Guest blog by Ben Wehmeier
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.
- What were your expectations of IPP Online when you signed up?
As I made the decision, there were two primary reasons I looked to sign up. The first was the goal for professional development. My main focus in my early career and formal education had really been on legal analysis and leadership/management, resulting in a more tactful to strategic level. As my career has evolved, I have developed a greater desire to be engaged in the high level strategic/policy issues and learn how to move this forward at different level of government. My second desire was the specific goal of helping develop tools to coach my current organization through an entire process of policy development to implementation.
When I started my current role, the organization thought very highly of their planning process. Although I appreciated many of the efforts, there were two significant criticisms of these efforts. The first was the time it took to get through these processes, and that they lingered. The second main critic was despite lots of planning, there was a lack of execution and implementation of said plans and policies. In many cases, these were recurring themes through multiple processes that were never moved forward. Recognizing these past criticisms and concerns, the timing of this concern overlapped with the development of a significant policy update for my organization. My goal was not to just do the plan to meet legal requirements and sit on the shelf, but to be the basis of future plan of work efforts that will help with resource alignment to accomplish needs of our communities.
My hope was this course would help put me in a position to learn new tools and skills to help achieve both of these goals, and I would opine that my expectations would be met as I continue my efforts moving forward.
- What were some key learnings from this course?
There were two key focuses that really assisted in achieving my goals. The first was really the PDIA. I was introduced to the concept in the Leading Economic Growth Course, but the process through this course focusing on PDIA was very beneficial. I think there were two main things that were very helpful in this process. The first was the desire to diagnosis the problem, but at the same the desire to keep moving the process forward with the sense of urgency.
The second component was the process of PDIA. First, the engagement analysis helped to ensure that the right stakeholders were a part of the process and the solution. I think the balance always is tough to ensure appropriate stakeholders input while keeping the process moving. Further, the engagement allowed and many cases reinforced there may not be a 100% solution right away. There needs to be and should be a level of risk to help solve complex problems and to provide the ability to adjust a course of action.
From a professional growth standpoint, I also greatly appreciated the 4Ps. First, it was a great reminder of factors for not only policy development but organizational leadership. There were some great reminders and opportunities for reflections in those processes to help in being a better leader and process development. I also used what I learned as a coaching opportunity for senior staff as we worked through implementation of lower level policy. It additionally helped with their engagement of how their functional area impacts other larger level strategic objectives.
- What implementation challenge are you working on?
Our level of government is working on updating our comprehensive plan for the future vision of the ecosystem. As this process unfolded, we changed our methods from past efforts. First was the focus. In previous versions of these efforts, some functional areas were emphasized to the deficit of others. Our push was to be deliberate to demonstrate a true comprehensive plan that factored all components of our ecosystems. The second major goal was to take on how to balance the different components of our systems (i.e. rural versus urban; single family versus multi-family) and how they can be integrated and balanced for the positive future versus it having to be exclusively one “system” to the detriment of other components.
- What progress did you make or what insights did you have about your problem through this process?
I feel comfortable with where progress is at. The policy itself is now in the public comment period to receive feedback prior to being formally adopted. I think one of the key elements that has been added to the process this time has been a specific focus on implementation. This has included a significant separate chapter on how to implement the plan. As this plan is meant to be a 10-15 year vision, part of this implementation has included how the organization will utilize this plan to develop an updated strategic plan that will focus on implementing the plan in 2-3 year segments that will also allow various departments to easily incorporate it into their annual work plans.
I think the other key policy discussion centered around the budget and the necessity to align resources and capacities in order to implement said policy. Further, it also helped in the development of work priorities if insufficient resources are available. A key conversation with authorizers has been that we make and invest time, talent, and resources (dollars) in the development of policies and plans but have not necessarily taken this approach in the implementation/execution of said plans. This has created frustration but also in some cases the planning process has revealed reoccurring issues that have not moved forward due to lack of execution of existing plans.
- What motivated you and how might this approach change (or not change) the way you tackle problems in the future. How are you using or will you use what you have learned in this course?
As I reflect on these questions, I look at how I lead and coach through policy development and/or change process, which have many similar patterns. For me, it has been a reflection of patience and process; often the struggle of how we get to the end goal and gain the appropriate authorizers’ support. As I work through this course, I recognize the importance of engagement with purpose which can be balanced. In some cases, we allow inaction during feedback/engagement periods to slow progress. In some cases this is needed, but in others, this is a strategic process that may have a purpose to limit the policy moving forward. As I think through what we have learned, it has taught the importance of the process and engagement of stakeholders.
I also appreciated some of the tools that were worked through to help to seek feedback and help encourage active participation and dialogue in ensuring the proposed policy/plans has received the appropriate inputs.