Listen to our first virtual discussion on Public Leadership Through Crisis

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

Leading Remote Teams during Covid-19

Guest blog written by Lindsey Marchessault

In the last few weeks, many organizations around the world have had to pivot sharply to remote work due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This shift can be a daunting transition. However, there are many strategies and tactics that can help teams to maintain effectiveness, productivity, and a sense of normalcy during this challenging time.

At the Open Contracting Partnership, I’ve managed a global remote team since 2015 and I’ve worked from home since 2017. We have staff in Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Germany, Nigeria, Ukraine, the UK, and the US. In addition, our wider Helpdesk team (composed of staff and contractors) sits in New Zealand, Paraguay, and the UK.

My organization supports governments, civil society and business to improve public contracting outcomes around the world. This work involves advocacy, technical assistance, and learning activities. Ultimately, our goal is to empower our partners to implement transformational reforms.

Traditionally, our activities have involved a combination of remote and in-person support. For example, in 2019, we remotely supported 112 partners from 44 countries. We also undertook 46 ‘high-intensity’ engagements (involving significant staff time and/or resources) involving both remote and in-person support. Finally, we delivered 34 training events in 29 countries, most of which were in-person. In 2020, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, we envision conducting most (if not all) of our support and training activities remotely.

So, how do we as an organization manage all of this remote work effectively?

Clear Strategic Targets

The most critical element is to have a clear organizational strategy. This strategy should be codified in clear organizational targets with regular reporting and reflection calls on progress towards the targets. We do this reporting and reflection quarterly. Organizational targets, however, are not enough. We found that clearly defined individual work plans and targets are required to help each team member prioritize their tasks and take responsibility for their own workloads.

Efficient Meetings

When you manage a remote team, it’s important to maintain the types of interactions you would have in a typical office setting. That’s why every Monday morning we have a virtual team meeting that is accompanied by a shared google document. In advance of the meeting, each team member documents the tasks they completed in the previous week and lists their tasks for the week ahead. During the meeting, the management team will also share important updates that are relevant for the whole team. Furthermore, each team member has the opportunity to ask questions to management or other team members, make requests for other team members, and to offer assistance for tasks outside their domain of responsibility.

In addition to these full team meetings, smaller teams within the organization will meet on a regular schedule to cowork and coordinate on tasks. The senior management team meets virtually every Wednesday to make important decisions, share key updates, and reflect on our organization’s progress and performance. Each manager also holds individual biweekly virtual meetings with each of our direct reports. These check-ins are opportunities to discuss work-life balance, assess progress on specific tasks, and strategize to overcome challenges.

Knowledge Management

In an ever-evolving global field that cuts across public financial management, tech, and advocacy, knowledge management is vital to keep us on track and to help us capture lessons learned from our engagements. We use a customer relationship management system (CRM) to manage the support requests from our 100+ partners from different jurisdictions around the world. With the CRM, we can assign issues to each other and add team members as ‘watchers’ so that they receive updates about the issue even if they are not responsible. We also use Google Drive to file our key shared documents, such as our organizational policies, the process documentation for our regular tasks, and detailed descriptions for each engagement, training, research project that we undertake.

Finally, for our technical work on the Open Contracting Data Standard and related software, we use Github (a platform for open source development) to document and work collaboratively on tasks and issues.

Decision Making

When you work as a remote team, it’s important to establish clear lines of decision-making and identify mechanisms for relevant staff to be informed of key decisions, especially relating to budgeting, expenditures, travel, and communication. Over the years, we found that it is extremely beneficial to have a shared document available to all team members that documents explicitly who is authorized to make types of decisions under different scenarios, and who needs to be informed. This approach mitigates uncertainties or blurred lines that can cause stress or affect our work.

To ensure that decision-making is prioritized, we also encourage staff to write concise emails inspired by the advice from this Harvard Business Review article. This way colleagues and managers understand when they are being asked for a decision, for input, or are simply being informed of an important decision.

When issues are too complex to solve through emails, decision calls are scheduled with the relevant team members.

Collaboration and Team Bonding

One thing I miss is being able to go for coffee with colleagues. Coffee breaks are nice for unstructured conversation about our work. To make up for these coffee runs, I sometimes schedule ‘virtual coffees’ or short Google Hangout chats with colleagues when time and workload allows. And to keep as much personal connection as possible, we use a Whatsapp group to share photos and other more ‘fun’ content.

Our organization does meet in person at least once a year for a team retreat. This in-person meeting provides an opportunity to reflect on the implementation of our strategy, agree priorities for the year ahead, and bond as a team. Our team retreat this year was supposed to be in New Orleans this last past week. However, we canceled it in response to the emerging Covid-19 guidance.

Instead, we held a virtual team retreat (using Google Meet and Google Documents). While it was not quite the same as an in person retreat, we managed well since we are accustomed to virtual interaction. Due to time differences, we scheduled only 1.5 to 3 hours per day for the retreat and managed to get through most of the objectives. Our team building exercises also had to adapt. For example, instead of using sticky notes to document progress and priorities on a world map, we used the Conceptboard tool to replicate this task virtually. We are still discovering the many great virtual tools available to enhance our remote work and engagement.

Balancing Work & Childcare

Most schools and daycares have closed due to Covid-19. Having young children at home and working from home presents an additional challenge. During these times, it’s important to work with staff to identify how they will adjust working hours and manage their work and home responsibilities. Ultimately, it comes down to having a bit more patience and flexibility.

The Road Ahead

The breadth and pace of Covid-19 is unprecedented. In this time of social distancing, working remotely is necessary to halt the spread of this outbreak. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t be productive. With the right targets, approach, and adaptability (including toddlers on laps during video calls), your organization can stay on track and keep performing to the best of its abilities.

