Friendship, Energy, Innovation and Community: The Heart of the IPP Community and Fuel for Good

Guest blog written by Isabel Fontoura, Nadia Islam, Bandi Mbubi, Doran Moreland

What makes people not run away from but run towards challenges to get things done when facing complex policy problems? Although any sole answer is unlikely to cover all of the nuances of the question we pose to you at the start of our final post as your IPP Community of Practice (CoP) moderators, we do have a hint that is at the core of our community: seeing others move in the same direction. As a group, we believe that failing is ok and failing forward is even better; that taking risks is scary but can be truly rewarding; and, most importantly, that having a trust circle to share the successes and navigate the bumps of policy implementation, is what will ultimately enable innovation. It is also what will offer the extra boost one needs to do great things.

Such drive to deliver great work is especially needed in our world right now, as countries and communities battle the health and economic challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. But, if we are to build back better effectively and not only in rhetoric, this will have to be done by people. By you. That’s why the chance to read the blog posts of community members that were published during the semester and share information about them in our weekly announcements was a high point of this role for the four of us. It confirms that the IPP cohorts of 2019 and 2020 have come together as one, with a strong, collective voice and ready to fuel change in complex environments, inspiring others all around the globe to do so as well. 

This brings us to an African proverb we find an excellent fit for who we are as an IPP community: “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together”. As moderators, we found new friends in our personal development and continuous learning in the first semester of 2021, and we have had a chance to know more about colleagues that were new to us. We were also excited to facilitate monthly sessions in which our collective learning (about ourselves, others, and public policy tools) grew stronger, including sessions with Rob Wilkinson and Monica Higgins that allowed the community to be updated on their latest research in the field. Other sessions focused on the self-care of community members and discussions about the next steps in our PDIA journeys after the program.

In between moderator engagements to prepare these events and idea exchanges ahead of our announcements, we can assure you: being a CoP moderator was truly fun, and for that, we are also grateful. At the start, despite Salimah Samji and Anisha Poobalan´s kind words of wisdom, support, and superb planning skills, we were nowhere close to knowing exactly what we would do: we would brainstorm ideas about how to host events for days or have pretty herculean reflections on what size the announcements should be. But having a cultural and professional melting pot between us – nationals from the United States, Brazil, Congo, and Bangladesh with different career stories – confirmed that letting go of pre-ordered templates is a way to heaven and opens the door for authenticity and uniqueness. As moderators, we learned with each other and for each other. 

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On being and becoming a “development expert”

written by Michael Woolcock

The Three Stages of Expertise by Simon Wardley

Half-way through my HKS course on ‘Social Institutions and Economic Development’ I host a class, usually timed to be given on the eve of spring break, on what it means to be a “development expert”, especially as it pertains to engaging with social institutions. For better or worse, I now have enough grey hair and professional visibility to often have that awkward title bestowed upon me, but while I like to think I have come to know a little about development processes, and probably know more now than I did 25 years ago, the notion of being deemed a development “expert” is a label I try to wear lightly, if I must wear it at all. In this class, I stress that technical expertise is real, rare, its application deeply necessary and consequential, and for certain kinds of development problems, exactly what you need. For other kinds of development problems, however – and certainly the bulk of those problems associated with building state capability – routinely prioritizing the singular deployment of a narrow form of technical expertise as the optimal solution is itself part of the problem (in the sense articulated in the “Solutions when the solution is the problem” paper I wrote with Lant Pritchett back in 2004). 

These days, my preferred metaphorical, ideal-type juxtaposition is between expertise that fills a space and expertise that creates and protects space; this distinction roughly corresponds to, respectively, Theory X and Y in the management literature (as famously articulated by Douglas McGregor in 1960). I like this distinction expressed in the terms of ‘filling’ versus ‘protecting’ space because it broadly reflects the different skills and sensibilities that, to me, are so readily on display in development decision-making – whether in the board room, the online seminar, the policy forum, the diplomatic table, or the village meeting hall. The space-fillers primarily perceive their job, and their kindred colleagues’ job, as one of “controlling” (empirically, epistemologically, managerially) the extraneous “noisy” factors intruding on the space they’ve carefully “identified” so that, into this space, their particular, somewhere-verified “solution” can be deftly but decisively inserted. It’s what Atul Gawande calls the savior doctor model, in which one provides “a definitive intervention at a critical moment… with a clear, calculable, frequently transformative outcome.” I’ve checked the key indicators (‘vital signs’), asked my go-to questions, diligently eliminated various possibilities; I’ve scanned the decision-tree as I understand it, and determined that the highest-probability solution to this problem is X. The faster and more “cleanly” I can do this, the more genuinely ‘expert’ (and efficient and effective) I believe myself to be. Providing such decisive input into this space is emotionally thrilling; it vindicates all my years of elite education and hard work, pays me real money, yields the tantalizing allure of future successes at grander scales with higher stakes, and bestows upon me tangible professional accolades and high social status. Like nature, I abhor a vacuum, so I’ve confidently stepped in where the “less rigorous” fear to tread. I’m trained and socialized to think counterfactually, so I can’t help but indulge my vainglorious ceteris paribus fantasy that, but for my presence at that moment, things would have turned out so differently… Heck, I’ve changed history!

