Guest blog written by Fadila Leturcq
“Le savoir est une arme” (“Knowledge is a weapon” in English) is a recurring punchline in French rap lyrics and one that resonates with me when I take the time to reflect on my journey through the IPP program. “Le savoir est une arme ” suggests that learning, acquiring knowledge or making discoveries, is the prerequisite for winning battles, progressing and advancing. This is what the IPP program encourages us to do through a method that is well-constructed and inspiring for many of the challenges we face as professionals or public policy actors.
Implementing public policy is not a simple thing. I discovered this when I joined the French Prime Minister’s services, after several years in the private sector. Bureaucratic culture, control of public money, transparency with citizens and taking into account the citizens’ experience, mobilization of ecosystems: the challenges of public action are important and numerous. They require a specific posture: that of facilitation, listening, and a sense of community.
In choosing to join the IPP program, I wanted not only to reinforce this posture in my professional environment, but also to set myself a public policy challenge that goes beyond my professional framework. Indeed, for several years I have been involved in civil society and I work on issues related to national cohesion as the radicalization of youth in France, for example. For a long time, I have been studying these issues and I realized that one of the roots of the problem was the fact that diversity in the broadest sense of the word was insufficiently taken into account within the decision-making bodies of the main French institutions and organizations. I therefore decided to focus my efforts on the following problem:
“In a democracy and a system that claims to be egalitarian, the question of representativeness, particularly that of minorities, is important in order to make enlightened decisions by addressing the concerns of all. Decision-making bodies in both public and private sector should be more representative of citizens which is not the case today in France : thus they limit opportunities for underrepresented citizens (in terms of generation or social background) to make their voice count.”
Little did I know that this would lead me to live an unprecedented adventure, meet incredible people and even visit the Elysée Palace… let me tell you the story.
I am not a specialist in diversity or minorities. However, I wanted to take an interest in this topic that underlies many of the social and security problems France is facing today. During the first month of the IPP program, I conducted an in-depth exploration of the problem, guided by the PDIA methodology. PDIA allowed me to construct the problem, to deconstruct it, to consider the mechanisms regarding the issue. I was also able to share with other actors around me, which allowed me to receive feedback on my problem.
This first period of learning about PDIA allowed me to approach the problem in the light of enriching contributions of the course on the learning process, group management dynamics, questions of authorization and legitimacy, and leadership. All these elements allowed me to ask myself the right questions and to build a pragmatic fishbone diagram, indicating the fields in which I should start my investigation.
The second period, that of the transition to iterations, allowed me to really learn about the identified problem, to enrich its definition. As early as the second month of the program, I started to approach the fishbone diagram and thus began to explore my problem in its causes. This allowed me to define work areas, with objectives for each one, and to learn to approach a problem with a precise method.
This second month was also the one where we started to work in an iterative way. A process that I started alone by exploring the project in all its components, doing open source research and mapping the key players to meet, to learn and build solutions gradually. This research work allowed me to better define the contours of the problem, to become aware of the facilities that I would have, the grey areas or the gaps that my problem presented. Above all, I learned that the actors working on this subject were numerous (too numerous, which makes their message unreadable) and that they did not benefit from strong support from the authorizing officers.
However, meeting with them allowed me to understand that the scope of my problem needed to be revised. I therefore decided to tackle intergenerational diversity and to revise my problem statement which became :
“In a democracy and a system that claims to be egalitarian, the question of representativeness, particularly that of the different generations, is important in order to be able to make enlightened decisions by addressing the concerns of all. Decision-making bodies in both public and private sector should be more representative of young people, which is not the case today in France : thus they limit opportunities for underrepresented citizens (in terms of generation) to make their voice count.”
Indeed, I discovered that when the average age of the population in France is 42, the average age of mayors is 62, the average age of deputies is 51, the average age of senators is 61 and the average age of board members in private companies is 58: we observe a gap from 10 to 20 years in decisions making bodies vs the average age of the population in France. This is a major concern that my interviews revealed and that led me to focus my research and action on the inclusion of young people in the decision-making bodies of companies and institutions, the other fields of diversity (gender, ethnic or social, being already invested by regulations and being implemented).
