Guest blog by Irving Ojeda Alvarez
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.
I started the Policy Leadership Credential program early this year when a friend of mine referred that there was a practical implementation public policy course to be delivered virtually and complement the PLC.
I have been working on the policy side for many years, too many I would say, and from my archaic perspective, the implementation of them was just a piece of cake. Just do it! Follow the manual or guidelines; nothing would require detailed planning or thinking; I could not be blinder, how wrong I was.
I am working in a control planned institution where everything has to be done in a timely manner following the work plan that has been created not to allow any deviation of subjective thinking, Outcomes have to be delivered, and expectations objectives reached. Of course, my work finished as soon as the implementation begins, and then I endeavor to follow up, report, report, and report.
The IPP has changed my perspective of what implementing a public policy means. Neither because I will change my institution’s vision or way of dealing with the project, nor because I will use the PDIA from now on, but because my reasoning after the course would not be the same, I am glad for it.
I started my challenge trying to change the world on the emission of carbon that affects the environment; in other words, I was lost in trying to find a global solution to be implemented worldwide just following a Manual on Carbon Taxation. My first assignment was a disaster, my TA was fair but honest, and honesty sometimes hurts. I must rethink my problem, be more specific, narrow the scope, etc., etc.
The effects of climate change are already visible and felt by many communities around the world, the most vulnerable. Carbon emissions are a global problem, meaning that emissions in any part of the world contribute to warming the whole planet and not just the location where there were generated. Carbon emissions are a consequence of the combustion of fossil fuels. They are generated in connection to a range of human activities, including consumer goods, transportation, and electricity generation. Emissions can be reduced by using more efficient technologies that require lower amounts of fuel to generate the same amount of energy that poses challenges and offers opportunities.
Firms do not usually have an incentive to adopt technologies that would lower the emissions deriving from their polluting activities; it is often cheaper to continue emitting, regardless of their techniques’ carbon intensity and their effect on the environment. It is, therefore, straightforward that policy intervention is needed to fight climate change.
Governments can implement policy market-based instruments such as taxes, subsidies, deposit- refund-schemes, and emission trading schemes to reduce pollution at a lower social cost. They are policy instruments that use markets, prices, and other economic variables to incentivize commercial agents to reduce or eliminate environmental externalities.
I do and re-do my fishbone a hundred times, and even now, I am not sure that it is the correct one. With all its defects, it has helped me solve and identify the cause and actor involved in it. I focus on implementing the carbon tax in in Peru, my home country.
After analysing the knowns and unknowns, I learned that my policy challenge was a blend between complicated and convoluted. Some unknowns could jeopardize the implementation of the policy. The aim was to implement a carbon tax to address the negative aspects of carbon emissions and did not consider nor address other measures, including other market-based measures, which may be equally effective in achieving similar climate-related goals. There was no intention of advocating for the imposition of a carbon tax in addressing the impact of CO2 emissions over other measures or mechanisms, but analyzing those other mechanisms was outside of the project’s scope.
Jurisdictions may have different policy objectives when introducing a carbon tax, and the emphasis could be on one or more objectives. Several objectives are domestic; however, some will be supranational. The complexity of the policy increases, and while acknowledging their sovereign right to determine domestic policy, coordination of the national actions to help change the trajectory of the global economy and support countries towards achieving the mobilization of domestic resources as well as avoiding double o nontaxation, calls for international commitments and agreements.
Timing of implementation also plays a key role. It adds complexity since it was a sensitive topic while the presidential election process is in place, such as in Peru.
A very interesting session during the course was on module 6 when dealing with the problem narrative I realized that the narrative of the climate challenge I am dealing with could suffer from a flawed problem definition. Applying the TOSCA checklist could help understand the various facets of the problem, and it could then be used to develop the core question that will guide a better solution. However, in order to avoid the solution confirmation pitfall, the problem should be structured by breaking up the core question into as many non-overlapping sub-questions and then investigating them in search for adequate solutions individually, avoiding at the same time to use the wrong framework. That could lead to developing an ineffective solution.
On top of all the weaknesses, I am afraid that my challenge can fail in miscommunication pitfalls. The excessive and harmful carbon emission is a well-known problem, but communication is critical to motivating action aim to reach a tangible impact.
Deconstructing my problem after seven weeks in the course was very beneficial and I think I have improved since then.
Finally, after week nine, things were more complicated. Many miss feelings. Frustrations, excitement, and pride would summarize then. I would not have been able to get through them without the help of my group. The weekly discussion was a light at the end of the tunnel for me. That and the Q&A sessions helped me deal with my doubts and frustrations, to know that I was not alone in the process to make me enjoy every week more and more.