Digging Deep into the Policy Challenge Paves the way to Overcome

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Guest blog by Teshome Mengesha Marra

When I first receive my acceptance letter to this worldwide executive education program, I had no detail information on its modality and contents. I thought that the program would be provided through lecture notes, discussions, assignments, and maybe a final exam because in many of my past educational pathways these kinds of formats were very common. Even in some of my short term education and training at various institutions, I have experienced more theoretical discussion and presentation rather a look at certain specific areas of practical aspects.

The dilemma of questions on the program structure and content was solved within the first week of the IPP program. When I first heard about the formulation of the policy challenge, I was thinking about many policy challenges facing my country, city and various institutional levels. I was struggling to pick the most challenging public policy in my city where I am working such as tax administration, trade development and management, land administration, homelessness, informal settlement and land conflict, law enforcement on criminals, etc. Finally, I decided to work on regularizing informal settlement and managing land conflict among City administration of Addis Ababa, the nation’s capital. While I was designing the policy challenge on the mentioned area, my expectations were just two: First, I wanted to acquire professional knowledge on public policy design, development and impregnation through navigating the policy challenge, and second, I was curious to seek solutions to the city’s major problem on informal settlement and land conflict by reforming the rules and regulations and revising the urban development plan. After attending some sessions of the program and start digging deep into my policy challenge, the second objective was shaped to ‘Establishing Community Training and Learning Center’ that in turn helps and empowers the homelessness to generate their own income and then rent or buy their own affordable houses on legal and formal procedures. I shaped my initial policy challenge focused on ‘Regularizing informal settlements and Managing Land use conflicts in the City Administration’ into ‘Establishing Community Training and Learning Center’ because of some reliable factors. First, I understood that regularizing already constricted informal and illegal houses in the city would not bring lasting solutions unless the root cause of the problem could be addressed. Hence, the second reason was related to the root causes of the homelessness in the major cities in Ethiopia that initiated to empower homeless individuals, provision of life skill trainings and create job opportunities that in turn help them to produce reasonable income at family and individual level. Thirdly, many of the local government officials and council members also advised to focus on the grassroots level problems that may result direct impact on homeless individuals. The re-shaped policy challenge gained many support from various individuals, local government representatives and council members including its acceptance on all of five local District councils for full scale implementations and as well as support.

The process of policy challenge has both key lessons and challenges. Some of the key lessons included understanding the implementation challenge of public policy through PDIA, learning through adaptation, iterations and working through team members. The newest concept for me while navigating the policy challenge in this course was the journey through PDIA. It really guides policy practitioners how to arrive on final set goals and bring direct impacts on the beneficiary. The repetition on the policy challenge on discussing, debating and learning from adaptation was also central points that I gained during the journey.

There are also some challenges while working on the policy challenge. First, none of the institutions in the initial times want to listen about such complex social problem that require huge amount of finance, logistics and human resource. Second, leaders at various levels have less attention on solving problems at household individual levels such as housing, provision of water, sanitary and related basic necessities. Many of the local leaders respond to the policy problem as it was common problem of the country so that solution would come sometime in the future, which I have heard for so many years in my past work experiences. Third, the Covid-19 crisis shifted the attention of leaders to protection of residents from the virus, and there was little attention for long term normal planned and activities in every office I visited. Fourth, the problem of homelessness and informal settlement in Ethiopia is quite complex and needs the coordination of many stakeholders at local, regional and national levels. The complexity resulted from different sources. On one hand, the land policy in the country by itself is complex and ambiguous. On the other hand, low income homeless individuals could not afford the land lease prices in urban areas. Indeed, many of the homeless people come from remote rural areas to urban in search of a better job, life and facilities. Hence, my navigation through the course was surrounded among these and other multiple unknowns during the process of working the policy challenge.

Despite the above mentioned challenges, I have made some good progress in my policy challenge. First, I addressed the severity of homelessness in the urban context to government officials at local, regional and national levels. I met and discussed with numbers of government senior officials and tried to convince them on the importance of the project. Second, I got the acceptance of implementing the project on all five districts that I planned to launch the project in first phase. Third, the council members at District, sub-city and city have given concern and attention during their regular meetings about the project. Each of the Council office ordered the standing committee to critically evaluate the project proposal and come up with the report for validation and authorization. Fourth, the office of the Mayor agreed to work together on the mentioned project and ordered the respective Bureaus and offices to support the project on the basis of the request from my side. Finally, Ministry of Urban Development and Construction have extended discussion and concern to support on its full scale implementation period and as well as on its preparation stages.

The response from various stakeholders and institutions to support the project on multiple perspectives added energy and motivated me to dig deep on how to bring more efforts around the goal of my project. In fact, there are some negative and discouraging responses from some individuals and organizations but I used some of these ‘regrets’ as possible opportunities. When I obtain negative decisions from organizations and leaders, I reflect, asking questions like why do these people act like that? Are the responses really coming out of the collective decisions from the organization or are they just told by some individual? These and similar multiple questions led me to meet another person within the same organization on discussing the same idea and seeking spaces for implementing my project.

I understood that the IPP course opened my eyes to look at things differently. It awakened me to stretch my hands beyond my usual practices. The course taught me how to build relationship with people regardless of their position, age or identity that in turn have contribution for the implementation of the project. I believe I will continue to do so until my project will physically appear and start operations. The course showed me the road I walk, inspired me how to walk, and taught me when to walk to arrive at the final destination.

In conclusion, IPP course advanced my skills on the process of public policy. Above all, PDIA has provided meaningful support in pushing forward quickly to catch important elements about my policy challenges. My last word for practitioners of PDIA around the world is ‘Digging deep into the policy challenge speeds up your arrival time to your project’s final destination’. Therefore, dig deep into your policy challenges, whatever your problem is and wherever you are!

Stay Safe!

Teshome Mengesha Marra


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. Teshome what a great post. I was in your IPP work group on housing. Great to see you are safe. The complexity of what you are doing and the environment in which you are doing it all is inspiring. The best part of IPP wasn’t just PDIA but working with people like yourself in real time on Zoom. You are amazing.

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