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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Increasing Tomato Production in Nigeria

Guest blog written by Edward Adamu

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 first thought of my policy implementation challenge, it appeared daunting, knowing that past policy attempts had not yielded any dependable solution to the problem. When I constructed the problem, it became even more frightening. As I went further to deconstruct the problem, I realized it was indeed a complex…too many causes and seemingly endless sub-causes. I began to imagine how tedious it would be to mobilize enough agents, and the diversity of agents I would need scared me even further. I had one thing going anyway – the courage to continue, drawn essentially from the early readings provided by faculty and the assurance that there existed an approach for dealing with complexity in the policy arena. I was simply curious!

My confidence started to grow after reading the piece on the journey to the West in 1804. Even then, I retained some doubts about the mission. I think my actual breakthrough came when PDIA – Problem-driven iterative adaptation – was introduced as the approach to be used. I had been introduced to the PDIA concept at earlier programs I had attended at HKS. Furthermore, I was particularly inspired by the Albanian example of its application. PDIA is a policy implementation approach that offers the policy implementing team ample learning experience and opportunity to adapt, anchored on a stepwise or incremental process of developing a policy and executing same. It is especially suited to a policy situation in which there are many unknowns, which are often better understood along the way.

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Rolling out COVID relief programs in Reno using the PDIA approach

Guest blog written by Calli Wilsey

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.

During one of our first sessions, I remember Professor Andrews speaking about complex problems and the need to address these issues with a new approach typically not used by public policy professionals and government agencies. As he described the problems he has witnessed with the traditional “plan and control” implementation method, I thought, “Oh no. If there is anything I’m good at, it’s planning. And I’m a control freak.” [Insert wide-eyed emoji and head-exploding emoji here].

Professor Andrews and the team invited us into the PDIA world and encouraged us to give it a try with open minds. Boy, am I glad I did.

As the course started, I was working with an internal team to implement a financial assistance program for small businesses that had been economically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the many uncertainties involved with the virus and the response to the public health emergency, I decided to use this situation as my implementation challenge.

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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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