Meeting with “key” people, also allowed me to build “coalitions” as my issue became a “key” issue for them. Thus, I was able to engage actors who are authorizers or close to authorizers in my approach : from ministerial of presidential offices. They helped me to have a critical look at my problem statement encouraged me to move forward in small steps. They also told me that this issue was of great interest to them, especially in the context of the upcoming presidential elections, and that they wanted to propose concrete actions on the subject. Thus, they introduced me to key people who were closely or remotely involved in the subject, from the economic, associative or institutional worlds. Thanks to these additional meetings and interviews, I was able to build a team: there are now 9 of us, with well-defined roles. Thus, the work of investigation and learning no longer rests on me alone. In addition, each member of the team is a “bridge” to worlds that I know little or nothing about. This is a real added value.
This collective dynamic was created very quickly and is on going. I remain vigilant on two things: (i) to maintain it on the one hand to consolidate the core of this project before it spreads and (ii) to ensure that the motivation remains the representativeness of young people for all and not an electoral measure in this presidential campaign period. Today, I am surrounded by personalities from civil society and the government. I would like to broaden the circle to include ‘bureaucrats’ in this action, people from the field, people who implement public policies in administrations and companies. This will allow us not to simply remain conceptual in our approach and to benefit from a view on all scales.
I started from nothing: I was not an agent of the ministry in charge of diversity, I had no position to have the support of authorizers, I had no proof of the legitimacy of this problem despite my previous work, no capacities, etc.. However, the PDIA method allowed me to turn a weak signal into a problem, to define precise fields of investigation from this problem, to identify these fields of investigation as a pretext to meet different actors and to learn, and to convince several high-level actors to engage with me to find solutions and implement them.
I am not at the point of solving the problem, or even implementing public policy. However, I have developed a broad network of stakeholders affected by my problem, I have built an active team determined to find solutions to solve it, and I have put the issue on the agenda of several senior institutional officials. This is a first victory.
What I have learned from this adventure is that :
1. One should not be afraid to redefine the problem, to enrich it with new views: this is part of the iterative process and of learning. This is why I reviewed my scope in the light of the interviews I had with different actors with different fields of expertise.
2. We should not be afraid to surround ourselves with people with different visions, skills, expertise : the more we cover the different fields of the problem, the more our solutions will take into account all the fields of this problem in a relevant way. During my individual assignments, I quoted several times, “Shoe dog” the autobiography of Phil Knight, founder of the Nike brand who explains throughout its book how it is thanks to his friends, associates and collaborators allowed him to innovate through learning, he developed the spirit and the empire that is today Nike. He did PDIA without realizing it. This book was very inspiring to me and echoes what I experienced in this process by surrounding myself with new people and improving my view of the problem
3. You can’t be afraid to build a team and change roles when necessary. It is tempting to remain the sole captain of a ship when launching a project or trying to implement a public policy. My adventure has taught me that it is important to have a crew, and even to leave the helm to other people depending on the effects you want to have. Indeed, not having the role of authorizer, I realized that my strength lay in connecting different people and bringing them information, more than in implementing this public policy. I see myself more as a facilitator now and a volunteer expert on the topic of generational diversity, rather than as the conductor of this public policy.
In short: we should not be afraid of the unknown and the new things it brings and the more we learn, the more we readjust, improve, make concessions, adapt. The PDIA method will be for me a key tool for my professional and associative life, in these times of uncertainty and crisis. I know that I tend to move towards commitments where “there is everything to do”: setting up a new direction, integrating a new expertise in the organization, exploring a subject not previously studied. The PDIA method will allow me to approach them with tactical and strategic references and to transmit concrete tools and advice to the teams around me. The PDIA allows us to acquire knowledge. And because knowledge is a weapon, we will conquer all public policies.
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.
Hi Fadila. I enjoyed reading your post. Your problem is interesting and your approach seemingly defined by your recognition of the difficulties of both the problem and co-opting people of authority. A question I have from reading your blog is: in practice how should diversity in society be appropriately represented? For example, in seeking the voices of youth what criteria (age, qualifications, experience etc) do you think should be employed in identifying a representative (or representatives) of youth?