IPP Reflection: It is the journey, not the destination that truly matters

Guest blog written by Deepa Singal

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.

Participating in the Executive Education program, “Implementing Public Policy” at the Harvard Kennedy School was a dynamic, motivating and humbling experience. Our global cohort consisted of emerging leaders and seasoned policy experts from multiple sectors and countries, all with the shared purpose of making a positive impact in the world. The course was an interactive and intense program, taught by world class faculty and guest lecturers, supported by Harvard case studies, internationally used and validated methods, and relevant and interesting readings. To say it was tremendously educational is an understatement.

While this course would have been pertinent and fascinating any given year, the teachings and lessons underpinning our curriculum were extremely relevant to the complex and unique challenges facing us in our current context. Our cohort partook in this course as the world dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. Loss, pain and daily stress prevailed throughout the duration of the course, as thousands of people lost their loved ones to an unknown disease, hundreds of thousands were isolated from their family and friends, and children and parents grappled with the stress of online learning and balancing working from home. Seniors were isolated and alone, businesses closed, livelihoods were lost, and front-line staff desperately tried to keep health care systems across the world from falling apart. In addition to the immediate and unintended consequences of the pandemic, our neighbours in the United States held one of the most important and contentious elections of world’s history, people united and divided over the death of George Floyd and the Black lives movement, and society reckoned with race, misogyny, structural inequalities, and the threat of rapidly spreading misinformation. As the world was in a state of unrest unlike most had seen in their generation, my colleagues were tasked with solving some of the world most pressing policy problems while navigating their own personal lives and loved ones through these unprecedented circumstances. 

While I expected this course to be world class, and the methods and tools to be effective in solving policy challenges, I did not expect the core approach – Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation – and the principles underlying this approach to be applicable to almost all challenges we were facing in this current context of uncertainty and loss. Here are my top three learnings from this journey:

Lesson 1: Problem Driven Iterative Adaption is applicable and generalizable to a wide variety of professional and personal challenges: While I entered the class with a challenge from my professional organization, I quickly changed my case study to my volunteer role as a member of my children’s school COVID-19 task force and board member.

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IPP journey reflections: Don’t try swallowing a whale in one go

Guest blog written by Joe Savage

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.

So, your fish bone skeleton is a whale

Even the biggest, most complex problems can be broken down into smaller pieces. First, you probably shouldn’t try to swallow a whale in one go. After all, it’s a whale. It would obviously crush you. Second, the process of digging deeper into problems and sub-problems will help you to understand your challenge better. So not only can you go for a small bite, but you know the best place to start*. Not least because…

Momentum matters

If you’re working on a problem that’s not only wicked but possibly cursed by some ancient spirit, a slow start and subsequent lack of progress might seem like the prophecy has been fulfilled. First, we all need to feel like we’re getting somewhere. We can take energy from that. Second, our bosses and peers need that boost too. A sense that these guys are on to something and this is worth getting behind. Even little victories could help. Of course, the trick is knowing how to spot those victories.

Write. It. Down.

I used to help advisers embedded in ministries to trace their impact. I often heard “But the value of what I do cannot be measured”. The importance of a chat over coffee for example. I usually replied by asking “Well, did you write about the coffee anywhere?” Tackling complex challenges involves a lot of little victories and setbacks. You’ll forget most of them tomorrow. The personal learning tool is a great example of how reflections can be structured and captured simply, but effectively.

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IPP Journey: Though the flesh has departed, the spirit will be honoured

Guest blog written by Kagiso Maphalle

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.

“Hello, welcome to what will be some of your most difficult, but fruitful years of your career. We look forward to your leadership…”

Those are the words I remember when I think back on the day I joined the National Heritage Council of South Africa as the Head of Core Business. I remember these specific words because they stand out as a reminder of the indeed difficult journey that has been the past two years, but also as I come to the end of the IPP program, I note the fruitfulness which was referred to on that very first day of duty. After two years shy of a decade in the academia and research consulting industries, I made the leap and joined the public service in 2018.

Was it an easy transition? Absolutely not! But on each day, I saw glimpses of small victories which reminded me why it was a worthy change in career trajectory. I still bemoan my flexible working hours and dress code, but I digress. Let me take you through a little journey of what ultimately brought me in search of a program which has not only changed my thinking, but made sense of the challenges I experienced in attempting to do things differently within the public service.

Reality Check: Kindly find attached herewith your mammoth task

As Head of Core Business, one of the units under my portfolio is called the Resistance Liberation Heritage Route. This tongue-twister of a unit is tasked with documenting the heritage of South Africa’s resistance to colonialism and the liberation struggle during the apartheid era leading up to democracy in the year 1994. In a country as diverse as South Africa, carrying the painful history and legacies of the past, documenting the contribution of the old and young alike is beautiful for documenting stories and cementing them in stone for future generations. However, the key word here is pain; the pain of loss, the pain of suffering; the pain of accepting that life as you had known it prior to a specific date etched in your memory for ever will never be your reality; pain of lives that will never be lived; pain of smiles which will never be seen; pain of dreams which will never be fulfilled; and pain of unprepared for goodbyes and so-longs. The pain of those who gave their lives so that future generations can know freedom and democracy. Many of these lives, lost in far-away countries.

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It’s about the P’s

Problem Construction, Perception, Process, People and Projection

Guest blog written by Cynthia Steinhauser

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.

Over the course of 12 months, I was pursuing my public policy executive certificate through HBS when I came across the IPP program designed by Professor Matt Andrews and his amazing cadre of peers. The timing couldn’t have been better as my organization was working on a new initiative to create a one-stop shop for innovation in development services from three previously “siloed” departments. Our team is focused on one major task – to rethink our development services program and create an integrated, efficient process that results in a positive experience for our customers. I saw this program as an opportunity to assist with this effort. 

As someone with over 25 years working in local government, I often assist in strategic planning efforts for new initiatives or to “reset” existing programs to help get them back on track. I was usually brought in because something wasn’t working and had reached some type of impasse.  It was often my belief that many failed for one primary reason, they did not have a clear path forward i.e. a solid strategic plan. All it would take was the right person to shepherd them through a process to develop a plan that had a clear vision, mission, goals, objectives, assigned tasks, identified resources and a well-defined timeline. Once a plan was in place to hold people accountable, all would be good. While I have many examples of success using this approach, there are also examples of failures. However, when you work in the public eye, you don’t like to talk about “failures” because on face value they seem just that – a failure that taught us nothing and did so at the expense of taxpayers.  However, as PDIA (Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation) has taught us, this could not be further from the truth. In fact, I believe that is exactly where PDIA can be most useful and have some of the greatest impact (but that is for another blog). This blog is about my entire IPP learning journey.

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