Public Leadership Through Crisis 12: Course correct; it’s hard, but you must—and can—do it

written by Matt Andrews

The Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in the face of a crisis (like the COVID-19 pandemic).

My last blog post recounted, briefly, how Liberia changed the organizational structures it used to respond to the 2014 Ebola crisis, mid-stream through the crisis.  I wanted to tell the story primarily to demonstrate how the country ultimately adopted a flat, fast, and  flexible ‘snowflake’ like structure  (in the Incident  Management  System). Studies show that other countries and organizations adopt similar structures when facing crisis, including Korea during the MERS crisis and private corporations. In upcoming blog posts I will discuss how you might think of adopting a similar structure—especially establishing your core team, thematic focal points, and thematic teams. Even as I share these ideas, please remember that there is no one-size-fits-all crisis response organizational structure; the experience suggests that you do need to adapt your organization to the realities of your crisis  situation, but the structure that works for you will be heavily contingent on your situation.

In this post, however, I want to pause and reflect on an implicit challenge embedded in the Liberian story: how do you, as a leader, course correct when you realize you’ve made mistakes in responding to the crisis? The shift in Liberia was in ‘how’ the government was working, but you could also have shifts in ‘what’ your response looks like, ‘who’ is involved, and more. How do you, as a leader, make these changes and still maintain support and confidence of your followers?

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This is a tough topic for any public leader. But it is really important. As discussed in earlier blog posts, you will make mistakes and/or realize there are things you did not know and have to adapt around. It is impossible not to make mistakes when you face the uncertainty associated with crisis, and the many questions posed by such uncertainty—What should we do? How should we do it? When? Where? With whom? For whom? For how long?  At what cost? Your mistakes will arise because decisions are based on biased and half-informed assumptions and ways of thinking common when dealing with what Michael Osterholm calls the “fog of war” (in  relating to influenza pandemics):

“The “fog of war” describes the level of ambiguity in situational awareness experienced by participants in military operations. The term captures the uncertainty regarding one’s own capability and the capability and intent of the adversary during battle. The conceptual similarities between the fog of war and the fog of pandemic preparedness are unmistakable:

  • We really don’t understand our capability … to respond.
  • We have only a very general sense of what the pandemic influenza virus is capable of doing in terms of human illness or the social, political, and economic collateral damage.
  • We can’t predict with any certainty how the next pandemic virus will behave …”

Continue reading Public Leadership Through Crisis 12: Course correct; it’s hard, but you must—and can—do it

Register for our virtual discussion on Leadership Through Crisis #2

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Join us for our second virtual discussion on leading through crisis with Matt Andrews on Friday, April 3rd at 9am EST via Zoom. Submit your questions and register for the virtual session now!

Thank you to all those who attended our first session last week and for engaging with us. If you missed the session, you can listen to it here.

Governments are most important in times of public crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals—no matter how talented or self-reliant—look to their governments for help, to empower or deploy the powers and potentialities of the collective. But many people tasked with leading public organizations in times of crises struggle to know if and how to rise to the occasion. This is a particular challenge in governments that have low capability or are trying to build capability: leaders in such situations can easily feel like captains on small boats facing high winds and big waves.

BSC’s new Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in crises. Each blog offers a few ideas as well as questions for reflection, thus creating a space for learning and contextual reflection.

 

 

IPP Program Journey: Remember the Sherpas!

Guest blog written by Marco Mastellari

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 7-month blended learning course in December 2019. These are their learning journey stories.

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When I came in to the course, I thought to myself that what I really wanted to learn was a predesigned structure or framework, if you will, that would allow me and my colleagues down in Panama to approach policy problems in an organized way, or pre-structured format. This is exactly what I found in PDIA, but with a huge difference in focus. My focus was a solution driven approach, I knew what the problem was, or at least I thought I did; I knew what the solution was to that problem, I thought I had identified it adequately; and what I thought I needed was a pre-established path to implement that solution. Oh, was I wrong! I was approaching policy implementing in a self-absorbed manner. Complex problems, surrounded by uncertainties and plagued with what ifs, just cannot have a preconceived solutions, we have to work, iterate, get things wrong, re-think, do the leg work, to then put all the pieces together and then maybe, just maybe, we may find ourselves in the right path towards solving the problem. IPP taught me a very humbling lesson as well. That while our human nature moves us towards approaching problems with a preconceived solution, this manner of acting, more often than not, results in failed policies. And we see this approach daily from authorizers; it is so common to hear a Minister or Director, asking public servants “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions!”. IPP and PDIA has opened up for me a completely new way of attacking policy problems, of thinking about public policy, and most importantly it has shown me, and consequently my colleagues in my country, that problems are better approached from within, utilizing the intellect and experience of our own people, people that know the stakeholders, that can reach genuinely the grassroots; instead of using prepackaged solutions flown in from abroad.

