Guest blog by Aadam Soulebon
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 was offered to sign up for the online version of this program, at first glance, I had concerns. This was my very first HKS course. Indeed, I was afraid that the resulting interaction would not add a substantial value to me besides the class materials. I was looking for something to solidify my competence in the field of public policies as a practitioner but also the HARVARD experience, the interaction with teachers but also the richness of exchanges with classmates.
Guess what: I’ve had a lot more than I can put into words …
Working as Special Assistant to the Senior Minister of Planning and Development of Benin Republic, the highest-ranking Minister, public policies are in our core business. We oversee the implementation of all public policies launched by the government. In most cases, we conceive, we mobilize resources and we monitor while the sectoral ministries are in charge of implementation. As we are reaching the end of this course, I am going back to my normal life with technical tools, experience sharing, and a network to rely on through the years. I am more confident in my job and am able to come up with options and solutions instead of questions while dealing with public policies.
My policy challenge:
During the course, my policy challenge was related to the impacts of COVID19 in Benin’s economy especially on the vulnerable people, the SMEs, and the private sector. Supply chain disruption, sickness, lockdown, and so forth have been negative consequences of the pandemic that led to growth previsions to drop from 7.6% to 3.5%. In a context where there are numerous poor and extremely poor and the informal sector is dominant in the business environment of the country, resilience to shocks was difficult to plan. The government has to take actions to help its people.
With Covid19 and its high uncertainty and unknown, the government was more than never challenged to support the people and the businesses not only health-wise but also the economy. The Problem solved will enable the vulnerable groups to make it through the crisis. The purchasing power of Benin people will be reinforced and jobs protected. Ultimately this will lead to an economy more resilient to shocks able to recover from the crisis.
The whole world was indeed facing the situation but in Benin case, it was clear for the government that we could not afford to assist everybody or to close everything in the country. This started by choosing carefully the groups to be supported. It was not the best choice for legitimacy when neighboring countries were engaged in cash transfers to almost everybody. However as we moved along with our authorizers engaged for an impactful delivery, we were able to increase support from the people. In this process of continuous questioning of the choices of the government, the class helped me to come to a better understanding of the expectations of people. It helped me to think not from my perspective but to be able to reconcile views, take into account one’s views, and identify a better way to work with them. This applies both to co-workers, beneficiaries, and authorizers.
PDIA: a continuous learning experience
Before the course, I heard of PDIA but barely knew what it involves. I am finishing this program stronger than everything I was expecting, excited to practice PDIA, and eager to learn more. My PDIA experience led me to question myself deeply, It challenges you on your assumptions. You go from dealing with a straight forward problem to realizing that things are more complex than you think. I learned through the PDIA not to stay focus on what seems at first but to go deeper through the problem deconstruction step. I have learned through the fishbone concept how visualizing what you are dealing with makes you see some other perspectives.
At first, Iteration seems a pain to me. You wonder why should I be redoing the same things until you realize that each cycle makes you better, it makes you assess loose ends, you comprehend more and you engage accordingly. Through consistent questioning, addressing root causes, identifying and engaging with the right people, understanding that each person in the process matters, PDIA made me embrace another way of dealing with complex issues. More than just public policies, through these months, I grew as a person in my interaction with people in general and with my co-workers in particular.
Leadership and Teaming:
The 4’s of leadership of professor Wilkinson and the discussions with Professor Monica Higgins were a significant bonus when you work in a context where:
– the political agenda is key
– leadership is presented as a prerogative of older people
– there are not many processes written
– people are more about pleasing the boss than delivering ( at this point the notion of teaming and teams of Professor Higgins were helpful)
Making it through …
The passion and the commitment shown by the instructors are contagious. With COVID19, I happened to be in the BCP plans of the Ministry. Conciliating work, life in general, and this course have been difficult during this particular time as I was working full time including some weekends. With virtual meetings from all around the world at odd hours, sometimes it was difficult to cope with classes and homework. I even wondered a couple of times why I registered. However, it always ended up making sense because 1. Sometimes I find myself applying something I learned from the reading or the weekday sessions 2. Some other time, your teammates are the support, the dynamic of our group showcased varying person showcasing leadership to lift up others. Some days it’s Salimah’s enthusiasm, Professor Andrews’s explanation, or drawing at the weekly sessions that make you want to continue the adventure. The interaction with classmates was also motivating. The diversity of this 2020 class was a strength. The progress of your teammates and classmates that you discover reading their assignment or through discussions comforts you and encourages you to keep on iterating.
This has been a great journey. I am so glad this is not the end but the beginning of joining a community of practitioners to share experiences and support each other in dealing with public policies. I look forward to what we will do together. I am sure many of us felt misplaced and overwhelmed at times but I want to say it is reachable to all of us. Let’s go over our comfort zone, let’s be supportive of each other. Let’s share what we learned and will keep on learning with our surrounding.
I want to thank the instructors, the community of practice people who shared their experiences with us, my classmates. I must say It was a great journey. More than getting familiar with the PDIA I had a lifetime experience. Unprecedented Time, unprecedented experience.
More than getting familiar with the PDIA I had a lifetime experience. I am happy to be part of the IPP family.