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To Increase Girls’ Schooling, Improve Girls’ Learning

written by Michelle Kaffenberger, Danielle Sobol, Deborah Spindelman, Marla Spivack

A new paper shows that girls who are learning are more likely to stay in school. Improving learning could be key to achieving both schooling and learning goals.

The G7 recently agreed to two new education objectives: ensure that 40 million more girls attend school and that 20 million more girls are able to read by 2026. A new RISE working paper suggests good news: that progress on the girls’ learning goal may actually be one of the keys to delivering on the girls’ schooling goal. 

The paper draws on longitudinal quantitative and qualitative data from the Young Lives Surveys in Ethiopia, India, Peru, and Vietnam to understand why children drop out of school. The quantitative data reveals a strong link between low learning and later dropout. The qualitative findings reveal that low learning often underlies other, more commonly cited reasons girls drop out such as marriage or work. Girls report seeking ways to provide for their futures, and when it becomes clear that they are learning too little for school to provide future security, they seek other means such as a husband or a job.

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Coupling Action Learning and International Development

Guest blog written by Artem Shaipov

After completing the Implementing Public Policy Program and joining the IPP Community of Practice, I was thrilled to receive an invitation to work with a group of master students taking a class at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) titled, “Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) in Action: Development through facilitated emergence” (MLD 103).

The course objectives were to (i) introduce the students to the PDIA methodology and (ii) give them an opportunity to immediately apply what they learned in class to a specific policy challenge that I had a privilege to nominate. Working on advancing legal education reform in Ukraine, I asked the group of five students to approach the following development problem:

“The supply side of Ukraine’s legal system is inadequate for fulfilling the role and responsibilities of the legal profession in a modern democratic society, contributing to the legal system’s self-perpetuating failure to ensure the rule of law and deliver justice in Ukrainian society.”

To help the students get up to speed and hit the ground running, I provided them with a list of reading materials and other resources that gave them background information on their policy challenge and a list of stakeholders ranging from senior government officials, leaders of the bar to law deans, local experts, and student union leaders that the students could contact to learn more about the local context and better understand the problem they were about to start working on. This support was important to engage the students in problem solving from the start. One of the students reflected on this experience in the anonymous feedback: 

[Authorizer] was a great supporter of our work, and has provided excellent guidance in understanding the problem of legal education in Ukraine. He […] kept us highly engaged.

The course spanned seven weeks starting in January 2021. The  students met twice a week on Tuesdays for lectures delivered by Matt Andrews and Salimah Samji and Thursdays for check-ins with me as their authorizer. Each week, the students did research on the development problem, interviewed stakeholders, turned in individual and team assignments. Even after delivering their final presentation on March 11, 2021, the students willingly continued their action learning  to complete remaining interviews. When providing anonymous feedback, one of the team members even noted: 

“At first, I thought, this is kind of an abstract topic that I never really had any explicit interest in. But honestly, I really enjoyed using the PDIA process to explore this topic and learn more about Ukraine and the context in which challenges present themselves. [I]t was great to get into it as much as possible. I would be happy to support this USAID effort in the future.”

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Countering Radicalization in France

Guest blog written by Mer Carattini, Sasha Mathew, Imara Salas, Kishan Shah, Katie Wesdyk

This is a blog series written by students at the Harvard Kennedy School who completed “PDIA in Action: Development Through Facilitated Emergence” (MLD 103) in March 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

The PDIA process taught us how to turn a ‘wicked problem’—a highly complex tangle of many problems with high uncertainty—into manageable components that we can begin to address. We learned a strategy for how to deconstruct an abstract problem with the fishbone framework. Most importantly, we learned that complex problems in unfamiliar contexts can be addressed through a structured approach. We had the chance to put theory into practice by working on radicalization in France.

There was a lot to unpack for the problem of radicalization in France. We had the opportunity to work with our authorizer, Raphaël, whom currently serves as a cyber security expert to the BNP Paribas Bank and Board members of think tank “Les Jeunes IHEDN.” His initial problem statement was to detect, react to, and prevent radicalization within private companies. However, it is very difficult for private companies to play a constructive role in the radicalization debate because of how sensitive the issue is and because there is a lack of dialogue even at a community level. But before we could start a conversation, we had to zoom out on the big picture to grasp the full complexity of radicalization. 

