Examining the commercial viability of a ‘Mega Food Park’ in India using PDIA

Guest blog by Ajay Chaudhry

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.

To be honest when I joined the IPP online, it was purely an experiment in COVID days. The idea was to engage myself more constructively and to gain knowledge. I searched upon many courses and finally zeroed in on this. Learning through ‘Implementing Public Policy’ at HKS has been an amazing experience.  I got new insights on the work I had been doing for last two decades. There were successes and failures, highs and lows during the journey of a long career. The course content at IPP at HKS brought back the whole journey and gave me a chance not only to learn new ways and means to tackle and implement public policy but also enabled me to analyze the work done in the last two decades of my career in the light of PDIA. I can vividly recount all those stories of success and failure where the elements of PDIA were present and where they were missing. It is remarkable to find that long lasting success was achieved whenever I was closer to the principles and tools explained in PDIA. Although I was not aware of this beautifully carved out project implementing approach which amalgamates the principles of management, psychology, history and other relevant disciplines. Motivation, morale, and leadership concepts revealed to me fresh dimensions which were hitherto unknown to me.

What impressed me most was that PDIA does not bind you with a given set of rules and a framework to operate. It is a dynamic process which focuses on constant innovation to deal with the largely unknown dimensions of the problems. Understanding and dissecting a problem is at the core of this model. It emphasizes at the fact that each problem is unique in its own way and needs to be tackled in a unique manner by the teams working on it in entirely different contexts. There are not and cannot be laid down guidelines to resolve and address those problems and the unknowns associated with them. The teams have to learn, understand, adapt and iterate again and again unless they get the desired results. Each journey has its own story. Who will you meet on that day, what issues you will face; the challenges shall differ in cities and nations in their own contexts. There are no tailor-made solutions to the issues and the best practices available cannot be copied blindly. Policy and plan for promotion of tourism in Sri Lanka will be drastically different from what it shall be in India. The stakeholders hold the key to addressing the issues. Simple issues can be made complex by lack of understanding on the part of the authorizers. A shared understanding of the vision with a keen desire to learn and unlearn based on ground level observations and iterations through various teams.

The implementation challenge that I worked upon related to making the ‘Mega Food Park’, a state government owned enterprise, commercially viable. I was able to construct and deconstruct the problem and also identify the way ahead. The authorizers agreed to change the structure of the organization and a special purpose company was created. A few experts were brought on board. There was lot of receptivity to the ideas amongst the authorizers, however COVID 19 was a major stumbling block. Entire energy of the state apparatus got focused on fighting the pandemic. I am absolutely clear that PDIA offers the complete solution package as it is a realistic and practical approach for handling any policy challenge. It is an ongoing process and I hope that by following this model we can achieve the desired outcomes for making the Mega Food Park project successful. 

After completing the IPP course at HKS, I am deeply convinced that PDIA is flexible, accommodative, democratic and a realistic tool to resolve complex issues and needs to be adopted widely.

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