How PDIA helped me build Nigeria’s poverty alleviation plan

Guest blog by Tayo Aduloju

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.

The HKS Implementing Public Policy Executive Program appealed to me because I was looking for an alternative to planning and control styled approaches which I had learnt, known and practised for most of my career and considering the challenging problems I faced daily at the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, I needed a capacity upgrade. The IPP has been a significant deviation from many the other Executive Programs at the HKS I have attended: it underpinned learning by doing; its iterative and group learning dynamics was useful in debating broad-based, cross-multidisciplinary applications and experiences that were very useful in exploring how I applied session insights to real-time problems. My most profound learnings were in the areas of understanding complexity and the importance of construction and deconstruction process. The Fishbone Diagram took on a whole new meaning!

My Implementation Challenge was to design, develop and gain consensus on National Poverty Eradication and Social Protection Plan. My problem was to tackle the complex challenge of lifting 100 Million multi-dimensionally poor Nigerians out of extreme poverty in a decade. My Core Team was a Federal Government inaugurated Poverty Eradication and Social Protection Technical Working Group.

Poverty Eradication and Social Protection Problem Deconstruction Sessions: Left to Right – Chair of TWG, Maryam Uwais, Special Adviser to the President on Social Protection and Investments, Deputy Chair (Me) Dr Tayo Aduloju, Mr Apera National Coordinator National Office for Social Safety Nets Coordination; Dr Faniran – Director Social Protection Policy

My mind opened up to the power of facilitating a broad-based multi-agent network of influential and collaborative people with different roles and responsibilities in the problem-solving process. It allowed me to think more deeply about the range of stakeholder that had to participate in the PDIA process leading to the multi-agent taskforce structure. The Working Group members are selected to represent the Vertical and Horizontal Issues of Poverty and Social Protection across Federal, State, Local Governments, Private Sector and Civil Society. The 8 Taskforces across all horizontal issues allow for teams to ensure voice and accountability with space for minority reports and escalations, with “felt accountability.”

It allowed me to explore more deeply the role of a range of actors:

  1. The authorisers: the president, vice-president, the president of the senate, the speaker of the house; joint parliament committee on poverty alleviation, the presidential economic advisory council, the minister of humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development, the minister of health, the minister of education, the state governors forum;
  2. The motivators: the national social investment office; and the sustainable development goals office;
  3. The convenors: the Nigerian economic summit group and the minister of finance, budget and national planning;
  4. The connectors: the national economic council and the national planning council;
  5. The problem identifiers: national bureau of statistics; national civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations working in the field on poverty;
  6. The ideas people: expert policy commissions on cross-cutting issues, data analysis and intelligence sub-committee and social protection & security;
  7. The operational empowerers: national office of social safety nets, national social investment programmes office; job creation office;
  8. The implementers: federal and state social protection and poverty alleviation departments and units; and
  9. The resource providers: the minister of finance, budget and national planning,

I learnt a great deal from the feedback loop and the action learning process. Change Space Analysis was my favourite tool.  It allowed us to take the deconstructed problem down to specific entry points: Structure of jobless, non-inclusive, sustainable economic growth and development, driven by oil-led dynamics, low complexity, and mostly informal market economy (the most agreed sub-cause was that most of Nigeria’s Rural Poor (70% of people living in poverty) are mostly informal primary producers); Vulnerabilities aggravated by lack of access to quality health, education, food, basic shelter and efficient public services; and Lack of a National System and Governance Framework for social protection and investments across the different levels of the government and; Lack of adequate legal framework for the coordination of social investments and social protection across Federal, State and Local Governments.

The scale of my global, national and local network has grown immensely, PDIA has meant reach out and then reaching further. Including some and then including others. It has meant the humility to ask the question in more ways than I am comfortable with. It has meant been vulnerable to step back and let others lead. Who see dimensions and aspects exponentially more clearly than I have. It has meant trusting the “we” and not the “I”. PDIA has allowed me to deploy the collective capacities of multi-agent groups better now than ever before.

The rest of the weeks of deep dives and iterations resulted in the completion of National Poverty Eradication and Social Protection Plan that all the Taskforces consisting of the Multi-agent working groups collaborated to develop. We submitted a Zero Draft of the National Poverty Eradication and Social Protection 2021-2025, to national stakeholder groups and after weeks of feedback about what works and does not, we presented the final Draft Plan to the National Steering Committee and have since gotten approval. My Technical Working Group and I struggled a lot, but it was iteration and zoom fatigue. Building the team and managing the people-side of leadership was essential to moving things along. The Taskforces are almost working 20 hours a day at some point and spending 4-5 hours on Zoom three times a week.

Poverty Eradication and Social Protection TWG Deep Dive Session for Identification of Change Space and Entry Points.

Finally, the Poverty and Social Protection Development Plan (2021-2025) approved, but there are still pending presentations to different levels of authorisers – National Steering Committee and Presidential Advisory Council. While there are still some levels of authorisation to go through, I am confident that the capacity to drive problem-driven iterative adaptations has enabled us to develop a solution framework that we hope to apply the same approach in its executing that we have used it its design and development. Back at my organisation, the NESG, I have gotten approval for a New Project on the Future of Poverty 2050, that allows me to continue to provide PDIA based support with the Poverty Eradication and Social Protection Plan 2021-2025, throughout its implementation.

I am thoroughly excited because that Future of Poverty 2050 already has some critical authorisers backing and the project is aligned to experimental adaptive and iterative work design:

  • Multiple solution ideas are identified and put into action;
  • Experimental, iterative steps progressively allow real solutions to emerge;
  • Disciplined, experiential learning and flexibility foster adaptation.

It is essential to note that in the more extensive National Development Planning process for Nigeria, covering 25 other thematic areas, the Planning and Control approach is being used. While this is a drop in the bucket, many members of senior management in the Planning Ministry believe that my Working Group has implemented the most vibrant, inclusive, evidence-based, bottom-up and stakeholder laden process of the entire sub-groups. I do hope it inspires more people to come long. In the meantime, thanks to the PDIA process we have immense clarity and the tools for working through current and future complexities and when we fail (as we most likely will), we have the means to fail forward. Thanks, HKS IPP Team! Lessons continue!!

Learn more about the Implementing Public Policy (IPP) Community of Practice and visit the course website to apply.

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