 

 

Coronavirus and behaviour: Why leaders need better ‘risk communication’

Guest blog written by Peter Harrington

Last week I wrote a post on how the Coronavirus pandemic, like Ebola, needs to be understood as a complex adaptive problem which requires mass learning to solve. In this post I want to focus in on one area of that learning – the behaviour change required to stop transmission, and the leadership and risk communication methods that are needed to make this happen. Coronavirus is both a biological and social phenomenon, and leaders neglect the social dimensions at their peril.

Let’s first establish how behaviour change relates to the epidemic. A couple of weeks ago a viral article called for radical action by authorities to replicate the Wuhan lockdown, in order to save lives and prevent the overload of the health system seen in Italy. A graphic was presented (below) which showed the effect of the lockdown on ‘true’ cases (the grey bars). It then took about two weeks for the effect of the lockdown to be visible in official cases (gold bars). As soon as a lockdown started, new cases plummeted. This is what underlies the lockdown policy in most countries – the only way to stop transmission is if people stay at home. Behaviour change, whether enforced or voluntary, directly translates into lives saved.

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The problem is, many many people in countries with a serious number of cases are not complying with guidance about social distancing, home-isolation and closures of business and various establishments. A public and private tug-of-war is raging between those who take this epidemic extremely seriously and are urging others to observe social distancing and stay at home, and those who see over-reaction and hysteria or don’t want to change their routines. This is going to lead directly to deaths. So what is happening here? Why are leaders’ entreaties being ignored? And should the authorities simply force everyone to stay at home?

I worked in the team that coordinated messaging and communications for the Liberian’s Ebola response. This branch of the response was known as ‘social mobilisation’, working to build citizen understanding and consent, and to change key behaviours to stem the epidemic. What we learned was later documented by Princeton, and has relevance today.

It is well documented that in the early stages of Ebola, the widespread belief that Ebola was not real perpetuated behaviours (like dressing highly contagious dead bodies for traditional funeral) which helped spread the disease. People were not reporting cases, and avoided Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs). Although the affected countries lacked beds, ETUs, burial teams, protective gear, it was people’s behaviour which was paramount in the spread. This relationship between the hard infrastructure of beds, staff, equipment, quarantine, ambulances etc., and the ‘soft’ infrastructure of social networks, messaging and norms is extremely important to remember for Coronavirus too. The hard infrastructure matters hugely: when cases mount, the number of beds, healthy medical personnel and equipment will be crucial. But it is the soft infrastructure that determines how many cases develop and therefore the burden on the hard infrastructure – i.e. the shape of the transmission curve.

Continue reading Coronavirus and behaviour: Why leaders need better ‘risk communication’

Public Leadership Through Crisis 9: Pursue flat, fast, and flexible organizing structures

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).

In my last post, I argued that you should prepare to work differently. In this blog  I will offer ideas on doing that. I am informed by my BSC team’s work with countries employing PDIA (problem driven iterative adaptation) in the face of problems (some crises) and the work of people like Dutch Leonard (whose video was included in the last post).

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Let me start with an observation of the organizing structures typical to public organizations (school systems, local governments, national departments, and more). Most of these organizations tend to be bureaucratic hierarchies; with a defined mission determined (or managed) by the people at the top, and pursued through formal processes by people in highly specified jobs. Using words from the last blog, the authorization mechanisms, acceptance requirements, ability needs, and mobilization mechanisms are all set in place. My guess is your organization looks a little like this?

But there are variations of such structure:

  • Some bureaucracies are stand-alone structures like the Figure 1 below. A single school might be an example of this. The  principal sits at the top and everything is led by her/him.
  • Other organizations are bigger hierarchies with multiple embedded hierarchies, as in Figure 2 below. A school district might be an example. The District commissioner leads a system in which other people lead schools B, C, and D. The leadership and coordination tasks are now split across a group.
  • Other organizations are distributed hierarchies (as in diagram 3 below). A state or national government is an example. One hierarchy (A) is the education department. Another (B) is the health, another (C) is the public works department, etc. In these systems, leadership again is about a group.

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Continue reading Public Leadership Through Crisis 9: Pursue flat, fast, and flexible organizing structures

Public Leadership Through Crisis 8: You’re not ready. No one is. Prepare to work differently

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 have spent 7 posts discussing leadership challenges in crisis for the leader herself or himself; what the individual needs to get ready and steady to help people through crises. In this post I am going to start pivoting to thinking about your organizational capability.

I am hoping that a wide group of people find these blogs useful, but I am writing with a particular group in mind: those responsible for mobilizing a public response (of any kind, at a school, in a sector, in a town, or a nation) in low  capability settings (especially the developing world) where there has often  been a tendency to look to outsiders for help in crises. The advice I offer is not perfect in any way, and will not always travel across contexts, and I do encourage  you to consider other resources and ideas when acting (see our seventh post for ideas), but I—and my team—are offering what we can, given our capabilities, and I won’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good here (I think these are good  ideas and they can be helpful, even if more work could make them better—remember this is a key to remember from post 3).

I have been in touch with a number of leaders faced with the COVID-19 pandemic in the last week or so, and I sense real concern that their organizations and systems do not have the capabilities needed to weather the current storm. In this blog I  want  to agree, but also encourage you: You’re not ready. No one is. Prepare to work differently, with what you have.

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So, you are asking if you have the capability to address this crisis. The answer from me is that you do not. No one does.  But you probably have more latent capability than you know, and can deal with the crisis better than you think if you mobilize it in new ways. Continue reading Public Leadership Through Crisis 8: You’re not ready. No one is. Prepare to work differently