Guest blog written by Hisaka Kimura
1. My expectation of IPP Online
Asian Development Bank, which I work with, has been strengthening its field offices to respond more effectively to the evolving challenges. Based in Beijing, one of the largest field offices, I lead private sector country work for China and Mongolia, focusing on strategy, business development, structuring, negotiation, implementation, regulatory monitoring, and knowledge-sharing. Following COVID-19, implementation jumped up the agenda among the full spectrum of new challenges. I had to deep-dive more project implementation, and I was thrilled at IPP online opportunity to prepare myself to deliver greater responsiveness to the client needs in these trying times.
2. Key Learning from the Course
My biggest key takeaway is “implementation is engaging with people in the place, engaging with the problems to be solved, PDIA is about engagement”. Before IPP course, I tended to apply a short cut to offer solutions. In terms of understanding the problem, I tended to apply an inconsistent approach – paying close attention when senior government officials and certain individuals were pressing points, but tending to lose attention for certain agenda beyond our original project scope. I realized that I was wrong in some key assumptions and needed to fine-tune the problem statement.
It was very refreshing to step back and reconsider key dimensions of implementing public policy. Starting with the problem of people and society that warrants action. The problem defines why a policy is needed and drives the policy process; instigating, directing, and sustaining action. Then think about the people who are most affected by the problem, those authorizing a response, identifying a response, implementing the response, and also those need to be engaged to facilitate the response. Also the context relates to where and when the policy is happening, what obstacles and opportunities are inherent in that place and time, and how these can be overcome in the policy response.
After deconstructing the problem through fishbone analysis, I realized that conversations with wider stakeholders is crucial to test assumptions of the problem and each bones of the fish. Having a narrow scope and potential solutions from the beginning would have a negative impact affecting the ability to analyze the problem fully. It results in me missing out on the detail of certain contributors to the problem. It inhibits my ability to develop my relationship with key stakeholders who may play a key role in solving problems directly and indirectly. A concept of teaming changed my mindset to engage wider stakeholders beyond traditional “projects” to resolve complex problems.
3. Implementation challenge that I am working on
Private sector development is one of top agenda in Mongolia and the underlying problems are complex with a lot of unknown factors. We have good understanding of the kinds of laws, infrastructure, regulations would help resolving the problem. There is, however, no existing implementation processes. Unlike the government’s projects (involving specific infrastructure to finance) through specific local execution agency, private sector development would need to engage entrepreneurs, consumers, market, logistics, financial institutions, technologies, capacity development in addition to finance. The relationship between the government and the private sector is not top-down plan and control and uncertain. An entrepreneur has to have own aspiration and business case to start new business with legal and financial independence.
Political support is very clear from Big-P but with mainly unknown factors in small-P including (i) line ministers’ competing priority (ii) place and context, (iii) practicalities of practice (capabilities, information access) of the stakeholders. Lastly, practical capabilities needed for success and certainty remain unknown.
4. My progress
I’ve been repeating iteration with team, colleagues, and local stakeholders and keep fine-tuning the problem statements. AAA analysis helped me mapping out my steps and effectively keeping iterations. Analysis of authority is most difficult. It is not black and white. It depends on the scope of change, narrative and approach how much support we can gain from each ministry. This challenge caused me to revisit my problem statement again and again. Private sector development, my original target, was too wide to conduct AAA estimation, authority in particular. For deeper dive, I changed the problem to “lack of private sector investment in renewable energy sector in Mongolia” and will change it to gain authority from each relevant minister gradually. Acceptance can be categorized into internal approval, and external. The most challenging acceptance is technical matter (such as changing a long standing annual power generation allocation among the power plants). These have been important bottlenecks yet outsiders (such as multi-lateral development banks/ donors) don’t have mandate to intervene into these internal procedures unless the Government requests so. Ability includes internal ability and the counterpart’s priority. Once we can get the government’s mandate, then we can mobilize specialists and finance. But some areas are political sensitive. The others appear to belong the government’ internal matter. Without some degrees of authority and acceptance, our ability to provide technical support and finance is limited.
5. What motivated me and how might this approach change the way I tackle problems in the future.
People-centric project implementation approach motivated me and changed my approach toward development forever. In many countries, development challenges are not so new. Access to safe water, clean energy, healthcare, education, etc have been big issues for quite long-time. After working in several multi-lateral developments, I sometimes felt repetitive tasks which may intensify feelings of fatigue. Also I was feeling significant gaps between implementation and forward-looking strategic formulation which attracts significant management and board members’ attention. Project implementation tend to be left at a handful number of people in the field. In the past, I observed several projects did not deliver the impact, outcome, and output intended but I could not fully figure out why. This course helped me to remind of importance of the people and gave me courage to keep engaging stakeholders with right questions. Getting to know the peers who are implementing different type of public policies also energized me a lot.
6. How are you using or will you use what you have learned in this course?
I have been applying what I’ve learned in the actual policy problem in Mongolia. Individual assignments challenged my old ways and encouraged me to reach out to more stakeholders. Through iterations, I came to understand more bones in my fishbone analysis and started enjoying process which could have frustrated me without the peers and online Q&A sessions. 4P leadership model helped me to reach out to internal and external stakeholders beyond traditional reporting lines. Eventually I managed to reach out to the prime minister’s office, and retained local consultants in the fields, and started preparing new proposals which potentially solve the problems.
In addition, I started working on a new problem statement in global agenda. The underlying issue, forced labor of ethnic minority, is politically sensitive. Commitment is required more than standard project approaches. We may not be able to find a practical solution in a short time. But I feel energized and excited to deep-dive into the problem and look forward to engaging a wide range of stakeholders.
7. Do you have any words of wisdom to share with fellow PDIA practitioners around the world?
The course and PDIA helped me to elevate my view to analyze the problem and help navigate journeys in the field. Before the course, my focus was how to enhance my effectivity as a leader. During one of optional deep-dive PDIA session, I had a chance to ask query about the project team leader’s role. I always wanted to be an effective leader who can deliver successful changes. I expected leadership insight on how to lead people tactfully. The response was actually quite different from my imagination: “My main role was passive. Mainly to arrange weekly meeting and listen. Key important presentation was made by the local team.” Through this short conversation, I realized that what matters most is the people in the field. We need to have grit to deal with complex problem. It is equally important to let the local people shine. With teaming with the local stakeholders, local government officials and business leaders, we can make sustainable real changes.
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.