The Pandemic Cannot Stop Us!

Guest blog by Jean-Francois Roussy

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 6-month online learning course in December 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

Here we are at the end of our journey, 22 weeks later! 

When I applied to this program, the lock-down was starting, we were wondering what was going on in the world, how long it would last and learning to telework.  I am now graduating and, while we are still teleworking, we are finally seeing the light end at the end of the tunnel and the vaccines are at our doorsteps (instead of our Doordash order)!

After close to 20 years in the development and implementation of Canadian public policies, I felt that I needed a little extra at this point of my career: to formally learn theories associated to the implementation of public policies and especially learn them from a different perspective than the traditional Canadian ones.  And to learn from others successes, challenges and experiences around the world.

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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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IPP Reflection: It is the journey, not the destination that truly matters

Guest blog written by Deepa Singal

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 6-month online learning course in December 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

Participating in the Executive Education program, “Implementing Public Policy” at the Harvard Kennedy School was a dynamic, motivating and humbling experience. Our global cohort consisted of emerging leaders and seasoned policy experts from multiple sectors and countries, all with the shared purpose of making a positive impact in the world. The course was an interactive and intense program, taught by world class faculty and guest lecturers, supported by Harvard case studies, internationally used and validated methods, and relevant and interesting readings. To say it was tremendously educational is an understatement.

While this course would have been pertinent and fascinating any given year, the teachings and lessons underpinning our curriculum were extremely relevant to the complex and unique challenges facing us in our current context. Our cohort partook in this course as the world dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. Loss, pain and daily stress prevailed throughout the duration of the course, as thousands of people lost their loved ones to an unknown disease, hundreds of thousands were isolated from their family and friends, and children and parents grappled with the stress of online learning and balancing working from home. Seniors were isolated and alone, businesses closed, livelihoods were lost, and front-line staff desperately tried to keep health care systems across the world from falling apart. In addition to the immediate and unintended consequences of the pandemic, our neighbours in the United States held one of the most important and contentious elections of world’s history, people united and divided over the death of George Floyd and the Black lives movement, and society reckoned with race, misogyny, structural inequalities, and the threat of rapidly spreading misinformation. As the world was in a state of unrest unlike most had seen in their generation, my colleagues were tasked with solving some of the world most pressing policy problems while navigating their own personal lives and loved ones through these unprecedented circumstances. 

While I expected this course to be world class, and the methods and tools to be effective in solving policy challenges, I did not expect the core approach – Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation – and the principles underlying this approach to be applicable to almost all challenges we were facing in this current context of uncertainty and loss. Here are my top three learnings from this journey:

Lesson 1: Problem Driven Iterative Adaption is applicable and generalizable to a wide variety of professional and personal challenges: While I entered the class with a challenge from my professional organization, I quickly changed my case study to my volunteer role as a member of my children’s school COVID-19 task force and board member.

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Top 10 Things I learned from Leading Economic Growth

Guest blog written by Robert Trewartha 

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in July 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

 To be honest, I was “volun-told” into this course by the Mayor. I had joined her for the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative in 2019-20 and learned a great deal. This opportunity came along at a time when we were in the height of managing the COVID-19 pandemic in our City. I was not sure I wanted to take on school on top of my 60+ hour work weeks, but I am quite glad that I did. While I am not an economist by training, I found that I was able to keep up and even more, I learned great deal. 

As part of my role, I was asked to help author our City’s economic recovery framework – the foundational document of our recovery efforts for the next 2 years. Much of what I have learned in this course, the revelations, and the self-exploration helped me to write a more thorough, and I hope more effective document. Ideas such as “inclusive growth” were not ones we had explored deeply at the City level before. 

I am a political staffer and I like 10 point plans and lists. So, I thought I would organize what I have learned from this course into a Top 10 list. 

The Top 10 things I have learned from Leading Economic Growth: 

10. Our global economy is built on weak foundations: Our local, subnational, national, and global economies are built on shaky if not crumbling foundations. This has been laid bare during the COVID-19 crisis. Markets no longer match the economic realities of billions of people on this planet as wealth continues to concentrate in the hands of a few. This negatively affects economic growth, productivity, and the health and well-being of the majority of us living on Earth. 

9. The invisible hand is tied behind our back: the invisible hand of the market is not functioning the way it is supposed to because it seems to have been purposefully sidelined in the interests of a few. Our capitalist marketplace is not functioning properly, because if it were, growth would be more equitably distributed and capital would not be so concentrated. Billionaires should not be tolerated in a capitalist system. There are many vowels in the alphabet that were used to create this wealth, but very little of it is given back to the system that helped build it in the first place. 

8. “This is the way we have always done it” is perhaps the most destructive sentence we can use. It holds us back from realizing our growth potential and maintains the status quo. Only through a concerted effort that aims to do things differently will we be able to properly tackle our growth problems (i.e. Sri Lankan or Singaporean examples). 

7. Defining the problem is critical: Too often we believe we know what the problem is (i.e. corruption) and we decide that we are going to tackle said problem. But too often we have not done the hard work needed to define the problem and get to the root causes, which must first be addressed before the problem can be properly addressed. 

6. The binding constraint is elusive: Like challenge of defining the growth problem, understanding what the binding constraint is can be equally as challenging, but just as important. Again, too often we think we know what the binding constraint based on what we can see before us, but until we fully delve into the data and talk to those involved, we will not know. And even if it is isolated, the binding constraint is not always easy to address, due to a myriad factors, including #8 on this list and political priorities. 

