Reassessing what it means to problem-solve

Guest blog by Samantha Blake Rudick

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 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

When I was in middle school, I was part of a program called “Problem Solving.” The concept was one big problem would be presented and then, in a group, students would break this problem down into twenty smaller problems. They would then select one of these smaller issues and come up with 20 solutions to this smaller problem. They would analyze their solutions, pick the best one and present it in a creative way to the larger group, with the winners getting a prize.

The Implementing Public Policy course and taking us through Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) was similar to this idea, in some senses, except that in working with adults they can break the news to us: we can’t just stop at addressing one small issue.

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Tackling workforce development in Tampa, FL using PDIA

Guest blog by Ocea Wynn

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 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

When enrolling in the IPP Online, my initial thoughts were that this would be a course extensively focused on theory with very little practical application. I anticipated that if practical examples were presented, they would be so-far removed from the realism of local government work that this course would be another ‘check the box’ example of fulfilling a request by providing an input (class attendance) with an expected output (course completion) with no anticipated outcome.

My perception soon changed when we started our discussion on classifying a policy as complex or complicated. As an engineer, my education, training, and all my work experience have been in a complicated environment, of plan and control. So, when Matt started the discussion on defining complicated work, I thought ‘this course will be a piece of cake’. However, all of that soon changed as we began to delve into complexity of policy implementation. This expanded my mindset to a new way of looking at all problems, both professional and personal ones.

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The luxury of long-term planning in a predictable environment has outlived its shelf-life

Guest blog by Puneet Balasubramanian

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 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.

– John F Kennedy (1962)

The current global crisis caused by COVID-19 has once again brought into focus the deeply complex business of policymaking. The unprecedented and unanticipated impact which the pandemic has caused has unsettled even the most competent policy-making mechanisms of the world. But the real challenge would be to recover from the battle wounds, once the dust has settled.

Just like how different countries have responded differently to the pandemic, achieving diverse results, the future too hinges on efficient and contextual policymaking. Policymakers and their advisors, therefore, need to accord adequate attention to the rebuilding strategy – which is going to be a much bigger challenge than the passing-through one.

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Police reform in Bridgeport through PDIA: A radical approach to an old problem

Guest blog by Maria Viggiano

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 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

As America faces a national reckoning over racial injustice and the over-policing of communities of color, the concept of “defunding the police” has become a hot topic in various cities including my hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut. As Connecticut’s largest city, Bridgeport is home to over 145,000 people, the majority of whom identify as Black, Latino, or Asian Americans. The Bridgeport Police Department has suffered from a series of scandals over the last several years.

In 2017, a Bridgeport police officer shot and killed an unarmed Latinx youth, 15-year-old Jayson Negron. In 2018, the top aide to the Bridgeport Police Chief was fired after the discovery of numerous racists texts directed at African-American police officers in the department. Earlier this fall, the police chief himself was arrested by the FBI and later indicted on federal corruption charges. The demands for reform reached fever pitch this summer with local activists calling for a defunding and dismantlement of the Bridgeport Police Department.

The concept of “defund the police” is a relatively new one within the realm of public policy. The movement in favor of this approach emerged almost entirely from the activist community in the wake of recent nationwide protests against police brutality, especially in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. There are few academic papers or studies available that evaluate the effectiveness of specific policies aimed at reallocating public funds away from law enforcement departments and toward social service departments like housing, health, and education. However, ample academic research does definitively point to the short- and long-term payoff of investing in these areas as a preventative strategy for minimizing societal ills such as poverty, homelessness, crime, and violence.

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‘IPP helped my transition from the private sector to the public sector’

Guest blog written by Giannis Skiadaresis

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 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

Being part of this very exceptional course was a great opportunity for me to alter the way I was coping with challenges and to find solutions to problems that I was facing in my day-to-day work. Implementing Public Policy was a very unique chapter in my personal development, which coincided with my professional transition from private sector to my return to the European public administration. This moment was a very important step for my professional career, as I had experience from a private project management firm, and I had to adjust to a new reality with several new implementation challenges in the public administration. For me, this course was the ultimate tool, as I used it in full, in order to tackle the challenges that I was facing in my daily life. 

At the beginning of the course, I realised that my general approach towards public policy challenges was a very basic approach similar to plan and control, without taking into account many unknowns that could occur during the implementation. I was feeling that I could have everything under control and in the end, I was failing to understand why I was not finding a solution to my personal policy challenge. After the presentation of the first concepts during the initial period of the course, I realised that I had so many unknowns in this challenge that it was almost impossible to be effective and to solve the problem with standard management and project approaches like the plan and control approach. In my first experience with PDIA (Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation), I realised that I was doing everything wrong. Every week after following Matt’s lectures, I understood that there is always another way to deal with things and I managed to implement the new concepts in my daily professional life with remarkable results. Every time that I was learning about a new concept, I was understanding even more why Matt used to say that ‘PDIA is hard but worthwhile’.