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If on a Winter’s Afternoon Four Policy Students …

Guest blog written by Nathalie Gazzaneo, Tendai Mvuvu, Rodrigo Tejada, Matt Weber

This is a blog series written by students at the Harvard Kennedy School who completed “PDIA in Action: Development Through Facilitated Emergence” (MLD 103) in March 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

On a winter’s afternoon in early February this year, a Mexican MPP1, a Brazilian MPP2, a Zimbabwean MC-MPA and an American MC-MPA randomly stepped up to the plate of abandoned projects in Nigeria. We, the four students and travelers, had never crossed our paths before (more accurately, we had never seen each other over Zoom). Additionally, none of us had ever worked in Nigeria. Before you think it could not get more chaotic, we had only 8 weeks to learn and experiment as much as we could on the assigned problem before coming up with novel and actionable ideas to expand its change space. Ready. Steady. Go! We weren’t ready, the journey wasn’t steady, but we definitely went on.

Maybe one of our first and most powerful realizations in our PDIA journey was that there was no silver bullet fix to the problem of abandoned projects in Nigeria. It took us two entire weeks to look at the problem with more curious and deconstructive eyes until we managed to draft a set of plausible causes and sub-causes that could be at its roots. We had to remain patient and above all curious and collaborative to shift from our initial planners approach to the searchers perspective required by the PDIA process.

As we deconstructed the problem through interviews and research, the Ishikawa fish diagram and the “five whys” heuristics helped us organize our insights in a meaningful fashion. At this stage, we also started to become more wary of our language usage versus our authorizer’s language usage (more on that later). And as our inquiry and knowledge deepened, so grew our ability to ask smarter questions and to find viable entry points.

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From Pyrethrum Exports to the Knowledge Economy: Exploring Trade Between Kenya and Canada

Guest blog written by Bishal Belbase, John Diing, Mayra Hoyos, Stephanie Shalkoski

This is a blog series written by students at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard School of Public Health who completed “PDIA in Action: Development Through Facilitated Emergence” (MLD 103) in March 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

As a pedagogical procedure for learning Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation a group of four students from Mexico, Nepal, the United States, and South Sudan studied bilateral trade between Kenya and Canada with the help of an external authorizer: Dr. George Imbenzi, Honorary Consul General of Kenya to Canada. This global team, codenamed “Canadian Safari,” met with several Kenyan government officials, as well as, a Kenyan student studying in the US, a Canadian educator with non-profit experience in Africa, and an academic/practitioner of Kenyan-origin who leads a Harvard-based program, Building State Capability. 

Uncovering Unseen Challenges in Kenya-Canada Trade

Our first thought was that the lack of a trade agreement was the major cause for limited trade between Kenya and Canada. However, when we broke down the problem of fledgling trade between the two countries into subproblems, we ended up with some causes we didn’t expect. (see fishbone diagram in figure 3).

One cause we noticed was the lack of capacity of Kenyan diplomats – in terms of technical knowledge and negotiation skills. Also, due to the frequent turnover of Kenyan officials, there was limited institutional memory. 

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Exploring Legal Education Reform in Ukraine

Guest blog written by Ilhom Aliyev, Yousif Folathi Alkhoori, Manoj Kumar, Mike Ramirez, Frederick Tarantino

This is a blog series written by students at the Harvard Kennedy School who completed “PDIA in Action: Development Through Facilitated Emergence” (MLD 103) in March 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

MLD 103MA: Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) in Action: Development Through Facilitated Emergence is among the best classes at Harvard Kennedy School. This hidden infinity stone, 2-credit class challenges you to solve real-world, complex problems using the PDIA approach.

The tried-and-true PDIA process puts a learning structure in the way we look at complexity in local contexts from multiple perspectives. From a high-level, implementation includes a step-by-step approach of breaking down problems into its root cause, finding entry points, searching for possible solutions, taking actions, reflecting on what you learned, adapting, and repeating until the true solution is developed. 

This semester, we were divided into teams to tackle real-world solutions. Our team, MY FM Inspiration, were given the challenge of examining legal education reform in Ukraine. Our authorizer was Artem Shaipov, a legal specialist and task leader for the USAID New Justice Program in Ukraine. In the first week, our team realized this problem had many dimensions to it. 

There was an abundance of information to consume, and competing literature on what the problem actually was with legal education. To make the problem more difficult, many of us came from western legal education structures, but the Ukrainian legal education structure was very different, and in many ways still based off a Soviet Union era paradigm. Our team dived thickly into the topic with great humility and was focused on gathering as much information and learning as fast as possible. Our first fishbone diagram had nearly ~50 ribs and reflected the discoveries we obtained after the first two weeks.

