Adding depth and dimension to public policy projects

Guest blog written by Razan Farhan Alaqil

Joining the Implementing Public Policy course started as a “cool” yet very far idea during a ministerial meeting that I was attending. But then, I went back to my team, and we all truly thought “Why not?” Within a matter of weeks, I was registered for the course along with my work colleagues; Dr. Hiba Rajab and Alanoud Al Saud.

While we were submitting our applications during the Holy month of Ramadan, I reflected a lot before answering the question around my long-term career goals, and how this course would help me achieve them. After long thoughts, and while fasting, I wrote the following:

Growing up, I always said that I wanted to ‘change the world.’ Whether that was through my actions, work, or volunteering, I always had that urge to plan a career that would serve this purpose…. I started making that dream of mine a reality.  It was becoming clear because those policy amendments I was working on were influencing not only businesses, but also people’s lives, and each individual was changing their world in their own way.”

That’s how I applied to this course. Confident that the actions we make have a larger butterfly effect on the world, confident that my job was helping me change the world.

My colleagues and I developed our challenge statements together, and we were committed to bringing that knowledge we were about to gain to our wider team in the company, to our stakeholders in the private and public sectors, to individuals working and living while being influenced by the work we were advocating for in policies.

Continue reading Adding depth and dimension to public policy projects

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.

Continue reading If on a Winter’s Afternoon Four Policy Students …

Premature load bearing: a fresh look at the WDR 2011

Guest blog written by Paul von Chamier

In 2011 the World Development Report shed some light on the extent of the challenges that drive premature load bearing, a concept discussed in earlier BSC blog posts. Among hundreds of figures presented in the Report was a simple table that showed how long it should take for so-called fragile countries to achieve a “decent”  level of governance. To define that “decent” level the author, Lant Pritchett, used the World Bank’s World Governance Indicators and assessed how many years it would take until fragile countries hit the threshold of governance quality of the top 40 percent of the best performing countries, this was a score of 6 on the scale of 0-10.[i] The results of the exercise were somber:

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The results suggest that more robust leadership will be instrumental if those countries are to achieve a satisfactory level of governance. If fragile countries were to continue at their current average pace they will not pass the threshold in any foreseeable future. Even in a very optimistic scenario, in which the fragile countries would all at once start improving their institutions at the pace of 20 best performing countries (the likes of Singapore, Taiwan, Denmark, and Canada), it would still take three decades to accomplish. This is the case even though that threshold only denotes a decent level of governance (i.e. not even the level that people in the most developed countries enjoy). Progress, even when rapid, takes place at a very slow, organic pace and even when strong leadership is present it might take a whole generation to bear fruit. 

Continue reading Premature load bearing: a fresh look at the WDR 2011

“There is Rubbish Everywhere!”

Guest blog written by Sinit ZeruSafiatou DialloDiaraye DialloHimideen Toure and Sophie Tidman

Team Guinea successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in June 2018. This is their story. 

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During a press conference held before his second term, Guinea’s President, Alpha Conde, eloquently summarised our team’s chosen challenge: “there is rubbish everywhere!”  In the capital, Conakry, there are sixty-five public places that have become informal dumping grounds – including beaches, roads and markets – holding nearly 35,000 tonnes of rubbish. Every day, 1,000 tonnes of waste are produced in Conakry.  Waste is expected to increase 5% every year, fuelled by population growth and single-use plastic packaging.  The arrival of the first rainfall this year pushed garbage previously retrieved from gutters into homes.  As the rainy season continues to October, overflowing landfill sites threaten lives and cholera outbreaks are feared.

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Several actions have been initiated, including the coordination of a pilot project led by the Prime Minister for efficient waste management and professionalization of the sector.  Citizens, especially the youth of Conakry, have increasingly taken action into their own hands: tweeting selfies in front of piles of rubbish, and organising volunteer clean-up operations of beaches and roads. More recently, an entire neighbourhood blocked traffic on one of the main roads of the capital to express their frustration after having their homes destroyed by landslide of rubbish.