Some of the key learnings I got from this course are humbleness, optimism, and pride of purpose. I came into the course with a problem “Chronic Illnesses Patients don’t have access to Medicinal Cannabis” and a solution, “We need to pass a bill in Congress to legalize Medicinal Cannabis”. At approaching the problem with PDIA we found out that even though passing a Law was a part towards a solution, it was only one variable, only one, in our problem deconstruction diagram. There were many other iterations to be made before even thinking about talking to congressmen about passing a Law. However, as humbling the experience may be, it creates an environment of optimism. The process of constructing and deconstructing our problem, showed us the incredible amount of work that we needed to do, before getting to a Bill, and this outline of work to do allowed us to organize responsibilities and breakdown the problem into smaller tasks, with the opportunity of showing quick wins along the way, which in turn creates the environment of optimism needed to keep attacking our challenge through PDIA. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Remember the Sherpas!

Public Leadership Through Crisis 11: Reorganizing to address the crisis

written by Matt Andrews

The Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in the face of a crisis (like the COVID-19 pandemic).

I was on a call two days ago with a former student who is now deeply involved in his country’s Covid-19 crisis response. He said something like the following: “Our  government  is not set up to respond to this; there are multiple challenges coming at us all at once, requiring multiple new ideas from multiple places, fast. We just can’t mobilize people properly.”

This is a comment I am sure many leaders would echo right now. You look at your bureaucracy and wonder if and how it will be able to handle this crisis. It’s a little like reflecting on whether a ship built for good weather can really manage a storm.

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The truth is that it probably won’t.

Typical hierarchical control mechanisms seem like they give you the coordination you need in crisis (given that we often look to centralize control during such times) but we can’t control every part of the crisis through singular hierarchies, especially when crises require engagement beyond a single organization or geographic area. Also, no new crisis conforms to the pre-arranged organizational structures we have in our organizations. These structures are typically set up to deal with specific and discrete challenges—not compound problems like we face with threats like COVID-19 (where the initial threat of virus is extremely complex and has multiple knock-on effects).

This is precisely why those who have worked in crisis and disaster management suggest using new structural mechanisms to organize their response. Decentralized decision-making and coordination mechanisms are particularly advocated for use in this kind of situation (see Dutch Leonard’s video in blog post 8, the discussion of such structures in blog post 9, and the ‘part 4’ reference to such in the interview with Shruti Mehrotra in blog post 10).

What matters is that these mechanisms allow you as the leader to identify where decisions need to be made, access information (as best as possible) and ideas to make those decisions, mobilize agents to act on and implement those decisions, and constantly monitor those actions to adapt the decisions as necessary.

In blog post 9 I emphasized that there are different kinds of such mechanisms. My  work on problem driven iterative adaptation (PDIA) has found Marshall Ganz’s snowflake structure as an accessible, organic mechanism to help countries think about organizing themselves to address major problems (often related to crises).

In this blog I want to reflect—very briefly, but with references for your additional reflection—on how Liberia adopted a new organizational mechanism that has elements of the snowflake (being relatively flat, fast, and flexible) to coordinate and empower decisions in response to the 2014 Ebola epidemic. I summarize the  story from Liberia as well as I can in this short blog, drawing particularly on two key  articles, from Princeton  University’s amazing Innovations for Successful Societies case series by Leon Schreiber and Jennifer Widner (or SW), and the Journal Health Systems Reform by  Tolbert Nyenswah, Cyrus Engineer and David Peters (or NEP). I  am not sharing this to suggest that the Liberian Incident Management System (IMS) is the best practice for you to copy or mimic. Rather, the story shows that, Continue reading Public Leadership Through Crisis 11: Reorganizing to address the crisis

Listen to our first virtual discussion on Public Leadership Through Crisis

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On March 27th, 2020, we hosted a virtual discussion with Matt Andrews, who answered audience questions on his new Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series.

Here are some of the questions he answered:

  • What, in your opinion, are the capabilities required for public leadership through crisis, and what are the biggest challenges to building these capabilities?
  • In a time of crisis like this, no matter the amount of resources a government has, it will never be enough. How does a government gain public trust and be able to mobilize all the community resources have?
  • How do we influence people to change norms?
  • How do public leaders build multi agent teams during a crisis, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic?

We converted the Zoom session into a podcast for those who missed this session. Stay tuned for more virtual discussions!

 

 

 

Public Leadership Through Crisis 10: Lessons from experience

written by Matt Andrews

The Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in the face of a crisis (like the COVID-19 pandemic).

