Guest blog written by Edward Adamu
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 6-month online learning course in December 2020. These are their learning journey stories.
When I first thought of my policy implementation challenge, it appeared daunting, knowing that past policy attempts had not yielded any dependable solution to the problem. When I constructed the problem, it became even more frightening. As I went further to deconstruct the problem, I realized it was indeed a complex…too many causes and seemingly endless sub-causes. I began to imagine how tedious it would be to mobilize enough agents, and the diversity of agents I would need scared me even further. I had one thing going anyway – the courage to continue, drawn essentially from the early readings provided by faculty and the assurance that there existed an approach for dealing with complexity in the policy arena. I was simply curious!
My confidence started to grow after reading the piece on the journey to the West in 1804. Even then, I retained some doubts about the mission. I think my actual breakthrough came when PDIA – Problem-driven iterative adaptation – was introduced as the approach to be used. I had been introduced to the PDIA concept at earlier programs I had attended at HKS. Furthermore, I was particularly inspired by the Albanian example of its application. PDIA is a policy implementation approach that offers the policy implementing team ample learning experience and opportunity to adapt, anchored on a stepwise or incremental process of developing a policy and executing same. It is especially suited to a policy situation in which there are many unknowns, which are often better understood along the way.
By the end of week 6, my fishbone (Figure 1) had metamorphosed greatly. Not only were the sub-causes clearer, the ‘change space’ analysis showed there were some low hanging fruits – I never saw them at the beginning. There were many entry points and then I realized the journey had truly begun.
PDIA allows the team to adapt and shift where necessary as difficulties are encountered. Knowing that I didn’t have to do everything all at once (stepwise orientation) encouraged me to look out for those sub-causes we could work on rapidly to get the team engaged. By this time the policy implementation challenge had become clearer, we had narrowed down to tomato from the rather unwieldy, broad focus on ‘several agricultural commodities. Every little gain boosted the spirit of the team and enhanced the confidence of my authorizers.
Turning to the all-important part of mobilizing agents, I would confess that until I started, thanks to IPP, I didn’t realize a highly diverse team of the kind I had to put together could work seamlessly. I was more familiar with setting up teams comprising either entirely of people from the same organization or of similar backgrounds but from different agencies. This was going to be different and how to approach it was unclear until the ‘teaming principle’ made its way into the arena. Importantly I learned how instructive and powerful having the right narrative of the problem – a narrative that compels action or makes people feel obliged to do something – could be.
By bringing diverse agents on board, we were able to more effectively deconstruct the problem of low production of tomato despite favorable environmental conditions, demand and financial interventions. We realized that the value chain approach held significant promise and had to experiment with this idea. We now understand that financial intervention alone isn’t sufficient to unlock an agriculture activity in the Nigerian context. Moreover, getting farmers to produce tomato is only a part of the equation, not all of it. Farmers must have the right inputs/seed and market for fruits on a sustained basis to remain engaged. The more we experimented with this idea the bolder the promise with working on the entire value chain became. Of course, that also meant that more and more agents must be mobilized. We are on it and hopefully will find light at the end of the tunnel.
It has indeed been a highly rewarding experience participating in the IPP program. My immense gratitude to HKS and the faculty!