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Adding depth and dimension to public policy projects

6 mins read

Guest blog written by Razan Farhan Alaqil

Joining the Implementing Public Policy course started as a “cool” yet very far idea during a ministerial meeting that I was attending. But then, I went back to my team, and we all truly thought “Why not?” Within a matter of weeks, I was registered for the course along with my work colleagues; Dr. Hiba Rajab and Alanoud Al Saud.

While we were submitting our applications during the Holy month of Ramadan, I reflected a lot before answering the question around my long-term career goals, and how this course would help me achieve them. After long thoughts, and while fasting, I wrote the following:

Growing up, I always said that I wanted to ‘change the world.’ Whether that was through my actions, work, or volunteering, I always had that urge to plan a career that would serve this purpose…. I started making that dream of mine a reality.  It was becoming clear because those policy amendments I was working on were influencing not only businesses, but also people’s lives, and each individual was changing their world in their own way.”

That’s how I applied to this course. Confident that the actions we make have a larger butterfly effect on the world, confident that my job was helping me change the world.

My colleagues and I developed our challenge statements together, and we were committed to bringing that knowledge we were about to gain to our wider team in the company, to our stakeholders in the private and public sectors, to individuals working and living while being influenced by the work we were advocating for in policies.

Fast forward to the first day on this course:

We were on an on-site visit to a school, working on the development of the precautionary measures for the safe return of students to their classrooms, teachers, and friends. Between my commitment to my job and the beginning of this class, I hid in one of the classrooms in that school, searching for a WIFI signal, and trying to connect to the IPP community from all over the world.

Right there, sitting in the middle of white boards that had plans and operations for social distancing and safety precautions, I was linked with a community that shared tens of challenges. Yet, we were still united in a way of our shared commitment of doing better, doing more, and being more for our communities through our work in public policies.

Leaving that school, still connected to Zoom, while students around me were keeping a distant for the world’s safety, I was somehow closer to that whole world through my laptop screen.

Starting the learning journey:

Connecting the dots:

I remember my notes on the first assignment. Fueled and ready to begin. I connected everything we learned to our actual practice in our company. The implementation challenges I was going through were also shared by many all over the world, but we all had our different definitions and contexts. What really stuck with me was the fact that some of our readings dated back to the 90’s. That’s when I realized that the correct methodology of the management of teams and projects is timeless. When connecting the dots of my readings to my current challenge, I was able to break down my statement even further. The more I read, the more I gained.

Dissecting our challenges:

Comparing my first fishbone diagram to my last is one of the best learning opportunities. It started off very broad and vague, and it was also coupled with my Triple A analysis. Looking back on the time I did my first analysis, the level of thinking and evaluating I had to do on all my stakeholders was enormous. Up until that assignment, my challenge was too broad, and on its way to failure, because I didn’t investigate its dimensions well. But, going that exercise allowed me to have a better understanding of what “depth” is supposed to look like in public policies. Since that day, we became committed as a team to create and search for depth in our projects. If our challenges were only at a straight horizontal line without a measurable width showcasing the depth of our understanding, then we realized we had in issue in our own approach.

Empowerment, accountability, and delegation:

Throughout most of my assignments, I realized that I was dedicating them to my own team. I was learning how to be a better leader for a talented team of young Saudis working towards public policy advocacy. Every chance I got with my readings and assignments, I tried to not only reflect them in theory on my work, but to also try to apply them on my own leadership skills.

We work on representing the private sector to the public sector in public policy work; a job that challenges us every single day to be on guard, confident, and knowledgeable. Because in the scheme of things, we are usually faced with the challenge of having to prove ourselves that we are able, and we understand the challenges that we are advocating for.

I’m not an expert, and my years of experience are still young. But, here’s my extremely humble take and understanding:

In empowerment: having such a team to work with requires a high level of commitment to enable them daily. Such talents are to be nurtured and invested in, because there’s no limit to how much capacity they have once they are enabled and positioned in the right place. 

In accountability: individuals are able to create wonders as long they are given a clear vision on the expectations of the outcomes of their work. Accountability here is not negative at all.  It’s supposed to mean that once someone knows what’s expected of them, they will accomplish and achieve higher in numbers. 

Lastly, in delegation: teamwork is successful if the team members complete and compliment one another in their tasks because they were delegated to in the right manner. Delegation is successful when it’s coupled with the right accountability and empowerment. You know what they say, “teamwork makes the dream work.”

Where my challenge is today:

My challenge failed. As a company, we stopped the project that we were working to solve. All my work stopped and plans to develop with the learnings of this course were stopped.

But I believe that’s one of the best things that could’ve happened. I went back to my assignments, and started analyzing the “why?” Why did the project fail? Matt taught us that public policy implementation is about effective engagement. So, how could we have addressed the engagement of all our stakeholders in a better way?

Looking back after the project was stopped, and connecting all the dots, I somewhat forecasted this turnout. I saw it coming the moment I submitted my Triple A analysis, I knew after that breakdown that we didn’t have enough authority, ability, or acceptance in a number of important factors.

I worked with my team in evaluating all of our project deliverables and goals and tracked down the main weak elements of why the project didn’t continue. I also did the same with my assignments and reflections.

My learnings because of that shift of events gave me so much more to that depth we were looking for as a team in our internal processes and systems.

I may have thought that this challenge was easy to fix. But the main thing I learned was that we need to be detailed, specific, and start small to affect a larger bigger change.

Today:

As a company working on public policy advocacy, we have now started to evaluate our core business, vision, mission, systems, and engagement methods. We are adding depth to our work.

We are working on analyzing and evaluating our policy challenges and are keeping one another accountable with how much details and focus we are investing in every challenge. We are engaging in an improved way with our stakeholders, and are “fixing the bike as we ride it.”

The demand in the next generation:

During one of the sessions of this course, Matt said “the success of today, creates a demand in the next generation.” In Mukatafa, we believe that we are revolutionizing public policy advocacy through our young and confident knowledge and capabilities.

Having my colleagues alongside me throughout this course was one of the greatest experiences and honors I could have had with them. We did our sessions in cars, planes, in between meetings, and in empty classrooms waiting for the return of their students.

To you all, to my team, we are a generation of passionate change makers, committed and always striving for excellence through change.

A team that learns together, challenges one another, and brings out the best in each other is a team that is committed to creating success. To us, we celebrate achievements, but we are always focused on improving our practice with that extra depth and excellence that we aim to create.

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 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

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