Guest blog by Tapasya Obhrai Nair
The journey through the IPP course has been like the pilgrims’ progress. Every stop has given some insight and revelation and shown the path to the next stop or destination. I signed up for this course to learn from other practitioners of public policy about their experiences and the alternative ways of approaching problems. I felt that the course would equip me with new tools and methodologies to better understand issues and to find ways of addressing them. It has been more than a satisfying experience for me in this respect.
The course has enabled me to view problems differently by breaking them down into smaller parts and trying to find the root cause of the problems. The fish-bone diagram will always be in my mind-map when I attempt to analyze any problem henceforth. The recognition of change-space available and the identification of entry-points are equally important. Entry points to a problem can only be where there is change space, i.e. there is ability, acceptability and authority. I have learned that the problem narrative is also very important in understanding problems. One has to guard against the pitfalls of problem solving. Namely, flawed problem definition, solution confirmation, wrong framework, narrow framing and miscommunication. One has to learn to blend advocacy with the inquiry approach while communicating with people.
The policy challenge that I chose to work on was, “To address the liquidity and bankruptcy issues faced by Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs)”. Later, during the course of the program I updated it to: “To prepare a strategy for the survival and sustenance of MSMEs in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The challenge had many aspects which were complicated while others were complex. By and large it has been a complex challenge because of the unknowns and uncertainties of the present context. The iterative process that the course taught while working on any policy challenge was extremely relevant and useful. It involved trying out interventions where change space exists and doing regular check-ins to see the progress and also the failures, and modifying the interventions if required. Today we are truly living in an evolving situation. The lockdown imposed during the beginning of the pandemic had its consequences, many of which are still relevant. Other conditions have gotten better or worse. Hence, during the progress of the work there have been some new interventions planned when the others have been completed or become less relevant. Thus, while keeping interest rates low and extending moratorium is still relevant, restoration of transport has become less relevant as some restoration of transport has happened during this journey. The containment of COVID still remains relevant, however as our knowledge of the disease improves, we move from physical barriers and sanitation to vaccinations which are more durable. Thus, while some interventions remain relevant, other interventions which are more effective are discovered and implemented. This itself is what the PDIA journey is all aboutm- of making iterations based on evidence, knowledge and feedback .The challenge has been more than real as the effect of the virus has been felt among friends and colleagues. This itself has impacted the approach to the problem and the manner of implementation.
The Fishbone diagram above attempts to capture the deconstruction of the problem and the identification of entry points.
The aspect of building teams and leadership is at the heart of implementing any policy. Teams comprise of ideators, motivators, authorizers, implementers and coordinators. Put differently, there are the leaders, the climbers and the sherpas. Each having a defined role to play. Successful leaders are good at identifying the right people for the right role and motivating them to give their best. The Mt. Everest case study was really useful in giving valuable insights in this regard. Leadership is about taking risks, pushing the limits and also about mobilizing people to take purposeful risks with you. Multi-agent leadership is a way of mitigating risks. Professor Ronald Heifetz described that the heart of leadership lies in how individuals or group of individuals take action to mobilize adaptive work in their communities so that they can thrive in a complex and challenging world. The learning on leadership and teams I believe will always guide me in building teams and leading them and also in contributing to teams in a more meaningful way where others are the leaders.
One of my biggest take-aways from the course has been Rob Wilkinson’s 4P model of Strategic Leadership. The four pillars on which it is built are: perception, projection, people and process.
• Perception refers to the way we understand information and assimilate it. All our biases and pre-conceived notions about people and situations affect how we view a particular situation. As a leader one needs to recheck one’s assumptions based on which one arrives at conclusions.
• Process refers to the way we engage with people and groups. Process defines the role of each and everyone working on a project or in an organization. It determines the work- flow and helps give a step- by-step approach to tackling issues dealt with by the organization.
• People refers to giving due importance to the fact that we are engaging with human beings who have emotions. Their actions are not dictated by simple logical reasons but by emotions and how they perceive they are valued by the team/organization.
• Projection is giving the people the vision of what one as a leader believes should be the focus; of informing them of what the leader believes is the agenda, of forming a narrative. The re-evaluation of processes in place in my work domain and, the engagement with retailers, enterprise owners, people connected with the transport sector, senior government functionaries, doctors etc. immensely helped me in framing the problem in context, deciding on interventions and analyzing the outcome of these interventions. Relations are key to successful engagement with people, be it with authorizers, colleagues or others. I have always believed that ‘trust’ is the essence of successful governance. Here, Frei and Morris’s trust triangle- in terms of authenticity, empathy and logic was quite an eye opener. It is true that trust exists when all the elements are there.
The importance of time-management, delegation, accountability and empowerment was brought out in some of the lectures. I believe that delegation and empowerment are very important elements to achieving the desired outcome in my challenge. Of course, systems need to be put in place to ensure accountability of all actions and decisions so that there are no arbitrary decisions, and cornering of scarce resources by vested interests. Communicating ones ‘learning and leads’ gains to authorizers and peers is one of the important components of building authorization. Some ‘learning and leads’ gains are self evident and emerge out of the progress in work, however, many of these learning and leads are not in the open domain or known to others unless specifically told so. Hence, communication is the key for others to realize the gains and thus build support for the work/idea.
Time management is crucial to the success of anyone, particularly I believe of working mothers and senior functionaries. In a sense, taking this course itself made me practice time management in the real sense as I had to balance other official and personal commitments at the same time. One of the biggest learning is also to give oneself a break, to take time out and spend quality time with friends and family, and to pursue ones’ interests. This time out is essential to avoid burnout, which is a reality in today’s fast paced world.
Overall, I believe taking the IPP course has made me wiser, humbler and a more patient person. The course beautifully blends ones analytical abilities, prods one to be a more open and communicative person, equips one with a better understanding of people, organizations and management. It subtly leads to personal development and growth. Professor Matt Andrews and his team have given the spark to this cohort to be force multipliers in the domain of public policy. I do hope to be one!!
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.