Guest blog by Catalina Palacio
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.
This is the story of an inspiring journey.
Everybody is working hard around the world looking for increasing their wellbeing, which in turn affects the improvement of the quality of life of others. Everybody plays a determinant role to make lives better, even more, when people share the public policies sphere due to it is the core of the society’s balance. In this regard IPP journey has turned into the most significant experience which gives all the participants extraordinary tools to be better practitioners, better people and better leaders around the world.
My entire working experience has been with public sector in different countries where I have noticed such similar situations: unsolved problems, a lot of effort with unsatisfactory results from some practitioners, lack of ownership from some staff and so on, as a result, the social, economic, and environmental dimensions are increasingly unbalanced. In this context, I decided to course the IPP journey hoping to get meaningful technical tools to add value to my professional skills to make the difference when facing the less desirable public policy arena conditions. No matter how high my expectations were, definitely this course has exceeded them. Not only gave me valuable technical information regarding a better understand of the current situation and how to deal with to be more effective, but also taught me the importance of the human aspects, how to be aware of myself as a person facing complex problems and how to build teams, encourage and support its members as people as well as a practitioners.
Regarding the key learnings I identify two different sets which have an interdependency relationship, there are technical and personal aspects with a remarkable focus on building leadership.
One of the main learning in the technical sphere is the importance of both Political Legitimacy and Policy Program Functionality. The higher level you can get in both, more probabilities to conduct policies successfully you have due to the balance between political support and technical effectiveness that let things take time enough to achieve the objectives.
Additionally, identifying the category of the problem, difficult or complex, allowing us to choose what the more accurate approach to the problem is. Due to the political and organizational complexity as well as the high uncertainty levels we usually drive and the imbalance of resources, the most problems we face are complex ones. How to deal with them dropping behind the traditional plan and control approach for adopting PDIA (Process Driven by Iterative Adaptation) with all the aspects it includes is one of the most enrichable learning I take from this experience. Being aware and able to “manage, not solve” the problems is a big worthy challenge.
Keeping in mind what the problem you have to manage is and do not lose focus, it should work as the guiding light for all of us.
Flexibility and resilience are another important learning I get. Do not be afraid to move, do not be afraid to change, do not be afraid to take risks. Public policies are an unstable arena which obliges us to think, act, learn, adapt and react quickly. Society is transforming constantly, thus the better governments are those which foresee the next social necessities instead those which are late reactive to them. That is why a qualified government should be proactive more than reactive and moving faster allows us to be into and for them.
Building nets, identifying and engaging the appropriate people, getting the authorizer’s approval and mobilizing people are embodied in the key learnings to be successful in the implementation.
In addition, the 4Ps model to build leadership does not only provide an enrichable and consistent input to be aware constantly about all of us are people before workers but also teach us how to complement our technical performance with behavioral focus to get a better experience for all. Successful is highly dependent on our personal actions, reactions, signals and relationships.
My challenge regards “the improvement of the current low levels of the majority of the medium and small cities’ development in Argentina”. At the beginning of the course I was leading the ‘Smart and Sustainable Cities Program’ and the fishbone exercise opened a wide range of possibilities to tackle. Thanks to the identification of the stronger action’s areas, there were identified two areas to work. I advanced identifying the best people to engage and key authorizers from other preponderant departments into other ministries who could play a role into the project. Thereafter, a couple of them were contacted and meetings were arranged to introduce the entire initiative and to present the importance of their participation in it. All of it was highly agreed in advance with my main authorizer, and suddenly, he cut off all his communication with me. In only a few days, less than a week, my main concern turned to be my relationship with my authorizer instead of how to achieve better cities’ performance in the country.
The relationship was never reestablished, and my iterations became atypical because I came across with even more uncertainties than I was expecting. I faced a couple of hard weeks with no information to fill the blanks, thereafter, and turning back to the course documents, I realized I had to focus on the problem and I had to be resilient as well as to move faster, as the public policies arena requires. Immediately I started to plan to work in another department into the National Government or to join the Non-Governmental Organizations as a channel to get my goals, to improve the cities performance as the main place to raise a lot of sustainable development goals was my motion. Moving faster, understanding my problem and keeping me in focus, identifying what works and what was not enough and supporting me in my family and my networks as well as in my IPP colleagues and my TA’s and coordinator’s comments, I was able to fill the iterations again.
I was called by an NGO which promotes innovation in local governments, to lead the development of urban development projects in 10 Argentina’s cities. This was the momentum to share all the topics I learned in IPP with the different local government’s staff. Technical knowledge is really important but soft skills and to be empathic with the other people’s conditions make the difference.
Currently, I am mastering in sustainable development and the role of the cities to achieve them and I am training local governments’ staff in local governance to improve the cities’ development performance.
Although my iterations escaped a specific public policy implementation, I really advocate the PDIA approach due to it interprets and function according to the uncertainties environments that social and public issues embodied. The way I tackle the problems will be different based on iterations facing complex problems. My process, the results and the perspectives motivate me to improve its applications as well as to promote its adoption into local governments and their staff.
Thanks to the whole IPP-HKS staff, the supporters, the coordinators, the entire T.A team specially to Mancy who shared my writings and gave interesting feedback to each of them. Salimah and Matt, each session was such a fresh air and encouragement to continue in facing my challenge, your passion and commitment preparing the contents and leading the Q&A sessions, answering each student’s questions, your generosity inviting different professors, your empathy with the contextual realities of each participant and learning of both your self- experience and our experience has been such a great north to follow and to repeat in our environments, it is inspiring. I wish your magic would continue for a long time.
For all the fellow PDIA practitioners around the world who are working hard looking for improving the quality of life of others. Everybody plays a determinant role to make lives better, even more when we are embedded in the public policies sphere which is the core of the society’s balance. I am grateful to share this journey with all of you, it has turned into an unequal and incomparable experience, sharing the reality of far nations we realized most of us are cutting cross by such similar aspects, this is more than enrichable.
I wish all of these new tools and inputs turn us to be better practitioners, better people and better leaders around the world. Build yourself as a better person each day, mark your small wins as the most important ones, reach the highest level achievement with your roots in your mind, be grateful and humble, be better for yourself and for the society, every person who surrounds you plays an important role and depend on you learning the best of each of them.
High mind and simple life.
Thank you very much to all of you and see you soon!