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Leveraging technology to connect citizens in Switzerland with city officials

6 mins read

Guest blog by Joel Curado

This 6-month journey in Harvard’s IPP course has been unique and fantastic. Unique by the breadth and depth of knowledge that was shared in class and the richness that each team member brought into the group with their own perspectives, local work and culture as fantastic with regards to seeing challenges that differ so much from each other, but that through conversation, we could identify similar challenges. When I started this course, I did not know what to expect. I wanted to absorb and learn as much as possible and leverage the online class as a way to connect with as many people as possible and learn from them. I knew that a course from Harvard would have the high level of quality that I would expect from this university and body of professors, but the diversity of the people and their stories made a huge difference to me. The fact that was that intense, both in content and duration, was brilliant. It gave me the needed push to not only take my policy challenge forward, but also to take a step in my own academic and personal growth.

I know that I know nothing”, or in today’s times, “you know nothing, John Snow

Image 2:
Game of Thrones/Socrates Meme

Socrates and Ygritte from Game of Thrones shared the same mindset when it comes to knowledge. The moment you think you know everything, you are in
trouble. I took this with an open mindset and was in awe of what I
did not know and how some of the tools that I have used in the IT sector were being used such as stakeholder mapping and engagement, waterfall methods, fishbone diagrams, risk analysis methods, even AGILE! In the PDIA’s iterative diagrams as a method of trying and testing fast (as well as failing fast) when it comes to public policy challenges. Understanding the language of public sector officials as well as speaking it, was crucial to then move my way in the challenge. For me, it was important to attain certain topics that I was not as aware as I should be, such as leadership in public sector, the 4P model for strategic leadership, how the PDIA framework was created and understanding that in a complex world. It is also important the rate at which you can disappoint your stakeholders, not only to guarantee a strong commitment to the project, but additionally for motivating a team throughout the whole implementation of the public policy challenge. For me, it was clear that the understanding everyone’s incentives and focus areas are key in achieving success in public policy implementation.

Leveraging technology to connect remote villages to central Swiss cantonal & federal services through Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration Initiative program

My public policy challenge started pre COVID, but today it is more relevant than ever. To connect through video conferencing systems and remote terminals, citizens, to city officials. To deliver business continuity and build cantonal resilience strategies that citizens can leverage, in order to have 24/7 services and access to experts in the government. We implemented a video conferencing unit that not only delivers in a simple way, conferencing capabilities, but also enables citizens to log in, through their Swiss national card onto a touch screen to access web-based citizens services, like tax, education and personal id information, and other relevant information at a tip of a finger. This project enables the canton to bridge the digital divide, by providing technology access to those who can’t or to all citizen demographics, in a simple way of using it, with onsite support as well. The idea is to validate this concept and scale it, taking it to all other cantons and remote municipalities in order to deliver this service to the whole of Switzerland. Some of the other challenges are also defined in terms of governance and cantonal structure alignment, so that there is a dedicated team aligned to this challenge and service delivery. Having a dedicated IT partner is also important in order to guarantee long term service availability and response to issues.

Image 3: Homer Simpson/Simpsons Episode

What progress did you make or what insights did you have about your problem through this process?

Currently, I am working on measuring the public policy impact to citizens, with questionnaires to the public, and due to the COVID19 situation and in order to avoid a public health situation or aggravation, we couldn’t launch the digital kiosk service, so we had to delay the launch and iterate the challenge into a new setup. We are now adding new features for citizens to connect from home, directly to government officials, even without the “digital citizen kiosk”. That is innovative in a way that we still are looking into deploying this public challenge, but in a different way, so that citizens can still access services and experts. From a business resilience perspective, the cantonal services can still deliver what they need to their citizens.

Image 4: Digital kiosk concept with
video touch screen device

The below fishbone diagram helped me a lot in doing a mind map of what I needed in order to identify key milestones, key areas of engagement, and stakeholders, in order to do a proper mapping and make sure that I would be able to structure the approach. This tool and many others helped me define the problem, gain authority with key stakeholders, and move forward in the overall project and policy challenge.

Image 5: Fishbone Diagram

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain

The PDIA Framework and discovery process made tackling the policy challenge easier and motivating. Having structure for me, was key in order to move forward with the overall project. Also, focusing on certain organizational issues and theoretical points, made it easier for me to understand and focus on areas in which I was not initially aware and avoid pitfalls that I would have easily fall into. Taking into consideration my colleagues’ feedback and notes when discussing in group made it easier for me to change certain aspects of the project. Their fresh perspective and knowledge of other areas in which I am not an expert, made the difference while I tackled problems or key milestones. That never ending weekly discussion brought me a lot of confidence and motivation to go forward. Also, part of me will continue to engage with my colleagues in the future, as I feel that it will help me in future policy implementation problems.

Image 6: PDIA framework

Our passion for Learning… is our tool for survival – Carl Sagan

In everything we do, I believe that we need to apply in real field work that which we learn in the academic field in order to attain results and outcomes to which we can be satisfied. We dedicated time to learn new concepts in university and honor our staff of professors in executing what we have learned and the knowledge that has been shared.

Image 7: Mafalda, by Quino

We should also bear in mind that the world in which we live is complex. Complex with regards to culture, governments, people, economics, geography, and many external factors that condition any approach to a correct implementation of policies. In this view, it is important that the PDIA practitioner takes into account all of these factors and adapts while executing these policy implementations. That will bring value to him, in terms of experience, knowledge, in gaining authority, and in future relevant knowledge sharing with the academic staff in order to continue to improve these frameworks.

In future projects, I will focus on executing a PDIA structured approach and ensure that I not only take into account my knowledge, but also adapt to change and collect lessons learned in order to improve my own knowledge and concepts.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish – Steve Jobs

To my fellow PDIA practitioners around the world, I say, iterate, iterate, iterate and at the same time, keep a growth-oriented and open mindset, embrace change and risk, and think that despite the never ending challenges, there will always be an end of that policy implementation. So motivate yourself with the fact that the work you are doing is positively impacting lives and changing generations to come, in many different fields, such as government services, education, healthcare and so many more areas, that it is worth it. Also, that looking at things in a different way, is the key to change. Don’t try to do in the same way what others tried in the past and failed but if you have to fail, fail fast and move forward with those new key learnings. Execute everything with a structured approach and don’t forget to collect key lessons learned. That will help other practitioners in the future. In regards to that, don’t forget that there is a never-ending growing network of Harvard PDIA practitioners that you can reach out to, share ideas, problems and discuss new innovative ways of tackling public policy challenges and successfully implementing them.

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.

1 Comment

  1. Hi, I have recently moved to Valais, and have been looking at a group there focused on digital innovation. I would be very keen to talk to you about your experience!

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