Civil unrest and misinformation in South Africa

6 mins read

Guest blog written by Collin Mashile

  • What were your expectations of IPP Online when you signed up?

A few weeks before the closing date, I received an e-mail request from my then Authoriser (Acting-Director General) to consider applying for the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Implementing Public Policy Program (IPP).  Her exact words: “there is this amazing academic from South Africa, Professor Matt Andrews, he is offering this course and I think you will love his methods, see if you can apply or register; it will be a worthwhile training for you”. Having read the information on the programme, I had come to a conclusion that I needed this training because South Africa was being praised for having developed good quality regulatory policies; but the implementation was not seen as being effective. The training would equip me with skills required to assist my country in public policy implementation. The prestige of the institution and the professional testimony on how the training was the best and would provide practical and theoretical lessons on how to assist in effective policy implementation. My supervisor was actually right as this course opened my eyes to concepts and learnings I was not exposed to previously. Online made it more interesting, challenging and worthy.

  • What were some key learnings from this course?

I had thought it was going to be a normal course that would confirm or enhance my experience through lessons learnt from others in the course. Let me start by mentioning the key role played by the reminder and diaries for attendance and detailed well thought out schedules and learnings. The first key learning that I learned and appreciated till the end is how HKS spread the groups and allowed us to introduce ourselves and draw up the Constitution of the group. Key to this was the terms of reference of how we were going to work, how we were going to share the responsibilities and lastly how we were going to hold each other accountable. I must say that I learnt a lot from the colleagues or my IPP team. Every week we always tried our best to blend our team, build and create space for each other to share our experiences and possibly learn whatever we can from each other’s experiences and skills. The passion was amazing. The course material and how classes were organised was clever and forward looking in a sense that it enticed one to be interested in reading the materials in preparation for Group work, tough assignments and engagement with excellent lecturers and honest assessors (Dana).

Sadly for me, I had to accept that my traditional plan and control approach to public policy implementation was not going to take me far and had to let go; as this would assist me to acknowledge that I work in an environment where there were so many unknowns. I needed or had to be agile.  I came to appreciate the importance of creating space for more learnings everyday, every week and every month. For the first time in my life I got to appreciate the importance of identifying the problem, as most of the time the mistakes we make as policy makers is to mistake the solution as a problem-statement. I was not aware of the Fishbone concept that would come to deepen my understating of the problem and policy challenge South African Government is facing; also identifying entry points and importance of getting buy-in and support of authorisers with regards to any policy. The Friday session engagements with previous students and practitioners also re-emphasised the point of always engaging with authorisers and the risks related to their priorities changing and relegating what you believe to be important to the margins. Lastly, the learning material showed the importance of honest and open engagement and research. Identifying key stakeholders and creating space for learning from them enhances the speedy implementation and support from those that will be affected directly and indirectly by the implementation of the Policy. In Government this might be seen as the Regulatory Impact Analysis, but the fishbone showed the importance of not doing this as a norm to reach expected or wanted results, but to learn more about the problem identification, greater appreciation and understanding of the complexity of the regulatory policy challenges that the Government would want to resolve and expecting that there will always be many unknowns in the contexts of public policy implementation.

To me, the key point of meeting the target dates and rushing delivery having negative implications on implementation of policy should not be under-stated.

  • What implementation challenge are you working on?

The implementation challenges I am working on are that there are gaps in the Films and Publications Amendment Act (FPAA) 11 of 2019 that were highlighted in the wake of Civil unrest occurred in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces from 9 to 18 July 2021. The events showed glaring limitations in the FPAA ability to enable a rapid response to deter the spread of fake news and misinformation and the swift removal of these to prevent the risk of harm or violence.

  • What progress did you make or what insights did you have about your problem through this process?

Having identified the challenge and problem statement, it became easier to allocate and identify the key change agents to whom this mattered and who needs to care more, how do we get them to give it more attention or how do we measure it or tell stories about it as suggested for the awareness group and the authorisers, implementers, users and beneficiaries always wanted to be re-assured of how and what will the problem look like when it is solved.

Because one kept the bigger picture in mind, there was a need to build and maintain networks, which at times was hard as some assumptions were broken and always took a lot of time and energy. As one was waiting for authorisation, one engaged in continuous and constant re-iteration, effective delegation and communication as part of the process.

  • What motivated you and how might this approach change (or not change) the way you tackle problems in the future.

The Triple-A change space analysis worksheet and the Cause and Effect/Fishbone Diagram have become my bible now as it motivates me to motivate others to see the way. In the future I will engage in continuous and constant re-iteration, effective delegation and communication. The greatest gift is to build the trust among team members and rules of engagement in the way that they will own the work and do it. Identifying entry points is also a lesson that motivated me greatly, especially when it comes to authorisers. Continuous knocking on the doors of authorisers also is a new way I will attempt, though risky. But this can be mitigated by having different communications strategies every time there is a blockage.

  • How are you using or will you use what you have learned in this course?

I will definitely use the Triple-A change space analysis worksheet and the Cause and Effect/Fishbone Diagram. The current challenge had required the team to engage on serious legal questions and issues related to the Authority to formally engage the judiciary. There is an acceptance from various agencies affected by the challenge (authorisers, implementers, users and beneficiaries). There was an engagement where all of them have allocated themselves to various working groups and even suggested new working groups on consumer/public awareness and digital media literacy (one of the many unknowns that as the policy maker one had not considered). There were some that were at the opening engagement and those that joined later and required patience to be taken through the problem statement and terms of engagements and reference. The allocation of human and monetary resources is critical and these have been allocated full time to this project.

Automatically, the Venn diagram using your AAA estimation will be central to my work moving forward.

  • Do you have any words of wisdom to share with fellow PDIA practitioners around the world?

This course is not an ordinary course like others as it drills the discipline of engaging with the reading material and command and control is no longer working because the policy implementation challenges have many unknowns and require agility and patience from the beginning to the end. This will lead to a situation where authorisers, implementers, users and beneficiaries will be each other’s cheer leaders even if they move from different stand-points. But a worthwhile engagement leads to a proper give and take that can produce implementable and effective policies.

Like President Nelson Mandela said “it does not matter if the cat is grey/black/white/brown, as long as it can catch mice we welcome it”. The Black Lives Matters phrase activist and other executives realized that you do not have to be the originator to get the message across or through. You can and should use anyone that is acceptable to authorisers. I am proud to say my Authoriser/ Executive/Minister is the exponent of this theoretical base. To paraphrase her: “Use, but do not abuse, my executive Authority powers if you want me to engage with other Executives on your behalf and I do not mind groveling on your behalf to ensure that we deliver on behalf of South Africa to the benefit of its citizens.”

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Latest from Blog

%d bloggers like this: