Guest blog by Member Feese
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 registered for the course my conception of public policy was the public definition – a course of action developed by a government in response to public problems. However, I was pleasantly surprised when the course began. I realised that public policy is not only for government but for all citizens that want to make a positive impact in society.
I came into the course with a goal to developing a policy that will help to reduce the level of poverty in the Nigeria. Nigeria is one of the most resourced countries in the world, in terms of human and endowments, yet with a high poverty rate of over 40.1 percent of total population being classified as poor in 2019 (National Bureau of Statistics). This translates to over 82.9 million Nigerians estimated to live below the poverty line. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, the figure is projected to have increased astronomically especially among Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), due to production slowdown, movement restriction and lockdown which resulted in supply chain disruption.
To address this challenge I knew I wanted to focus on infrastructure however, I was not sure of where to begin. I avoided focusing on capacity building and access to finance as they have been done numerous times and failed to reduce the level of poverty. The government, corporate institutions and individuals have spent resources training entrepreneurs and linking them to funds to start or expand their businesses. However, the cost of doing business has consumed a large portion of the funds. The Nigerian society is plagued with poor infrastructure such as erratic power and water supply and poor transportation facilities which affects the productivity and profits of MSMEs. As a result, I identified the need to address infrastructure.
In Nigeria, MSMEs are a primary source of jobs, accounting for about 96% of businesses and 84% employment (PWC, June 2020). However, the economic climate is facing challenges of poor infrastructure, unfriendly business environment, poor service delivery and high incidence of informal sector, which adversely affects the MSME sector. More specifically, the current COVID-19 pandemic has impacted negatively on the sector, which has affected household livelihoods across the country. The unemployment rate rose from 23.1% in Q3 of 2018 to 27.1% in Q2 2020 (NBS). Consequently, there is indeed a need to implement long-term policies to lift the country out of the current contraction in economic cycles.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it, a number of unknowns and uncertainties into the mix. Policies that may have been effective before the pandemic, may not be beneficial at the moment. There is a need to carry out an in-depth analysis of the present situation to draft a way forward.
The strength of any national economy is its stock of infrastructure. According to international benchmarks, more developed countries typically have a “core infrastructure” stock such as roads, rail, ports, airports, power, water, ICT etc. equal in value to about 70% of GDP, with power and transportation infrastructure accounting for at least half of the total volume. However, Nigeria’s core infrastructure stock is estimated at only 35-40% of GDP. This low value has been driven by historically low public and private spending on infrastructure. Nigeria’s infrastructure has long been a bottleneck for economic growth, and its infrastructure is underdeveloped compared to that of other fast-growing emerging countries.
The course enlightened me to Triple A, the various levels of authorizers, acceptance and ability and how to work hard to build credibility and acceptance. It provided me with the knowledge and skills to deal with difficult authorizers or authorizers with different opinions. I was able to manage various authorizers to enable the team achieve a set task. With acceptance from authorizers and strong ability, the complexity of the challenge reduces. The course also gave me the opportunity to carry out research and get data that gave me the confidence to walk up to colleagues and authorizers to defend my policy challenge. I was able to appreciate little successes and develop patience when working with a team. The course showed me that there is always a way out of difficult or tight situations.
The PDIA, fishbone diagram and 5-whys helped me break down the problem further from infrastructure in general and focus on transportation infrastructure, particularly railway, to empower MSMEs and the economy recover from the COVID-19 meltdown. The course showed me how to breakdown my policy statement into smaller bits which gave me the opportunity to experience quick wins. An efficient railway transportation system is an essential element in enabling sustainable economic development. The policy aims to focus on facilitating an efficient transfer by railway and movements of people, goods, services and resources and improve access to local and international markets by encouraging Public Private Partnerships.
Transportation is an indispensable element in economic activities as it creates a link between customers, resources and markets. Without effective transport infrastructure, economic growth and development are not possible. Development of modern and efficient transport infrastructure and services, along with modern laws and regulations governing smooth flows of goods and services within and across states, are crucial factors in strengthening regional trade, economic cooperation and integration. The backlogs of transport infrastructure investment in both rural and urban areas, weak governance and inadequate regulations in the transport sector, and rising social costs in terms of congestion, pollution and accidents is evident in Nigeria.
Over the years, Nigeria has developed four transportation policy documents; in 1965, 1993, 2003 and 2008. The 1965 and 1993 policy documents focused on reorganizing the road transport industry, paying attention to road-vehicle interface, whereas the 2003 and 2008, both drafts, focused on encouraging the private sector involvement especially on road construction and maintenance. The last official transport policy is the 1993 National Transport Policy, which focusses on addressing the extreme malfunctioning and complexities of the nation’s transport sector is 27 years old. Over the 27-year period, a lot has changed, population has increased, technology advanced, country dynamics has changed etc. These variables would definitely affect the direction of government policy on transport, hence fresh lines of action need to be taken. There is an imbalance between resource allocations to the various modes of transportation, gross inadequacy of existing infrastructural facilities and the misalignment between the objectives of transport parastatals and operators which have contributed to the persistent inefficiencies in the transport system.
The PDIA made me aware of iteration which helped me construct, deconstruct and reconstruct my problem which presented a bigger picture. It helped me identify the source of the problem and address the root cause. The PDIA journeys in the Everest case study with the Sherpas and crossing the country in 1807 where unfamiliar and challenging tasks but they needed to be achieved. They showed how with motivation and a goal insight, any task can be achieved. They also highlighted the importance of involving stakeholders in the planning process. Stakeholders are essential as they provide a different perspective. Some stakeholders may be financiers who provide the budget which helps in planning, while some are end users or beneficiaries who provide important feedback. For instance, some stakeholders for my policy challenge include staff of the Ministry of Transportation which provide guidance and direction for the overall industry, the Nigerian Railway Corporation which regulates the sector and MSMEs and farmers who will use the services to transport their goods from farm/industry to the market.
My policy challenge existed before attending the course, however, the course allowed me breakdown the challenge and narrow my focus to enable me experience quick wins. It also gave me an opportunity to interact with peers and learn from their experiences. Interacting with peers tackling similar policy challenges, provided me with much needed motivation. My motivation is to see a society where poverty is at a minimum. As a result, interacting with like minded individuals made me know that my policy challenge is extremely relevant. I leant that it is important to work, reflect, strategize and chart a way forward when addressing complex challenges.
My key learnings from the course are PDIA, the fishbone diagram and sequential techniques of problem solving. These tools help you breakdown a seemingly complex/difficult task into smaller steps that are achievable and motivational. I also learnt that there are other people out there tackling the same tasks as I am. As a result, it is important to network and build a strong team that you can bounce ideas off.
My words of wisdom to fellow PDIA practitioners is do not focus on big wins only, be patient and do not get discouraged. Implementing a new policy or initiative may be slow, you will face opposition and challenges. However, if you stick with it, provide supporting data and communicate effectively, you will get the needed support in the end.