5. Use consultants sparingly: Consultants can be useful, but they can also throttle the development of institutional “muscle” and capacity that if developed properly, can far outlast the retainer of the consultant and can continue to produce change and results well into the future. I am intrigued by the PDIA method that builds capacity within an organization, as well as political buy-in. 

4. Best practices are not always best: A cookie cutter approach to growth and economic development does not always produce the best results. While a best practice may work in one jurisdiction, it is not always easily replicated in others. Like consultants, it is best to be wary of best practices as a panacea. They can be useful as a guide and a marker against which to judge your progress and results. 

3. Planting more trees makes it easier for monkeys to jump: Being from Canada, we are blessed with an abundance of natural resources, but also with a diverse array of current and potential exports. As I said in Week 2, I believe we are punching well below our weight for a variety of reasons. Through PDIA and exploratory work, including investment attraction agencies, you can plant more trees and breed more monkeys. It takes a concerted effort that properly identifies the growth problem, as well as the binding constraints, and then actively seeks out new investors and talent. The Singaporean “miracle” was especially instructive in this regard. 

2. Strong leaders are only part of the story: While a strong leader may be important to for public support and a focal point around which to rally, they alone cannot execute an entire growth strategy on their own. No one has that much time, bandwidth, skill or expertise. Ruling with an “iron fist,” does not allow others to take the lead, propose ideas, and develop as leaders. A more decentralized multi-agent leadership model is far more effective in developing a growth strategy than a single leader. 

1. Strong growth is inclusive growth: The story of “us” must include of all of us. Our growth must leave no one behind. We measure growth in terms of GDP and job creation, but we do not often look at the impact on real people, especially the vulnerable, women, visible minorties and the disabled. Macro economic evaluations of growth may show that an economy is “healthy,” but they do not tell the entire picture. Growth that is inclusive is growth that empowers more people to be more productive. 

Profit cannot be our only measurement for success; productivity is incredibly important as well. 

As we head into the recovery from COVID-19, I will be using the PDIA approach to address some of our City’s fundamental growth problems. In fact, in the past week, I have raised some of the ideas learned in this course, including PDIA and inclusive growth with our Director of Economic Development. We will be developing a plan of action that involves many agents both within our City government, as well as in other levels of government and across the community. 

The big challenge we will face is garnering political buy-in for our plans, as they are unlike anything we have attempted before. I suppose this one element that I hoped the course would touch on more: political influence and acceptance. Perhaps I see the world differently from my economic development counterparts as I am a political staff person, but I believe that we often underestimate the significant role that politics plays in not only providing licence to ideas and approaches, but also in championing them. The Green New Deal is a wonderful document that seems like a “no brainer,” until it is put on the floor of a legislature for debate. I know there are limits that I am just not allowed to test at this time due to the political realities in my community and my country (we’re spending $12B to build a pipeline to carry crude to a marketplace that increasingly does not want to buy crude). This course might benefit from some discussion of how to influence people at a political level to advance a novel growth strategy. 

Overall, I found this course incredibly worthwhile, eye-opening, thought-provoking, and engaging. I enjoyed the weekly lectures and I actually relished my weekly assignments. I thoroughly enjoyed my Thursday evening meetings with Peer Group 22; in fact, we have agreed to keep meeting monthly outside of this course. If given the opportunity, I would definitely take another course like this one. 

My sincere thanks for your time in reading and grading my weekly submissions. I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours. 

To learn more about Leading Economic Growth (LEG) watch the faculty video, and visit the course website.

IPP Program Journey: Improving Roadside Ecology in Calgary

Guest blog written by Andrew McIntyre

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.

Public policy is hard. Mitigating climate change as biodiversity continues to decline, tackling growing wealth inequality, and building a healthy, pluralistic society in the face of rising authoritarian populist movements across the world are just some of the most significant problems facing governments in 2019. These problems are complex, but we must summon the will to tackle them. To paraphrase an insightful colleague in our Implementing Public Policy (IPP) cohort: as practitioners of public policy, our passion to overcome our challenges must, by necessity, be greater than the problems themselves. 

Only governments can truly address collective action problems and market failures. Governments also need to be able to address changing policy objectives and public expectations in the face of institutional and cultural inertia that resists change. But too often governments select the wrong tool for the task. Around the world we’re witnessing a breakdown in public trust and confidence in governments as the traditional public policy tools and processes used by governments fail to deliver the results necessary to meet public expectations and solve the complex problems we’re facing. Too often the risk-averse culture within public administration prioritizes the traditional approach to project management – what our IPP coursework referred to as “plan and control” – over the incremental testing, learning and building on successes. The erosion of the governments’ legitimacy in the face of these mounting complex problems calls for new tools.

So for me, IPP solidified many of the critiques I’ve long made – or simply felt but hadn’t yet clearly articulated – about how governments do their public policy work. Further, IPP presented a clear alternative approach to test and learn as we make progress incrementally on policy problems. The Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) method is actually quite straightforward. The simplest explanation of PDIA is that it focusses on correctly diagnosing and categorizing the problem(s) to be solved and then seeking authorization to create a space for learning and testing in order to scale up what works. This is in stark contrast to “plan and control” which is often mandated by governments – including the City of Calgary – as the only acceptable approach project management wherein a “solution” is quickly arrived at without much thought. The resulting work is structured around achieving this “solution” in a linear, sequential fashion. By spending more time carefully defining and testing the elements of the problem(s) PDIA helps ensure that governments address the delta between project success and the outcomes being sought. PDIA seeks to rectify why projects are often successfully completed but do not actually solve the problem.

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