Guest blog by Robert Okudi, IPP 2021
I signed up for Harvard Kennedy School’s Implementing Public Policy (IPP) program hoping to find ways to get one of my draft policies to be implemented at the national level. I had been developing policy recommendations to reform Uganda’s Cash Management System for my department. Through IPP, I planned to find ways to get the draft accepted by all key stakeholders and implemented as a national policy for Uganda.
The first lesson I have learned from the IPP course is that defining the problem that needs to be solved for is not as easy as we think. Adequate time should be put into defining the problem properly otherwise, we end up prescribing the wrong solutions. The Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) tool helps us in this process and demands that in order to get it right you should be prepared to keep going back to the challenge again and again. PDIA is demanding and you need to commit emotions, time, and energy. I have learned to be patient and celebrate small achievements and build on them to overcome policy implementation challenges.
I have also learned the process of planning for the iterative process is key to determining the strategy for getting buy-in to the policy formulation and consequently, the implementation. One should first determine the complexity of the problem based on the level of uncertainty and unknowns you are faced with. Thereafter, identify the key stakeholders and the levels of leadership which you expect to influence as you move up the ladder to the authorizer. We went further to even identify the individuals occupying those positions. We recognized that a lot of decisions are determined by individual personalities and interpersonal relationships. Therefore, different strategies can be crafted for each individual based on their personality or your relationship with them.
The Government of Uganda was facing challenges with shortfalls of cash liquidity. Consequently, it was unable to execute its budget as planned due to its inability to plan and manage its cash properly. We picked this up as our implementation challenge to work upon in the IPP course.
I believe I have made significant progress in the iterative progress and would have probably achieved more if it hadn’t been for the COVID lockdown and changes of leadership in the Ugandan Ministry. One of the chief authorizers—the Permanent Secretary/Secretary to the Treasury (CEO) was replaced. This also gave me an opportunity to use the PDIA process to address the implementation challenge from scratch. I was able to re-energize my staff with a new iterative approach. We held focused meetings with individual officers in the Accountant General’s Office and Directorate of Budget. These gave them more liberty to express their fears, concerns and advise which they were not able to do in our previous group meetings. We were also able to meet the CEO and get his commitment to support our efforts. The PDIA Check-in tool kit has help me tremendously as a monitoring tool to keep my staff results-oriented.
I was motivated by the systematic step-by-step process which encouraged me to celebrate small steps and not tire from going back and forth. In future, my approach and attitude are going to change from whinning over opposition to using inquiry to understand the interests of all the stakeholders. I know I have a whole team of alumni and faculty to support me in any other process I will be engaging in future. This support ensures that what I have learned in the six months will be sustained in beyond the graduation ceremony. Through the course, I believe I have grown to become a better communicator and team player.
To start with, I will use the learnings from this course to refocus the regulatory impact assessment of our draft Uganda Cash Management Policy, which we had to pause because of the COVID lockdown. In the process, I hope to transfer the knowledge I have learned through PDIA to my staff. I also want to use it to enhance my own skills. I will volunteer to support any other department in the Ministry which intends to formulate a policy and could benefit from the IPP approach to sovling for implementation challegnes. This will provide me relevant experience to improve my problem-solving and collaboration skills in this field.
Two words of wisdom I’d like to pass on to the fellow PDIA practitioners around the world is, “PDIA works!” Let’s keep our Class Teams as the first point for support and encouragement while we dabble into different problems in our countries. Then let’s utilize the alumni network to share those experiences and help each become better policy practitioners.
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 2021. These are their learning journey stories.