Guest blog by Lenka Galetova
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.
My journey in the Implementing Public Policy course has been full of changes, surprises and overcoming expectations. In the beginning, there was a nice announcement of by my chief – the mayor of the city of Bratislava, that he selected me as the member of his team to take part in this exciting online course led by Harvard teachers. I felt his high expectations and I imagined that by the end of the course there will be some great innovative fancy policy product which I will create with the help of the course. I was focused on the output of it.
Throughout the course I found that it is the process and a way of thinking which I am going to learn and get familiar with. And it was even better than I had imagined. Some of the learned elements could seem obvious to you – that you should think of your feelings, points of view and the feelings and points of view of your team members and colleagues. But frankly – how often do we really take into account all these “obvious” important elements? And how often we do neglect the stance of our colleagues in order to assure that the delivery of the solution will be swift, quick and straightforward. Or even more common fault – how often do we tend to start the project and deal with the policy challenge with the ready solutions for the problem? Have you ever considered that even your perception of the problem itself could be not the best one or could be even incorrect?
The IPP course also gave me the idea to note your progress (and your team’s), challenges, plans and new stakeholders involved in the structured form of notes. It is a simple hack, will take you a few minutes if you do it regularly, but you will gain a lot. That is the time to think more broadly about your challenge, to somehow anticipate the unknowns in the challenge, to focus on what is important, to be proud of you and your team. Sometimes you can show it to your superiors and authorizers in order to show how much of work you and your team have done. Moreover, I used it to engage the new colleague to our process and challenge. It is very useful to have such track record when your team members are changing often or when an important part of your team will be replaced.
Another thing that I learned – there is no one common way to effectively reach, engage and get understanding from several people at once. Every human being has different perception, different emotions and different preferable working process and the leader of policy challenge should keep it in mind and try to reach out to everyone respectively.
In the beginning of the IPP course, I picked one of the “problems” which our office faced that time and gained criticism from the public for it. Firstly, I stated that the problem is that our city does not have certain rules for regulating temporary interventions (such as events, kiosks or restaurant terraces) in public space. Then I found out that the lack of solution is not really a problem itself. Now the problem which my policy challenge is focusing on sounds like “Citizens and visitors complain about the ugly public space mentioning the temporary interventions and blaming the city for allowing it”.
Moreover, it has not been solely this policy challenge, which the IPP course helped me with. For example, I started to concentrate more on other colleagues´ perception of the particular problem and their solution. Talked with them about their views, tried to adjust my presentations, speeches to their way of thinking. I found out that some of them prefer to visualize the problems and the roads to solutions, so I presented them my point of view using images, graphs, flow visualizations and together we reframed and completed them. Before, I used to present everything in my own favorite or the easiest way and had not thought about differences in people´s’ perception. You can say it is a simple thing but for me and lot of other people it is not the matter of course.
There were some stages of the course when I thought: This course is perfect and useful for leaders and project managers with stable teams or clear hierarchy structure in their organization. But how could I use all these learnings properly if I am just an employee in the mayor´’s office with very lively and changing agenda every day and without clear status within the town hall hierarchy? But then came the parts of the course focused on leadership and I would say it was not the leadership as you can imagine – it was not about strong extrovert leaders with important functions. Instead, we learnt that when you are a leader of implementation process it means that you are a support for your team, you co-create with them, delegate to them, regularly listen to their updates, discuss the improvements and challenges, listen to their emotions and perception, you think about your team and yourself equally, you re-gain the authorization from your superiors and involve lot of stakeholders who do not need to be a firm part of the team, rather they contribute in the right way and in the right time.
As my work is often about complex challenges, I will definitely use lot of learnings from the IPP course. I will remind myself that it is important to rethink the problem in the beginning even if I think that it is a clear problem. And I will not do it on my own; I will ask as many colleagues (and stakeholders from external environment) as is relevant in certain case. I will do it even throughout the process. I will think about unknowns in the challenge, add several causes of the problem together with my colleagues. Then identify the most viable cause to tackle in the first place in order to gain a quick win, then focus on other causes which will need more resources to solve. During the solving of the policy challenge I will bear in mind the perception and emotions of my colleagues and will clarify the process and working methods together with them. I will regularly (when it makes sense) report to my superiors and other authorizers in order to reassess their support, show them all the wins in the process, and make sure we all are on the same page even with the expectations from the results.
Last but not least, with the IPP course I had the great opportunity to discuss my policy challenge, my insight on the course learnings and the whole work with a great team of my classmates, who have very different backgrounds than me and it proved to be enriching. Some sessions we spent talking about the challenges caused by the current Covid-19 epidemic. It was somehow easier to face these challenges together with the people who tackle them in their own way. I am grateful for the opportunity.