Promoting design for global business in Brazil

Guest blog by Isabel Tarrisse da Fontoura

“The flow of life envelopes everything. That’s life: it heats up and cools down, it tightens and then loosens up, it becomes calm and then unrests. What it wants from us is courage”.

João Guimaraes Rosa

1. An act of courage

The Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) program Implementing Public Policy (IPP) is an act of courage. It is so from the day you decide to commit to six months of action learning in the middle of a global pandemic to, today, as we end this journey with 142 peers from 47 countries and the HKS team, and we’re moving ahead working on pressing challenges we care too much about to let go.

The good part is that every ending is a new beginning.

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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

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

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

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

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

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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Youth Unemployment in Nepal

Guest blog written by Raunak Thapa, Sayujya Sharma, Shraddha Gautam, Srizu Bajracharya, Natasha Kafle, Sameer S.J.B. Rana

This is a team of six development practitioners working for an NGO in Nepal called Daayitwa. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in May 2019. This is their story.

We first came to know about the PDIA Course through our colleagues at Daayitwa, who had previously taken the course. They told us how it would help us understand the problems we were working in as an organization. We were very excited about what it does and how it works.

Daayitwa works towards building an entrepreneurial environment for youths in the country – the majority of whom are leaving the country every day for better opportunities in foreign countries. However, most have fallen to work for labor jobs. Some countries in the middle east house many Nepali workers, who sometimes do not return to the country, to their families because of their dire financial situation at home.

Daayitwa since its initiation has been working to make an enabling environment for youths through its different programs: Fellowship, Rural Enterprise Acceleration Program, Leadership Course, and Yuwa Aaja! (Youth Engagement for Youth Employment.)

The six of us (who took the PDIA course) actually come from different entities under Daayitwa; however, we were keen to understand the experience that our friends who had taken the course appreciated so much. Initially, we didn’t comprehend many questions like what is our problem? Who does this matter to? When would be the appropriate time to take actions? How do we work towards the problem?

Sometimes, when you come into an organization – there is already a set way of doing things, which everybody follows. But the PDIA course, helped us (the six of us) look at problems we were looking at in more detail, and gave a chance to work closely and to understand how to deconstruct the issues that we were working to identify solutions. Continue reading Youth Unemployment in Nepal

Tackling the problem of basic education in remote areas of Indonesia

Guest blog written by Annisaa Rachmawati, Agusti Padmanisa, Yossy Rachmatillah, and Senza Arsendy.

This is a team of four development practitioners working for an education program in Indonesia, INOVASI, that aims to find out ‘what works’ (and conversely what does not work) to improve student learning outcomes in literacy and numeracy in basic education. They are a multidisciplinary team of officers working in communications, program implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and operations unit. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in May 2019. This is their story.

Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 6.47.37 AM

The term PDIA is something that our team is familiar with, in fact it’s a buzzword we hear everyday at work. Our project uses PDIA as its underlying approach, yet there seems to be different interpretations and debates around how it should be translated into program implementation. Having observed this notion for a while, we decided to enroll in PDIA Online Course to learn rigorously about the approach. We were convinced that this course will equip us with practical knowledge to actually do what we preach in our project.

There are four principles which encompasses PDIA. First, we need to ensure that our intervention is “problem driven” instead of solutions driven. Second, we need to engage relevant stakeholders and create environment which allows for “authorization of positive deviance”. Third, we need to foster experiential learning through “iteration and adaptation”. Last, we “scale through diffusion” successful interventions for reform to be sustainable.

The problem we are trying to tackle is “early grade students in remote areas in Indonesia have difficulties learning to read”, a persisting issue our country has been struggling for decades despite the many efforts collectively put by the government, donor programs, and education practitioners. Policies and best practices (either locally nominated or externally imported) seem to be successful in a short period of time, deceiving us into thinking that we might have solved this problem for good. Not long after specific project or intervention is completed, the same problem reoccurred – leading us right back into capability traps. (Isomorphic mimicry alert!)

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Legal Education Reform in Ukraine

Guest blog written by Artem Shaipov, Ivan Shemelynets, Sheverdin Maksym, Maryna Yakubovych.

This is a team works for the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, the Legal Education Committee of the Ukrainian Bar Association, and the USAID New Justice Program in UkraineThey successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in December 2018. This is their story.

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What were some key takeaways from this course?

This rigorous, insightful course helped our team to become a true team in the first place. We learned a lot on teamwork and multiagent leadership and obtained a better understanding of how, in fact, change materializes in different contexts.

We also gained a bird’s eye view on state capability and its development through the reading on the “big stuck” in state capability. We also got a more nuanced understanding of the  accountability mechanisms through studying four relationships of accountability and how they affect development.

Our comparing and contrasting the 2015 problem with the 1804 problem was quite an eye-opening experience as we better understood how a true development is made possible — through problem-driven, iterative adaptations. Continue reading Legal Education Reform in Ukraine