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Encouraging Nigeria’s youth to engage in agribusiness

Guest blog written by Abubakar Murtala Mohammad

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 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

The understanding of Public Policy Implementation became a necessity for me after my appointment as the Senior Special Assistant on SDGs to the Executive Governor of Nasarawa State, Nigeria. My career path has, up till then been in the Private sector where the main aim is profiteering as against the Social services for communal purpose of the public sector. My first instinct for success is to equip myself with the requisite Public Policy knowledge. This is with a view to reduce the incidence of Policy failure on all my assigned duties.

There is no better place for this learning process than the IPP Program as offered by Harvard Executive Program which I immediately applied for, and when I got admitted, my excitement was beyond measure.

I have attended quite a few Executive Education courses, mostly as in-person events. I therefore commenced the IPP Online program with a mixed feeling as regards to the content, engagement, and fluidity of knowledge transferability. I discovered, some weeks into the program, that the IPP Online is a well-structured program with engagement as close to an in-person experience, but only better-thanks to Salimah and Amber. The program is intense as well as extensive with a caution for ‘burn-out.’ A good use of feedback mechanism is encouraged throughout the duration of the program. Thumps up Ms Anisha Poobalan, my TA for interactive feedback and encouragement.

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Reimagining policing and passing reparations in Asheville, NC

Guest blog written by William Young

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 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

There is nothing in the United States of America that policy does not dictate. In a world where politics touches nearly every aspect of our lives, we are surrounded by public policy. How do we get to that point? The point where policy is implemented into our daily lives, known or unknown. The position where policy regardless of difficulty moves from the humble beginnings of thought, to problem solving. What roadmap do we travel? To move from the smallest effect on your lives, to the largest detriment possibly if not done with the intelligence needed to implement these public policies. As an elected official and public policy expert one can always use some guided insight. So why not go to Harvard?

What comes to mind when you think of Harvard University? The word brilliance. A long storied history of excellence in thought and reasoning. Harvard is the place where some of the worlds greatest minds and leaders have come to study. Presidents, CEOs, and intellectual leaders alike, have added their names to the growing roster of Harvard alum. The credibility given to the university in all fields of human endeavor seems to be synonymous with the words excellence and reliability.

By understanding the weighted influence of the University’s reputation, one can ascertain an expectation of rigorous, thought-provoking, intellectual challenges that forces an individual to exceed one’s best efforts when applying reasoning and practical experience in the areas of public policy. The Harvard Kennedy School for Executive Education has created a program that delivers the blueprint to help you build the vehicle that propels you from policy inception to implementation. A sustainable method that can be duplicated time and time again. Creating reliable results by helping navigate the usual pitfalls of public policy.

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Working on trade in Mexico from Sao Paulo

Guest blog written by Oscar Benitez

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 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

We all experienced the turmoil caused by Covid-19 in 2020. We will spend years trying to describe how it became a huge setback for every activity and economic sector. In my case, I spent several months putting on hold most of the projects of the year, to eventually seeing them fall down one by one. By May, we were more than discouraged: half of our yearly planning was already cancelled, and the other half was on the way to suffering the same fate. To make things worse, the end of it was not on sight. From every angle, 2020 was a devastating year.

But it was the year I went to Harvard.

My work in the Mexican Foreign Service is to deliver solutions to any problem that falls in my hands. I have done that during the last five years I have served in the Mexican Consulate in Sao Paulo. My work doesn’t have the glamour of policy drafting or high politics, and is more about identifying opportunities on the field, matching counterparts with the same interests and taking care of the mountains of paperwork that come after that.

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Implementing the Vision Zero plan in Lancaster, PA

Guest blog written by Cindy McCormick

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 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

Before this course, as an engineer that’s spent most of my career in the private sector, and four years working in municipal government, I never really thought much about ‘public policy’ and wasn’t even sure what it meant.  My new boss of six months thought it would be a good course for me to take so I wasn’t sure what I was getting into.  I had recently started a Vision Zero plan and the idea of implementing what we were learning in a real project sounded interesting, as my old habits generally replace any new learning if it’s not practiced immediately. 

In this course I recognized immediately that I prefer the plan and control environment of policy. I want to be able execute a very specific solution, but I realized that problems are often more complex than originally thought and one specific solution is not going to solve the problem.  This leads me put on blinders to the criticisms and ways to make it better because once I’ve executed the plan, I’m ready to move on.  I also realized that this created a lack of ownership for developing a comprehensive solution for myself and others as the specific solution was often dictated by others.

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Deconstructing policy challenges using the fishbone

Guest blog written by Yilma Melkamu Alazar

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 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

I came across the “Implementing Public Policy” course by chance while scrolling through my social media links. Reading through the course objectives, I immediately thought it might help me to find a way to solve some of my struggles. However, I was a bit skeptical since my field of practice is somehow sensitive and often relegated to the bottom list of policy priorities as politicians don’t want to openly and directly address it despite it is a denominator for the success of most of their agendas. So I was not sure such a short course, a full course for that matter, would help me to make a dent.

Nevertheless, I went ahead and enrolled hoping that a quick and ‘gold standard’ remedy would be found.

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