Guest blog written by William Young
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.
There is nothing in the United States of America that policy does not dictate. In a world where politics touches nearly every aspect of our lives, we are surrounded by public policy. How do we get to that point? The point where policy is implemented into our daily lives, known or unknown. The position where policy regardless of difficulty moves from the humble beginnings of thought, to problem solving. What roadmap do we travel? To move from the smallest effect on your lives, to the largest detriment possibly if not done with the intelligence needed to implement these public policies. As an elected official and public policy expert one can always use some guided insight. So why not go to Harvard?
What comes to mind when you think of Harvard University? The word brilliance. A long storied history of excellence in thought and reasoning. Harvard is the place where some of the worlds greatest minds and leaders have come to study. Presidents, CEOs, and intellectual leaders alike, have added their names to the growing roster of Harvard alum. The credibility given to the university in all fields of human endeavor seems to be synonymous with the words excellence and reliability.
By understanding the weighted influence of the University’s reputation, one can ascertain an expectation of rigorous, thought-provoking, intellectual challenges that forces an individual to exceed one’s best efforts when applying reasoning and practical experience in the areas of public policy. The Harvard Kennedy School for Executive Education has created a program that delivers the blueprint to help you build the vehicle that propels you from policy inception to implementation. A sustainable method that can be duplicated time and time again. Creating reliable results by helping navigate the usual pitfalls of public policy.
When I entered this program I knew my public policy challenge would be extremely difficult. Working as an elected local official it has been my job to tackle many difficult policies that affect people’s lives on a daily basis. So what is this challenge I speak of?
Over an extended period of time through research and data it has been determined that there are many disparities in policing to the black community. Since the unfortunate death of George Floyd, his untimely demise at the hands of police has helped catalyze this nation’s largest Civil Rights movement. During the summer of 2020 The world saw protests in the streets of America. We saw cities on fire. We witnessed civil unrest, and confederate monuments being torn down across the country. Since that occurred public policy makers around the country have been faced with the public outcry to defund the police and push forward on many social justice matters.
The term defunding the police has become synonymous with gutting police resources across the board. However, that is not the case. This highly politically charged issue has been used by left and right wing pundits, as well as Republicans and Democrats to polarize segments of our society. The term “defund” the police is merely a re-imagination process of how we do policing in America.
When I joined the IPP program I knew that anything coming out of Harvard University would be worth the effort to get involved with. What do I mean? Well, I knew the process would be thoroughly well thought-out, and rigorously practiced with real world application. This gave me confidence in knowing that whatever public policy challenge I had could be tackled through the PDIA process that is taught in the course.
One of my key takeaways from joining the IPP program and now becoming a member of this community of practice would be PDIA really works. Simple huh? The problem driven, iterative adaptive process is something I will use the rest of my life when dealing with especially difficult public policy.
During my extended time working with Harvard, I was able to tackle not one but two public policy challenges. One that was within the course that I documented which was defending the police or shall I say reimagining policing. The other public policy challenge happened in the wake of the civil unrest that came from the death of George Floyd and catalyzed the nation’s largest Civil Rights Movement. This public policy challenge was passing reparations in Asheville, NC.
These were two difficult policies. both utilizing skills and processes learned from IPP. One of my greatest takeaways from this process was understanding leadership in the face of complex public policy challenges. One must be a champion and convenor of individuals with an understanding that there must be a conductor to the orchestra, but the conductor cannot play every instrument. You have to have a team of individuals in order for things to happen. You must understand the intricacies of the PDIA process and you must work the fishbone diagram and action check in. Your success will come from the continuous work of this diagram and check-in tool, and a total understanding of every aspect of these processes. It was paramount to my success in the beginning stages of reimagining the police force and also passing reparations in my city.
My words of advice to PDIA practitioners around the globe would be simply trust the process. We all have our own unique public policy challenges that we are striving to implement. Also, for those who are not familiar with the PDIA process they may not be early supporters of this choice to tackle policy issues. It may feel weird, or different. However, the real world applications of what we have learned here at Harvard University has been thoroughly vetted. My public policy success with reimagining police and on a larger scale passing reparations for Asheville North Carolina is proof positive as one of the many public policy challenges that have been tackled directly through this process.
Also, my advice would be if you are a member of the IPP community my group work is what helps sustain me through these tough times and trying to pass these policies. I plan on keeping a close connection with my immediate group members and an extended connection to the IPP Community for help on any policy. We are all thoroughly trained on these processes, and the insight that can be given from your extended community of practice should be used to your advantage moving forward. In short, use the resources
available to you which are Harvard University and your community of practice and more specifically your group members. If this course has taught me anything, it has been utilizing the individuals who know this process forward and backwards will be your greatest asset on any policy development going forward regardless of the subject matter.