Using a problem-driven approach in Ethiopia

Guest blog by Abdu Nuru

It was my director in my department who sent the email to us briefing us about the program. It specifically addressed those who were in a more senior leadership level as it would be more important. I read the whole email and I knew it wasn’t meant for me because it said case team leaders and blah blah blah. And I thought who said that? The last thing I could get is rejection and if I am accepted, it would be a great experience. I applied and I was admitted.

That was my journey to the first formal online program, and it ended up being a very important course especially to people who work in a similar sector to me. From defining a regional or national growth problem to devising a high level and inclusive strategy, Leading Economic Growth offered miraculous insights and approaches on how to solve complex problems.

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Addressing Youth Unemployment in Ghana through PDIA

Guest blog by Afua Gyekyewaa

The Youth Employment Agency (YEA) of Ghana was created specifically to address the issue of youth unemployment. In 2006 when the Agency was created, the unemployment rate especially among the youth was very high. Facing this challenge, the government set up the National Youth Employment Programme (NYEP), now YEA, to find a solution to the problem, albeit as a stop-gap measure. The jobs that were created had two- year duration and not permanent solutions. With a new government came a new management. This new management’s vision is to find permanent solutions to the youth unemployment problem in the country. The Agency wants to do this by creating more sustainable jobs for the youth and moving away from the two-year temporary jobs. Now the challenge is, creating sustainable jobs is alien to the Agency. There are no laid down structures and processes neither are there any concepts to follow.

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Developing the agriculture sector in Gabon

Guest blog by Dadja Tabo

My background and goals

As a leader of audit and advisory assignments working in a Big 4 consulting firm, I have developed an expertise in accompanying public sector clients (ministries, central administrations, states owned companies) in different fields of public policy making, policy evaluation (SMEs & private sector, investment promotion strategy, development of agricultural sector).

While attending HKS programs, I expected to enhance my capabilities in economic development and public policy matters such as: (i) understanding key concepts of economic growth, (ii) acquiring tools to design, implement and assess public policies in the perspective of growth, (iii) sharing best practices with other executives. Finally, my ultimate goal was to acquire new skills to impact on the economic development of African countries.

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Agri inputs market reform in Liberia through the PDIA lens

Guest blog by Darkina Sie Cooper

I was super excited signing up for the Implementing Public Policy (IPP) Online Program, especially haven completed the Leading Economic Growth (LEG) program and being introduced to the PDIA concept and meeting already Prof. Matt Andrews and seeing how amazing he is; I was also eager to dive deeper into the PDIA concept and was looking forward to approaching my problem differently. Given that the IPP is 6 months long, I was particularly looking forward to additional tools and a more dynamic approach in solving my policy challenge. Looking to develop the tools to pitch my ideas and gain buy-in from authorizers were among my many expectations. I was also extremely excited looking forward to meeting more amazing professors and drinking from their fountain of knowledge. Certainly, the course didn’t disappoint, all these were provided for in the long but insightful journey of learning on the go. But above all these, and most importantly, I remain ever thankful to the Kistofes Fellowship of the HKS for allowing me to join not only an amazing program but meeting an amazing group of people from all over the world, from diverse background, sharing their stories; all these couldn’t have been possible and could have only been one of those many exciting dreams if not for you. A million thanks, I am humble!

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Encouraging Nigeria’s youth to engage in agribusiness

Guest blog written by Abubakar Murtala Mohammad

The understanding of Public Policy Implementation became a necessity for me after my appointment as the Senior Special Assistant on SDGs to the Executive Governor of Nasarawa State, Nigeria. My career path has, up till then been in the Private sector where the main aim is profiteering as against the Social services for communal purpose of the public sector. My first instinct for success is to equip myself with the requisite Public Policy knowledge. This is with a view to reduce the incidence of Policy failure on all my assigned duties.

There is no better place for this learning process than the IPP Program as offered by Harvard Executive Program which I immediately applied for, and when I got admitted, my excitement was beyond measure.

I have attended quite a few Executive Education courses, mostly as in-person events. I therefore commenced the IPP Online program with a mixed feeling as regards to the content, engagement, and fluidity of knowledge transferability. I discovered, some weeks into the program, that the IPP Online is a well-structured program with engagement as close to an in-person experience, but only better-thanks to Salimah and Amber. The program is intense as well as extensive with a caution for ‘burn-out.’ A good use of feedback mechanism is encouraged throughout the duration of the program. Thumps up Ms Anisha Poobalan, my TA for interactive feedback and encouragement.

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Increasing Tomato Production in Nigeria

Guest blog written by Edward Adamu

When I first thought of my policy implementation challenge, it appeared daunting, knowing that past policy attempts had not yielded any dependable solution to the problem. When I constructed the problem, it became even more frightening. As I went further to deconstruct the problem, I realized it was indeed a complex…too many causes and seemingly endless sub-causes. I began to imagine how tedious it would be to mobilize enough agents, and the diversity of agents I would need scared me even further. I had one thing going anyway – the courage to continue, drawn essentially from the early readings provided by faculty and the assurance that there existed an approach for dealing with complexity in the policy arena. I was simply curious!

