Guest blog by Jennifer A. Infantas, IPP 2021
When we think about designing public policies, we need to understand the needs that we are trying to solve and who will be our target beneficiaries. But what about having the responsibility to implement those policies? Probably it might be as hard or even more complicated, challenging, and sometimes frustrating.
Some years ago I has the opportunity to browse in the PMO world. It helped me understand that every project manager needs to identify the scope, time, risks, costs, procurement, quality, human resources, communications, inside a project before launching it on full scale. When I decided to join the Implementing Public Policy (IPP) Program, I expected to find not only what I needed to lead a project, but also the best way to organize my work, team, and short, mid, and long-term tasks to achieve my policy goals. Looking back on my IPP experience, I can summarise my key learnings in 3 points.
1. Complex is not complicate
Which in simple words would mean that the way we face complicated situations and the tools that we can use to deal with them (tree diagram, brainstorming, dama control) will not always work in complex situations. Why? Because in complex problems, there is so much that we know about the problem and its causes, but also, there is a lot that during the process might result different and we nee dan active learning process for things that we may encounter.
2. Nothing is forever, or in this case, change is a constant
And this is the main reason why iteration and adaptation are key concepts because in the learning process to find solutions for complex challenges, the learning experience will lead us to find the best way to overcome a new challenge. Also, we need to consider that we can not command and control everything during the implementing process. That’s why we need iterations and a realistic approach to explore, to learn, and to be able to reset tasks and strategies when it would be necessary. In addition, public policies are designed to meet the needs of the population, and with these needs constantly changing, policies must be able to adapt to them and not be written in stone.
3. We need to be leaders, not dictators
There are many bosses, but only a few leaders. Leadership is scarce in the implementation of public policies because team leadership is often characterised by rigid vertical government structures in which teams tend to have little interaction with authorizers. Therefore, delegation and progress monitoring are key to task execution and goals achievement. Also, to understand leadership as influencing the team to work with enthusiasm and commitment, identified with the cause, and make the objectives their own, for the common good.
My implementation challenge is about financial inclusion in my country, Perú. Financial inclusion is a huge gap in developing countries. The last months, because of the Covid pandemic, difficulties have become even more evident in the face of the transfers of Peruvian State resources to the vulnerable population. This, because despite positive behavior of the main financial inclusion indicators in Peru in 2019 and 2020, today the general figure reveals that there is still a great percentage of the population (near 70%), mainly from the most vulnerable segments and populations that live in rural and remote areas, that do not have any access to the financial system or they are not interested in participating in it.
Among the factors that limit financial inclusion are poverty and informality. Both represent major structural problems in the country, whose relationship with financial inclusion seems to be rather two-way, since although these factors limit financial inclusion, improving this one, contributes to reducing these problems. Considering this, to improve the economic well-being of the population through the benefits generated by their inclusion in a formal Financial System results in complex considering intercultural, territorial, and gender approaches, moreover in a country like Perú.
According to my experience, planning is the most important stage, not only for the design of a public policy but for its implementation. In turn, when we talk about planning, we also talk about being able to control the development of the process, because yes, uncertainty is the “kryptonite” of the planning stage. For this reason, the last months of learning about the PDIA approach, helped me to break down problems into their root causes, identifying entry points, search for possible solutions, taking action over those possibilities, and reflecting it upon what I and my team have learned. Also, adapting solutions and then acting it again, because as a dynamic process it allowed us to build our solutions to the problem that fits in our local context.
PDIA approach planning and control approach has also taught me that the design of a public policy is relevant but without monitoring and iteration, it will never have a real or tangible impact. Additionally, progress monitoring will help not only to organize goals and identify alerts but also to keep the authorities informed about the progress of the project and any complications or new scenarios that may arise and that require decision-making. Likewise, the authorizers must be aware of the difficulties that have arisen for the teams in the process and what support from the authorizers is required.
And all this new evidence, confirm that the way I must tackle problems in the future should include a wide overseeing perspective, understanding that policies implementation is a constant process that will face changes and as it is, it should be shared with the entire team, to involve them with achievements and failures, but also with authorizers to engage them and to have a common roadmap.
Learning is a wonderful and lucky experience, but not everybody has the chance to experience it. One of the best ways to put into practice what I have learned is to sharing acknowledgment with my fellows and teams because they need to understand and internalize the way of working in constant improvement.
I believe that capacity building in government organizations, especially in developing countries, is vital for the optimization of internal processes and the stability of these entities, with a view to the sustained development of the country.
To other fellow PDIA practitioners around the world, I would like to encourage them not to give up during the process of implementing their projects. Even in the most critical and complicated moments. Whether you are in the government, a private entity, or an independent body, and feel that you do not have the support or the right team or tools, or because the compass with which you led your work plan begins to fail. Reviewing what has been done, correcting mistakes, and learning from them will always give us a space to rethink and create new alternatives.
Our long term motivation is the most valuable thing that we can contribute as professionals to achieve great 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 2021. These are their learning journey stories.