Guest blog written by Giannis Skiadaresis
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.
Being part of this very exceptional course was a great opportunity for me to alter the way I was coping with challenges and to find solutions to problems that I was facing in my day-to-day work. Implementing Public Policy was a very unique chapter in my personal development, which coincided with my professional transition from private sector to my return to the European public administration. This moment was a very important step for my professional career, as I had experience from a private project management firm, and I had to adjust to a new reality with several new implementation challenges in the public administration. For me, this course was the ultimate tool, as I used it in full, in order to tackle the challenges that I was facing in my daily life.
At the beginning of the course, I realised that my general approach towards public policy challenges was a very basic approach similar to plan and control, without taking into account many unknowns that could occur during the implementation. I was feeling that I could have everything under control and in the end, I was failing to understand why I was not finding a solution to my personal policy challenge. After the presentation of the first concepts during the initial period of the course, I realised that I had so many unknowns in this challenge that it was almost impossible to be effective and to solve the problem with standard management and project approaches like the plan and control approach. In my first experience with PDIA (Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation), I realised that I was doing everything wrong. Every week after following Matt’s lectures, I understood that there is always another way to deal with things and I managed to implement the new concepts in my daily professional life with remarkable results. Every time that I was learning about a new concept, I was understanding even more why Matt used to say that ‘PDIA is hard but worthwhile’.
This journey was about engagement. Engagement with the people, with the introduction of new ideas on how to tackle my personal challenges. At the beginning, I had difficulties to be precise and narrow down my implementation challenge. I was very generic, and I was ignoring so many unknowns that I was facing. The first landmark in my action learning journey was when I first tried to create the fishbone and to break down in very small pieces my implementation challenge. This was a moment of enlightenment for me because I realised what steps I should follow in order to find a solution. After the initial breakdown of the challenge, I had defined it as “Lack of EU strategy on security capabilities”. This problem is caused because of the fragmentation of security market and due to the lack of future planning. However, this implementation challenge was very broad but with the use of the concepts I acquired in IPP, I managed to find solutions in concrete problems and make significant progress.
Tools: PDIA, Capability Gains, Personal Leadership leaning and other key takeaways
During the first modules, I learnt how to break down in little pieces the challenges and understand the roots of the problem. Step by step, after creating the “fishbone” I managed to better understand many unknowns and to find solutions and what needs to be done. Devising and action learning strategy helped me to support the idea to create a Policy Paper describing the problem and I consequently proposed actions on a new action plan. After having constructed this new action plan, the difficult part was to get the approval of authorizers and to construct a problem narrative. Due to the course of the IPP, I acquired many tools that helped me to evolve also personally and to develop my character in supporting these new ideas for action. Through the theoretical concept of 4p’s by Rob Wilkinson (Perception, progress, people, projection) I acquire skills that made me more effective in the core domains for strategic leadership.
Another key concept that I used was the concept of struggle by Owen Barden. I tried to use my personal struggle in acquiring the approval of my authorizers as a positive feature. As Owen describes struggles shape solutions to the context, people take time to learn, the struggle confers legitimacy and the whole system co-evolves. With the use of this struggle, I managed to engage other colleagues in the same cause. I explained to them the situation and we realised that the only way to fight our common implementation challenges is through “teaming and teams” as Amy Edmondson describes. These are some other theoretical concepts that IPP helped me to understand how useful can be in my personal daily struggle.
Another key takeaway from the past months is “Learning lessons that are hard to learn”. These lessons are very useful to understand why we are fighting and can give us motivation in our personal struggle. The iterative action learning that we used every week to map our progress was an extremely useful tool, to facilitate the emergence and to find solutions to many problems. Now, if I go back to the first entry in my “PDIA action learning diary” the progress that I have made since the beginning of this journey is immense. Step by step I managed to have tangible results in many problems and challenges but also in uniting people in teams and delegating successfully tasks that would possibly slow me down. The iteration checking in my personal “PDIA action learning check-in” is a tool that I will definitely keep in the future to tackle other challenges that I will face. This journey provided me with several tools for various different challenges that we face in public policy implementation and that can be used in the future.
This very unique journey helped me deal with complex situations and provided me with concrete tools to face new challenges. These fruitful discussions with other policy implementers from around the world, are an asset of the program. I will continue to exchange new ideas with these exceptional people, through my active engagement in the HSK IPP Community of practice upon the completion of the program. This journey was one of the best experiences in my life so far, and I can only feel grateful and honoured for the opportunity to be part of the amazing IPP Community of Harvard Kennedy School.
On the policy challenge
One of the most important lessons that I have learned during this course was the conjugal between the type of a problem and the different strategies I had to implement, in order to respond to any challenge. This journey was revealing to me because today, I feel empowered enough to move forward in my career. In the future, I will certainly go back to my drawing board, dissect a new fishbone and plan my new strategy that will work as a solution for my challenges. This time I will try to be even more ambiguous and I will put the bar even higher so can overcome myself for another time.