Guest blog by Ocea Wynn
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 enrolling in the IPP Online, my initial thoughts were that this would be a course extensively focused on theory with very little practical application. I anticipated that if practical examples were presented, they would be so-far removed from the realism of local government work that this course would be another ‘check the box’ example of fulfilling a request by providing an input (class attendance) with an expected output (course completion) with no anticipated outcome.
My perception soon changed when we started our discussion on classifying a policy as complex or complicated. As an engineer, my education, training, and all my work experience have been in a complicated environment, of plan and control. So, when Matt started the discussion on defining complicated work, I thought ‘this course will be a piece of cake’. However, all of that soon changed as we began to delve into complexity of policy implementation. This expanded my mindset to a new way of looking at all problems, both professional and personal ones.
There are many nuggets or takeaways from this course that I apply to any complex problem-solving strategy. However, I have incorporated the ones below into my daily work responsibilities.
The first key learning for me was understanding there is a very high failure rate in policy implementation. Coming from a culture where plan and control, tried and true work is the norm, the high failure observation made me ask the question ‘why’, and to think about those strategies I can proactively incorporate in my policy implementation during planning, as I comprehend the complexity of the problem when responding to the citizens’ needs.
An area to consider when minimizing policy failure is to anticipate expected outcomes at the initialization stages of implementation as a key dimension. This allows the implementer to develop what success looks like, measure, adjust, adapt and communicate often throughout the process, using the PDIA approach. This creates a learning loop, which should be the foundation of all policy implementation.
The second key learning is to understand that accomplishing policy success depends on the capabilities needed in order to become successful. Capabilities are not always technical skills, in nature, but those elements and entities that are mobilized with the ability to solve the problem: abilities, authorizers, and acceptance. Capabilities empower the policy implementer to realize success.
Thirdly, it is important to challenge negative feedback by promoting implementation success when it occurs and use that success as the starting point for new feedback loops.
Fourthly, this course has helped me reevaluate how I view failure. Failure is not a ‘negative’ as long as it is used as a learning tool and an opportunity to improve.
Finally, and probably the most overlooked for me is the realization that self-care is essential for any successful implementation.
In Tampa, FL (USA), there is a significant labor shortage in the building and construction industries. This shortfall will pose an extreme challenge as the City of Tampa pursues bond restructuring to fund a $460 million infrastructure replacement project over the next twenty years. The intent of this policy is to address the labor shortfall, where an estimated 4,100 jobs will be generated, by creating a skilled pipeline of talent to support and sustain the forthcoming economic development activities. The impact of the labor shortage has since been exasperated by the increase in job loss, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the Workforce Development Policy has been implemented for the construction and trades fields, the focus will transition to other industries such as Healthcare, Culinary/Hospitality, Business/Financial Services, and Information Technology, to address those shortfalls.
Since the response the policy is a course of action to solve the problem, a collaborative approach with key stakeholders will be required to address the current state of Workforce Development across the Tampa Bay Community by 1) assessing and analyzing data related to the state of the workforce 2) developing an understanding of the existing labor market from both available talent and jobs 3) reviewing best practices from other communities that implemented a workforce strategy, 4) and developing concepts to be used as the cornerstones for a workforce guidance tool.
Like most local government agencies, the City of Tampa’s plan and control (complicated) process assumes that the problem to be solved is known, the funding is available, and the internal team of architects and engineers have obtained the requisite knowledge base needed to manage the project by engaging staff members from other departments such as, legal, revenue and finance, facility management, technology, and stakeholders from the user departments.
However, in the Workforce Development Policy Implementation challenge, there are a myriad of unknowns that have been and continue to be unpacked as the policy materializes. Thankfully, I have always had the big ‘P” political support from the Mayor and as the policy unfolds, I continue to gain support from the City Council members.
Namely, one City Council member has requested that I conduct an Equal Business Opportunity workshop in January 2021, to ensure proper minority goal setting is set and achieved through workforce projects. Another City Council member has championed an apprenticeship ordinance that the Administration created and is set for a second reading and approval by all city council members. Finally, a third City Council member advised under the Mayor’s approval that the City Administration create an Economic Development Advisory Team in partnership from the University of South Florida (USF) College of Business and USF Corporate Partnerships and Innovation subject matter experts, key stakeholders, and community leaders to participate in this effort. A key element identified was to promote inclusive economic growth through Workforce Development.
As the policy matured, the fishbone was reassessed from the original concept to a new one (diagram 1). Additional, as more authorizers gained support, the policy began to morph into a ‘fish with many legs’, as different the policy gained momentum (diagram 2).
Because the Workforce Development Policy had expanded from initial concept and as a newly appointed Administrator (Deputy Mayor), in the midst of a pandemic I found it very difficult to stay abreast of all of my responsibilities, in addition to this policy implementation. As a result, I gained the approval from the Mayor to hire someone who would be solely responsible for Workforce Development. This person became a member of the team in November 2020.
Current status: I have been appointed by the Board of County Commissioners to the Career Source of Florida Executive Board; the Workforce Advisory Team members will be reengaged for a follow-up and on-going meetings; progress is continually made in the workforce areas as identified on the fishbone diagram, as well as the different areas as demonstrated in diagram 2.
Even though I was vastly overwhelmed during the onset of this project because policy implementation was foreign to me, the primary motivation has been the authorization of the policy and the acceptance due to the need of increasing the skilled-based workforce for the Tampa Bay Region. Knowing that I can directly make a difference in the lives and livelihood in the community by in this case, providing a means for gainfully employment is one of the things that give me purpose as a public servant-leader. As Matt emphasized throughout the course, ‘leadership is taking risk on behalf of what you care about’ has been demonstrated through this policy implementation.
Not only will I continue to use the tools introduced in this class in the workforce challenge, but I have also started to introduce the concepts in my other work-related problems and in my personal life.
I have started assessing if previous lack of success in problem-solving are due to a lack of problem definition (what problem are you attempting to solve) or of lack of execution (are the right leaders in place to address the strategic areas to promote growth). This provides the framework for properly addressing the issues. Constructing, deconstructing, acting quickly, learning and moving on have been key to showing slow but continual progress.
When developing teams, I consider everyone a leader and give them authority to accomplish the goals. I have seen an increase in engagement, task initiation, empowerment and ownership. I have differentiated between a team and a group.
In my personal life, I have started using PDIA with my young adults when they are experiencing a their ‘personal crisis’. Recently, my daughter panicked when writing her personal statement for a graduate school application for molecular biology cancer research. I always start my questioning with ask what problem are you trying to solve and assist by helping deconstruct the problem. I then ask, ‘what did you do the solve the problem, what are you struggling with, what did you learn in the process, and what will you do next’. My only regret is that I did not have this tool in my toolkit when they were teenagers.
I must emphasis the importance of learning throughout the process. It is perfectly fine if the implementation challenge is not solved immediately, as long as progress is made, and learning takes place. If complex problems were easy to solve, they would have been solved already.
Finally, as an IPP group, we have learned more from each other regarding the practical application of implementation, than in the course which provides the framework for PDIA.