An insightful journey to self-discovery and public policy effectiveness

Guest blog by John Miller Beauvoir

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.

As a field-tested international development professional who crisscrossed 15 countries in Africa and in the Americas to support policy implementation, I carry my fair share of disillusion, cynicism and frustration regarding the slow pace of change and the lack of effectiveness of foreign aid. This is a matter of significant concern that led me to pursue my master degree in international development, with an emphasis on the implementation of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the Accra Agenda for Action.

From the hot and arid villages of Niger to the valleys and mountains of Haiti, I witnessed first-hand the shortcomings of conventional wisdom and orthodoxy when it comes to public policy formulation and implementation in complex settings fraught with unknowns and uncertainty. I was very eager to explore new ways of conceptualizing and implementing public policies beyond “plan and control” and the rigid approaches that are blatantly inappropriate for countries with ever-changing political and social contexts. Moreover, having read a great book entitled “Politics and Policy implementation in the Third World”, I was convinced that policy implementation professionals must take into account the political economy and the overall  ecosystem of intervention for context-specific, targeted approach to policy-making.

 I was ready for out-of-the box solutions. And this is exactly what the Harvard Kennedy School’s IPP program delivered.

Needless to say, joining IPP this year was refreshing, destabilizing and enlightening as it provided the safe space I needed to “unlearn” and discover fresh perspectives on deep-seated issues, such as youth exclusion and marginalization.

In the fast-paced world of policy implementation where every stakeholder has its own template and results framework set in stone, it is very difficult to “pause and reflect” on our approaches, irrespective of their real impact on the populations we intend to serve. As the world was dealing with (and was slowing down by) this raging pandemic, the IPP offered that unique opportunity for self-discovery and self-assessment.

And just for that, this program exceeded my expectations!

A policy challenge that wakes me up at night

I was born and raised in Haiti, an embattled and proud nation of freedom-fighters and human rights defenders who got rid of slavery in 1804. Unfortunately, political instability and poor governance jeopardize the country’s future and negatively affect the youth. Although Haiti has an overwhelmingly young population with 60% under 25 years old, there is no comprehensive national youth policy that addresses massive unemployment, lack of economic opportunity and youth political exclusion. This fundamental weakness in Haiti’s public policy framework leads to youth disenchantment and despair that is in turn weaponized by criminal groups for illegal activity.

On the other hand, Haiti is facing the dire phenomenon of ‘brain drain’ with the highest rate of skilled migration in the region (84%) affecting mostly young professionals. This also contributes to weaken the legitimacy of public authorities due to low turnout in elections and lack of youth engagement with policy-makers.

Haiti’s situation is not unique. I have seen the deadly consequences of youth exclusion in West and Central Africa where youth despair and marginalization create a fertile ground for violent extremist groups to recruit, expand their influence, and destabilize countries throughout the region. And I want to do everything to help craft policies that would offer a better future for the youth in my homeland Haiti.

Unpacking the problem to its inner core through Problem-Driven Iterative Approach (PDIA)

PDIA was the most eye-opening and destabilizing learning experience in my career, so far. I joined the IPP program with a lot of preconceived ideas and the false impression that I knew what the problem and the solution were.I thought that a clear-cut, one-size-fits-all solution like a national youth policy that takes into account youth-identified priorities such as employment, entrepreneurship, political inclusion would be enough.

Then I realized that more effort was needed to dig the problem to its core, identify its root causes, try, learn, iterate and adapt while communicating small wins effectively to keep authorizers motivated and engaged. I realized that I was about to fall into the trap of the 5 main pitfalls of problem-solving which are:

  •  flawed problem definition
  •  solution confirmation bias
  •  wrong framework
  • narrow framing and miscommunication

This led me and my team to give up on our overly ambitious and far-reaching goals to create a realistic action-plan that makes learning a quintessential element of our policy implementation approach. It allowed us to build trust among stakeholders, maintain commitments among our authorizers, and garner political will that have lasting impact as we move toward the development of a youth policy in Haiti.

PDIA is not just an approach, it’s a paradigm shift that I am now applying even in my personal life! 

This was a humbling experience that created a certain level of humility and doubt that are essential for learning and collaboration with others. Taken as a whole, the IPP not only transforms us into better implementers, it makes us better human beings.

Enhancing my strategic leadership skills through the “4P model” 

Before the IPP, i participated in many international conferences and seminars on leadership and i always knew that my work as an international development professional was essentially people-centered. However, i never understood the intentional effort required to develop an inclusive framework that takes into account every team member at every core domain for strategic leadership. In our team meetings, we are currently developing an emotional check-in to make sure that we take into account the human dimensions of our work and how emotions can have an impact on what we do.  In this sense, IPP was also a journey to humility that improves my ability to work with my team. These are transferable skills that can be applied in every aspect of our lives.

Our IPP Colleagues: A truly global network of inspiring change-makers 

As a globalist, I am very inspired by the commitment of our colleagues to tackle issues that go beyond our individual borders and the shared understanding that we are all part and parcel of an interconnected world. The professionalism of the administrators of this program was key to helping us forge relationships that will outlive this class.  It is very intimidating to interact with unfamiliar faces of people with various backgrounds and life experiences. The most challenging aspect of it is to create a “safe space” and an environment conducive to mutual understanding and learning where there is no such thing as a “dumb question” and where every viewpoint is valid.

To our fellow practitioners around the world, allow me to humbly share these few words with you:

  • Be bold enough to tackle the issues you care about
  • Be flexible to unlearn and reconsider the new paradigms that you will be exposed to (if you can’t buy the new ideas, rent them, as we heard from Professor Matt Andrews)
  • Be a leader that values small gains and considers the inputs of your team members
  • Be realistic, do the impossible: consider the small wins, consolidate them, and use them as the ladder to reach iteratively the great and bold objectives that you want to achieve in life.
  • THANK YOU for being part of this wonderful community of practice.

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


3 thoughts on “An insightful journey to self-discovery and public policy effectiveness”

  1. Good job John. Great to see that you never stop promoting youth participation and inclusion. Keep up the good work!

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