Slowing the rate of sprawl development in the U.S. using PDIA

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Guest blog by Ryan Yetzer

When I signed up for this course, I really didn’t know what to expect. One minute I was offered this amazing opportunity by our Mayor, and the next minute I’m receiving e-mails and course materials from the Harvard Kennedy School. I was excited for the experience, but certainly nervous as well. Once the course started, I quickly realized how much I would learn over the next few months and was thrilled to be awarded this opportunity by our Mayor.  

There were so many key learnings in this course that are directly relevant to my work. However, a few that really rise to the top in my mind include:

  • Functionality vs Legitimacy
    • Functionality focuses on what is being done in a policy and why it’s being done. Legitimacy focuses on how the policy is done and whether the policy is leading to more or less support for staff and authorizers.
  • Complicated vs Complex
    • A complicated policy challenge is one in which everything about our policy issue can be or is already known but it may be spread around your organization or require the hiring of an expensive consultant. A complex challenge on the other hand includes a lot of unknown or even unknowable knowledge.
  • The importance of maintaining authorization by utilizing small step or small wins to show progress.
  • The utilization of a fishbone diagram to really identify and break down a problem, further cultivate the itch of authorizers and garner strong authorization.
  • The importance of forming teams to tackle complex problems through an iterative process.
  • The importance of growing authority, acceptance, and authorization to really move policies forward.
  • The four Ps of leadership (Perception, Process, People, Projection) were so eye opening and will be extraordinarily helpful throughout my career.

The policy issue that I focused on for this course was to slow the rate of sprawl-type development in favor of fiscally sustainable transit-supportive infill and redevelopment. By deconstructing this issue through the utilization of the fishbone diagram, I identified that the best way to start tackling this complex issue was to update the City’s growth management map to help direct edge growth into strategic areas, create a Growth Management Amendment process to help elevate concerns around possible mapping errors, and establish an interim development process to provide interim development options for edge growth not located in the City strategic growth areas.

I did not reach the finish line of this complex challenge during this course. However, this course did help to get this project off the ground and start making some real progress. Throughout the iterations of this course, I was able to garner the necessary authorization from within my agency, I was able to establish a work group in each sub policy area to help push these policies forward, and I was able to put together some draft options in each area for the review of my authorizers.

Even though this course is reaching it’s end date, my iterations on this project will continue. Next, I will look to circle back with my small work groups to make edits to the drafts based on my authorizer’s comments. I will continue this process until we’re ready to bring the policies forward to our City Council for their review. The finish line is not yet in site, but I feel confident that I will be able to utilize the learnings from this course to get this policy through the finish line.

The motivation for my policy challenge is truly authentic because I love the City I work for, and I feel this work is extremely important for the success of this City. Cultivating the itch from the most important authorizers has been an issue in that these policy have not been “fast tracked” to implementation in the way I had hoped. Next time, I would like to really think about how I can move my policies forward quicker. It will likely include a combination of doing a better job of cultivating the itch, showing off small wins, and honestly clearing time in my work-day to really focus on the work that needs to get done.

I think my advice around the PDIA method of problem solving that I would share following the completion of this program would be to stay patient. This work is very difficult and takes time. Take your small wins, celebrate those wins, and keep moving forward!

I want to thank the Harvard Kennedy School for such an enlightening 6 months. I’m excited to continue implementing the key learnings into my work moving forward. I am extremely grateful for this experience!

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.

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