The PDIA method offered the opportunity to break down the challenge and reach out beyond the standard stakeholders and conventional ‘best practice’ approaches.  Three key learnings emerged from our team’s experience of tackling this challenge using PDIA: Continue reading “There is Rubbish Everywhere!”

Motivating teams to muddle through

written by Anisha Poobalan

In theory, PDIA seemed like the most logical, straightforward way to go about solving a problem. A team is formed, they deconstruct the identified problem and then attack each causal area, learning and adapting as they go. Being in the field, meeting with the teams weekly, hearing about the obstacles cropping up at each turn, I realize how frustrating and discouraging this work can be. The first challenge is to get the government officials working, but then comes the task of motivating them to keep at it. The temptation to just give up and revert to the status quo grows greater with each pushback they face.

Motivation is central to this work and motivation is difficult. Each team responds to different methods of motivation at different stages on their journey. Various strategies might boost a team for a week or two before they slow down again. In the past two months, the teams were motivated by presentations to high level authorities, responsibility sheets, healthy inter-team competition, inspiring stories from successful economies, brutally honest conversations, site visits, and more. A common factor in all these strategies is the accountability it creates. Creating a culture in which mid-level civil servants are inspired, empowered and then held accountable for delivering real outputs, is necessary if they are to remain motivated.

Throughout the project, teams voiced concerns at their lack of authorization. They doubted that superiors would support their work and proposals and this demotivated them. One team worried that policy makers would not incorporate their proposals and inputs from external consultants might outweigh the teams’ findings. Another team questioned their authority to directly engage with investors and yet another team worried about their inability to influence change. Over the past two months, teams have presented and received the support of several high-level policymakers, ministries and stakeholders. Much to the teams’ surprise, their superiors are keen to expedite approvals, empower the teams, and take ownership of the proposals made. Real work led to engagement which led to authorization and this high-level support and expectation has motivated the teams beyond belief.

Inter-team meetings and synergies motivate and create accountability as well. The teams eventually understood how dependent they were on each other and success for one team meant success for the whole group. If one team was slacking or faced a road block, the output from another team may not be demanded or used to its full potential. For example, when two inter-dependent teams met for the first time, they realized that although theoretically, the output from the first team was world-class, real world experience and engagements were necessary to inform these results. That was a gap the second team had learned to and now had the capability to fill. This meeting helped link their new, or in some cases latent, capabilities. This growing interdependence has created accountability for each team to deliver. As one team continued to work, they identified a gap in the economy that would challenge their success in the future. They were overwhelmed by the severity of the problem and realized they did not have the bandwidth to address this themselves. Much to their relief however, at the next launchpad session they found that another team was already addressing this issue and the team could assure external parties that the challenge was being addressed. The team worked harder at filling this gap once they knew another group was depending on them to succeed. These are big steps in a system that lacks synergy and suffers from severe coordination failure.

Navigating the local landscape in any context is difficult, but some of these officers have struggled with repeated coordination failure for almost 30 years. This leads to frustration, discouragement and cynicism about change. One of the teams experienced this when trying to share a summary document with another government agency. They had to share this document to get support from higher level officials and expedite their work. What should have taken two days, took over two weeks. A disheartening but useful lesson, this team is learning to plan ahead, follow up and prepare for such delays in their timeline. Another team is still waiting on the approval for a document submitted around six months ago. The time and energy spent on inter- and intra-agency coordination is frustrating but the teams have made considerable progress despite the difficulties. Their persistence and continued efforts are inspiring and we hope that these notes will encourage you to persevere in your own challenging contexts.

Anisha Poobalan worked with us on the PDIA Sri Lanka project from September 2016 to September 2017.

This is part of a blog series that is tagged “PDIA Journey,” written by people who have participated in a PDIA process.