial sustainability to the electricity sector. 


We pivoted our Implementing Public Policy (IPP) executive education program to 25-weeks online. In this program, participants work on their implementation challenges, apply their learning to their own context, reflect on their own experience and become part of a global community of practice. 140 participants successfully completed this program.

BSC Faculty Associate Lant Pritchett updated his analysis on The Big Stuck. He found that the typical level of “quality of government” (measured as a combination of Rule of Law, Bureaucratic Effectiveness, and Control of Corruption) was slightly lower in 2018 than in 1996.

Our first set of moderators for the HKS IPP community of practice wrote a blog titled practice makes purpose, about their experience leading the community for a six-month period (January – June 2020).

IPP Community of Practice moderators for January to June 2020.


Our second set moderators of the HKS IPP community of practice took on the leadership role for July – December 2020.

IPP Community of Practice moderators for July to December 2020.

Former BSC team member Peter Harrington, wrote two guest blogs on Covid-19. One on planning for tomorrow’s problem’s today and another one titled, look beyond your borders to navigate what comes next. He noted that those familiar with the so-called Eisenhower matrix (‘Urgent versus Important’ 2×2 shown below) will know that we ignore ‘important but not urgent’ issues at our peril.


BSC’s work was featured in the HKS Magazine in two articles. One on HKS faculty teach leaders how to make better decisions amid uncertainty in which Matt Andrews was quoted “Be honest. Empower people with facts. And be modest and give yourself space to pivot when you need to.” The second one featured an alumna Cara Myers MPA/ID 2018 helps feed children and build agriculture in Mozambique who talks about how she is using what she learned about PDIA. “I think it’s being able to take more of an ecosystem perspective, and really trying to think about what actually leads to impact, not just an outcome,” she says. “You know: What are you really trying to solve?

We shared our lessons learned from our online learning experience over the past five years at the HKS Executive Education Faculty Innovators Group. This included how we use asynchronous content, how we monitor learning and engagement with content, and how we encourage and facilitate peer learning.

Matt Andrews taught Getting Things Done: Management in a development context at the Harvard Kennedy School. 97 Masters students successfully completed this course. This was offered online for the first time.

BSC Fellow and RISE Research Manager Marla Spivack and Dzingai Mutumbuka wrote a blog Charting a new course: Education systems after COVID-19 arguing that education leaders at all levels must start planning to focus on foundational skills when schools re-open.

An ordinary classroom in an African school.

BSC launched the first GEM Foundation session at CID’s annual Global Empowerment Meeting. This was an invitation only session for 20 leaders of Foundations where we discussed the importance of listening to learn in an era of crisis. As part of the research for this session, we spoke to 15 individuals across 10 organizations to learn about the challenges they faced around funding they received from Foundations. We plan to share our findings in a forthcoming blog in 2021.

BSC won the Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) Haverford Award that celebrates the top organizations that work with local government. Here’s what was on the nomination form.

Nomination for ELGL Haverford Award.


Matt Andrews presented on the challenges of implementing public policies to the Commission on the Morocco Development Model. The event was live streamed on Facebook.

We developed a new 5-day Executive Education program on Budgeting in the time of Crisis to help governments think about managing new expenditure demands, revenue shortfalls, and offer perspectives on developing 2021 budget proposals. 47 participants successfully completed the program.

As part of Harvard Worldwide Week, BSC invited former team member Peter Harrington to share his insights in a session titled, Message in a battle: Why communications matter in a pandemic.

Salimah Samji led a session on solving tricky problems at Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) conference.


We released a podcast interview with Sandra Naranjo, Former Minister of Planning Development in Ecuador, who was in government when an earthquake of historic magnitude struck the country in 2016. Sandra shared how she contributed to the country’s response and recovery and what she learned about public budgeting during times of crisis. Listen to the podcast.

We hosted a virtual closing ceremony for our 25-week Implementing Public Policy Online Executive Education Program. 140 participants from 45 countries completed this course and have now joined our community of practice! Here are our new set of community moderators for January-June 2021.

IPP Community of Practice moderators for January to June 2021.

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