My confidence started to grow after reading the piece on the journey to the West in 1804. Even then, I retained some doubts about the mission. I think my actual breakthrough came when PDIA – Problem-driven iterative adaptation – was introduced as the approach to be used. I had been introduced to the PDIA concept at earlier programs I had attended at HKS. Furthermore, I was particularly inspired by the Albanian example of its application. PDIA is a policy implementation approach that offers the policy implementing team ample learning experience and opportunity to adapt, anchored on a stepwise or incremental process of developing a policy and executing same. It is especially suited to a policy situation in which there are many unknowns, which are often better understood along the way.

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Reflecting on the Growth of Agriculture in Albania

Guest blog written by Lorena Pullumbi

The Leading Economic Growth course has been an absolutely inspiring intellectual journey for me. Having taken place during unprecedented times and mostly under lockdown, it was a unique opportunity to truly reflect on key principles of economic growth while using that toolset to better understand the unfolding of policy choices and drivers of economic growth for my own country (as a policy professional working for the administration, you don’t always get that chance often). The world class academic excellence was a major driving force that triggered my intellectual curiosity and led me to deepen the involvement with course material and do further research, whereas the way the on-­‐line learning platform was designed made the course a delightful experience that I was looking forward to, every time I switched back from my day job.

Admittedly, coming from a background of political science and international relations, I had some initial self-­‐hesitation as to what level I would be able to absorb and internalize concepts from economic theory. Those doubts were slowly overshadowed by the exiting content that I read during the week and the engagement of faculty during live session discussions that made the course look highly practical and versatile to many situations around the developing world. Because of the breadth of information and cases from around the world brought by faculty and participants, it was easier to confront ideas and challenge existing ones. The design of weekly assignments in the form of a snowball (or rather straw rolls) that relied on information obtained during the weeks and build towards a final strategy to promote economic growth were a very engaging and demanding task that helped me to stay focused and better adapt abstract ideas and principles taught during in the course, in a concrete environment and circumstances of my country.

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A Professional Watershed in Kenya’s Land of Climate Change

Guest blog written by David Sperling

I was optimistic: I knew the course would be useful and would help me understand better, at least in theory, how one might best go about implementing a public policy decision. Little did I realize what a profound impact the course was going to have on my professional work. I never imagined that something like PDIA existed, much less that it would be applicable in a highly practical way to my own policy challenge, working as I was, and am, with agricultural pastoralists in the dry region of Turkana County in northern Kenya. The progressive practical application of new ideas and concepts throughout the course was invaluably useful.  What I have learned far exceeded my expectations. 

My key learning moments during the course came about because of its: 1) comprehensive deep analysis of the dynamic context of public policy challenges; and 2) the accompanying creation of “implementation capability”. The definitional ideas/concepts especially useful to me were:

–  the core idea of deconstructing the “meta-problem” into its multiple dimensions and then pursuing a “problem-driven sequencing” solution;

– the ideas of “state capability”, “premature load bearing” and “isomorphic mimicry”;

– the distinction between “project completion and success” and “policy impact success”;

– the fact that there is an “authorizing environment”, not just authorizers, and that authorization needs to be maintained; it’s not self-sustaining or self-perpetuating;

– the difference between “functional success” and “legitimacy success”;

– the concept of “capability taxonomy” and the “organizational capability” needed to implement public policy;

– the “triple-A” factors of authority, acceptance and ability that characterize “change space”.

Other key learning moments came about because of the specific questions like: “What did you manage to do in these last few weeks? What questions do you have moving ahead? How have you managed up? What did you learn as you did this work? List the new people you have met and engaged with in the last three weeks”. These questions needed action-answers. No waffling! The Assignments were most helpful. They required me to be hard-nosed and specific in assessing progress and planning for the future, and more accountable to myself, constantly asking real-life and real-work questions about past progress, present initiatives and future planned action. I wasn’t used to asking myself such questions. The course has helped better define, and raise the standard of, my self-accountability.

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Agricultural Inefficiencies in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Guest blog written by Sakineh Roodsari, Son Truong Can (Kenny), Dinh Quoc Cong, Nguyen Uyen, Phuoc Hung Thach, and Long Ho.

This team is made up of an independent group composed of 6 individuals coming from both the public and private sector. They are a multidisciplinary team of professionals who have worked in the following positions: the head of agricultural cooperatives and farm division – Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), a former manager of an agriculture cooperative in Tan Thanh Tay, director of Cu Chi High Tech Agriculture Cooperative, former World Bank consultant, project finance specialist, and as a facilitator of ASEAN SMEs Academy. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in December 2018. This is their story.

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How do we solve our wicked hard problem of farmers’ lack of motivation to learn, follow safe standards, and new techniques with higher value added? Although our team only has three members with experience in the agriculture sector, we all understood the urgency of working on this problem. In particular, because food safety is one of the biggest concerns in Vietnam, and the lack of food safety is the number one cause of cancer. Due to the agriculture inefficiencies in the value chain, it is difficult to tackle this problem using conventional methods.

This course taught us a series of toolkits that required innovative and experimental approaches to development, through a process called Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA). During the first half of the course, we learned a lot of concepts. One particular term that really stuck was Isomorphic Mimicry. “Isomorphic mimicry is the tendency of governments to mimic other governments’ successes, replicating processes, systems, and even products of the “best practice” examples.” The governments appear capable, but in reality are not. So how do we step away from mimicry? 

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