Guest blog written by Susan Kiran
I never imagined I would have the privilege of enrolling in a course from the Harvard University even though I had always harbored the dream of going to Harvard. When the IPP online opportunity was offered, I grabbed it instantaneously and I did not regret any single moment of having to wake up for the group sessions and the Q&A sessions, the weekly assignments and later the fortnightly assignments. It was not easy juggling a full-time job with its many demands, and being a mom to two girls, but it was a worthwhile journey of understanding how to implement policy solutions for complex problems especially in the public sector.
Rushing headlong into providing a grand solution and expanding resources toward implementing it without any thought-process on the problem itself and its entry points, the change space one has in implementing the change, the level of support and the authorization across all tiers, as well as the ability to manage team and having difficult conversations, and most importantly, managing your own self throughout this process, is critical. Most importantly, the understanding that a change does not have to be huge – it can be just a tiny tweak and yet no matter the size of the change, it can only be successful with constant iteration and consistent feedback loops.
My implementation challenge
I chose to address the unsustainable civil service expenditure in Fiji. When I started the course, I was of the impression that I had to present a grand implementation plan to address the problem and I was intrigued by a statement in the initial class where we were told that most of us, if not all, would change our policy solution, and sure enough, as I learnt about the fishbone diagram and constructing and deconstructing the problem statement, I realized that it is so important to first understand what is the actual problem before looking for a solution. The problem may be big, but the entry points can be small and many, and the entry points we choose to work with based on our change space has a major impact on the problem itself. Implementation success is also contingent on the level of understanding agents have of the problem.
Insights on my problem
The problem of an unsustainable civil service expenditure is a complex problem and cannot be addressed with one solution. It requires different solutions for each component of the problem. The problem does not require external solution providers, and neither can it be resolved by disregarding what is working. Throughout the course of the IPP, the most important realization for me was that I cannot provide a wholesale solution to the problem and there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a small entry point and iterating and iterating and iterating until my authorizers and my agents were all on the same page and the feedback loops helped me to change my approach, or tweak a certain process for a positive outcome. The most difficult part was communicating the vision throughout the different layers of the organization and attaining buy-in. Having a digitized, results – based operational plan with specific KPIs and expected targets in one document seemed a very easy solution to measure performance in an objective manner in order to eliminate wastage, but as I soon discovered, what I considered to be easy was not easy to my group of agents. I had to consciously adopt effective delegation and allow for feedback and subsequent iterations. I had to allow for failure and for learnings to take place as a result of failure, but I also had to manage implantation timelines.
In spite of the struggles I faced, I could see that the PDIA approach was paying dividends. My group of agents were slowly coming on board and as they became more receptive to the idea of a digitized results – based operational plan, they were enthusiastic in seeing it implemented and providing me with feedback after 3 months. I could see that with their support, there is opportunity for it to be rolled out in other organizations. I am now going to make a concerted effort to tackle problems in an iterative manner. I might have shorter or longer iterations depending on the timeframe and how much time I can invest in the project, but I will not change the core principles of PDIA.
The journey continues
In conclusion, I must say, PDIA is not easy. It requires a great degree of self-reflection, of having the ability to allow for a change in course during the iterative process, of investing time and energy in creating authorization along the way, and having faith in the ability of people around you to join the fight, stay the course and see it through. It is a gamble and if you are not willing to take the risk, to believe in yourself and your team, then you will not make a meaningful difference. PDIA allows you to take a journey – a journey of self – discovery as a leader, and a journey of discovery as a policy maker. It can be exhausting, it can be scary at times, but it is most definitely a satisfying journey for you and for those who join you along the way.
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.