It was hard to see a clear picture at the beginning. We found ourselves trying to dig past fake problems and problems that were just a lack of a specific solution. It was clear that PDIA was the correct method to use in this case because there was nothing linear about the challenges and potential solutions facing legal education in Ukraine. We had to fight the urge to try and find answers too quickly. The problem seemed to have a hundred gaps that each required individual keys and mastery.

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Tackling Access to Affordable and Quality Childcare in Burien, Washington

Guest blog written by Harman Bhullar, Sasinat Chindapol, Crystal Collier, Doreen King, Jingli Yan

This is a blog series written by students at the Harvard Kennedy School who completed “PDIA in Action: Development Through Facilitated Emergence” (MLD 103) in March 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

On the problem …

In the dark, feeling for this shapeless beast,

Even when you think you know, do not be deceived,

Its ever-changing nature will make you question every move,

Build it up, break it down, and you shall find the truth.

When the ‘problem’ came to us, it was really a solution in the guise of a problem, for the original task was to make childcare in Burien a portable benefit that families could take with them. Even as we transformed it into a problem statement of families in Burien not having access to affordable and quality childcare, our problem construction work did not end there – we had painstakingly asked ourselves over and over again why this mattered and why it was a problem, not just a condition. Replicating this thought process with our authorizer Councilmember Kevin Schilling, we found that naming the distinction between the two created a pause and an opportunity for a deeper contemplation to give shape to the initially undefined problem.

Following the PDIA approach, we proceeded to problem deconstruction, which shed light on a number of insights, including underlying causes that did not seem to be obvious and inherent to the problem itself. Firstly, while stakeholders knew that affordable childcare was an issue, their understanding of its complexity was rather limited, contributing to insufficient motivation and urgency to take action. Secondly, the problem was not simply a lack of a solution, implying that no amount of expansion to Burien’s currently restricted budget will solve the childcare problem permanently. Our problem deconstruction pointed to much deeper societal issues that needed to be simultaneously or first addressed, including the need for a wider recognition that childcare is not an individual problem but in fact, one that weighs upon the community as a whole.

Fishbone Diagram

After we finally decided on three potential entry points to tackle first (awareness, lack of business support, and lack of city support), we began to fully appreciate the dynamicity of both the problem and the change space surrounding it. Through continually gathering information from a broad network of people and sources and updating our prior, we came face to face with the possibility that a change in one piece of information may trace back and require corrections to all of our past decisions. This realization, alongside the uncertainty that came with it, was difficult to embrace, and it also manifested in our AAA analysis. Kevin reminded us that authority, acceptance, and ability can change quickly, so does the feasibility of every solution that has been generated as a result of this analysis. It struck us that, perhaps we were too static in unpacking the problem and building the change space around the authorizer. Therefore, a dynamic mindset and an understanding of the problem as an evolving object, be it in the context of a six-week project or a five-year one, is an absolute necessity.

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Exploring Police and Community Relations in Lancaster, PA

Guest blog written by Anne Dietterich, Amreen Bashir, Awab Elmesbah, Giang Pham, Revanth Voothaluru, Seun Akinfolarin

This is a blog series written by students at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education who completed “PDIA in Action: Development Through Facilitated Emergence” (MLD 103) in March 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

We started MLD103M as six complete strangers scattered across three continents trying to learn better ways to tackle complex problems like those we expect to face in our careers. The class was different, though, from what we were used to. We were divided into teams, given real-life problems, and asked to learn in practice. Our project was on Community and Police relations in a city in the US. Over the seven weeks working on this, we experienced quite the journey!

The magnitude of the problem felt the biggest in the first week. When we had just learned about the topic and hadn’t started the process of learning about and understanding the problem, it was difficult for us to imagine what contributions we could make over seven weeks. We had a difficult time figuring out where to start. But it was also difficult not to understand the problem in simple terms: a mistrust between the police and the community that was the result of last summer events, including the police-involved shooting and killing of a resident in the city. At the beginning, the problem seemed as if it started last summer.

After receiving our brief and the initial set of meetings we buried our heads in desk research in the second week. We were trying to construct the problem is: what is the problem is, why does it matter, and how would it look if it were solved. We also had conversations with the authorizers on what they think the “solved problem” would look like. As one of them put it, “we want to build a bridge of communication back and forth with our community… it’s truly a concerted effort between community/police to improve our community”. The authorizers’ investment in solving the problem was a great motivation for the team.

During the third week, we were still relying on what we read from public documents and the media on what the problem is. We started deconstructing the problem and thinking about possible causes of the problem. We started developing a fishbone diagram for what we thought the causes and sub-causes might be. We were clear that these are hypotheses to test and that this was an early draft at breaking down the problem, but it was an important starting point. During this week we started reaching out to people and getting out of our team’s bubble.

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