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As we ponder how you as a leader should consider organizing your organization(s) to respond to the crisis, let’s listen to some advice from someone who has led through various crises. Below is a podcast interview with Shruti Mehrotra, who  has advised various Heads of State on effective government and statebuilding and currently helps oversee George Soros’ Economic Development Fund and Economic Advancement Program. She has worked in a variety of leadership roles on crises in contexts like Sudan and Liberia and beyond.

Here are some points from the  interview that relate to organizing yourself and your organization/team to lead through crisis.

1. Three lessons for leaders

Shruti notes that leading in these situations requires that you:

  • recognize there are no obvious, clear or easy decisions (or perfect decisions); what you need to do is get the best information you can to make  decisions (even though you know the information is imperfect),
  • need to have a process in place to discipline how you engage the information (access it, interpret it, debate it, etc.) and monitor the process (ideally from some kind of situation room), and
  • need trusted people (advisors) around you—including people with expertise in the subject matter (the technical dimensions)—to help make the decisions.

As she says: “there will  be debate, [but] as a decision maker and a decision making team, one has to go through that debate process and come up with a conclusion that is trusted and can be communicated to foster trust with the population about choices that were taken.”

An emergent idea, then: It is important to think about the information sources you  have, the process  you have for interrogating information, and the team you have doing this  work (“your trusted people” and the “technical experts”).

Continue reading Public Leadership Through Crisis 10: Lessons from experience

IPP Program Journey: Engage with the People in the Place

Guest blog written by Julia Martin

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 7-month blended learning course in December 2019. These are their learning journey stories.

PDIA is about engaging with the people in the place.” If I think back to the last few months, this line from Matt’s blog strikes a chord. Coming into the course, I really had a serious case of the “not enoughs” – not enough experience, not enough expertise, not enough authority, not enough intelligence, not enough importance. I scanned the resumes of my classmates and hoped they wouldn’t look me up on LinkedIn and see my short, much less accomplished resume. When I arrived on campus, I realized I didn’t have to have as much experience or be as smart as everyone else, I just had to be curious. As a general society, we try to dissuade curiosity because it can slow down a process, because people are threatened by change, and/or because it creates more work. For whoever needs to hear this: you don’t need to be the smartest, loudest, or best at data analysis, you just have to have to have an unrelenting, genuine curiosity for whatever you are working on. To me, the core of PDIA is being curious in every forum you are in. You have to examine a problem and take the time to think about a) who impacts (or is impacted by) the problem b) where do you find these people c) how do you have them be an active participant in creating a solution. Being curious in every forum means meeting, listening, talking, sharing coffee, or doing a walk-through with the people in the place.

My problem centers on decades of purposeful, legal, and systemic racism in Charlotte, North Carolina. Within that almost incomprehensively difficult problem, I carved out a space to specifically look at increasing the availability of Accessory Dwelling Units or ADUs. These are small, separate dwellings that can be placed on a lot with an existing single-family home. They add gentle density to a neighborhood, can provide a space for aging parents to move in, or can be rented for extra income. ADUs also provide access to neighborhoods that were previously only accessible to wealthy homeowners. So many outcomes are linked to where you live – educational attainment, health outcomes, lifetime earnings. To me, in Charlotte, how we can start to break down decades of racially punitive policy is to create neighborhoods that are accessible to all our residents regardless of income (and race, because in America those are so closely linked).

An ongoing part of our project has been to, painstakingly, read through Homeowner’s Association (HOA) Deeds and Covenants. HOAs are property associations that often have additional restrictions, above city and state regulations, to create neighborhood standards around things like home height or size. After reading almost 100 HOA Deeds and Covenants, an overwhelming majority prohibit the use of ADUs. Similarly, our team is in the process of mapping HOA-owned land to get a better understanding of what percentage of Charlotte’s single-family zoned land is restricted under HOA regulations.

There are a number of barriers to building ADUs outside of HOA restrictions. In no particular order: stringent zoning requirements, confusing process, lack of contractors and builders, and lack of financial resources. Our team put out a survey to local builders and homeowners who built ADUs to better understand their concerns. After hearing from them, we developed a mock-up “How to Build an ADU in Charlotte” guidebook that succinctly described what an ADU was and how to understand if a property is eligible. We invited the builders and homeowners to follow-up session and observed them as they read through the guidebook to see what was confusing, what was clear, what can we improve on etc. Within the guidebook, we created a link to a mock-up 3-D sketch in GoogleEarth that enabled a potential builder to visualize what a detached ADU would look like on a property.

What motivated me throughout the work was every time we asked a builder, homeowner, member of the planning team to share their experience with us and be an activate participant in improving a process, they were so incredibly grateful that we wanted to hear their opinion. My teammates in this work, Rachel, Andrew, and Providence were also a constant well of encouragement and support. We were all balancing additional jobs, but held each other accountable to complete the work we committed to. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Engage with the People in the Place