Finding Family through Process Improvement in the U.S.

Guest blog written by Maggie Jones

Trey’s words hung in the air. Would you like to go to Harvard? A million thoughts ran through my head as I watched the unsuspecting traffic pass outside my office. Of course I wanted to go. I had to go. As soon as “yes” stumbled out of my mouth and I hung up the phone, my hand gripped the handset for a moment before I stared blankly at my computer screen. 

How am I going to do this?

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There’s something magical that happens when you walk into an HKS classroom with 48 students and staff from around the world with challenges and backgrounds as diverse as the names on the tent cards. We may have not known it then, but we would become more than HKS’ first Implementing Public Policy cohort, staff included; we would become family. Family with similar struggles in authorization, acceptance, and ability, but also filled with passion, strength, and determination that only comes with a love and respect for this work and for each other.

Over the past seven months, I’ve learned more than I have in a decade of public service; it feels like someone opened a window, fresh air pouring in. Although all of the learnings would certainly take up more than these words, there are a few key takeaways:

  • Failure is always an option. While the private sector may embrace failure, we are rarely given the grace to fall in government. The stakes are framed too high; however, what we seem to have forgotten is what the consequences will be if we continue our current course. If we are failing to meet the needs of those we’ve committed to serve, then we have only lost. We owe it to them – and to ourselves – to be better. We simply must be better.
  • Projects have completion dates; problems evolve. It is important to think about who owns the problem on a constant, iterative basis. As the problem changes, your toolbox needs to change, too.
  • You do not have to go at this alone; you need to find people to share it with. Period.

In my particular challenge (i.e. addressing performance of a federally-funded home repair program), we have finally begun to see a little bit of movement: Continue reading Finding Family through Process Improvement in the U.S.

Can PDIA help to deliver services for the poor?

10 years ago, the World Development Report (WDR) 2004 entitled Making Services Work for Poor People, marked a watershed moment in the development agenda. It recognized that politics and accountability are crucial to improving services. Furthermore, it shifted the focus from measuring inputs to outputs.

Earlier this month, ODI and the World Bank jointly organized a 10th year anniversary conference to celebrate the achievements over the last decade and to discuss what remains to be done. You can browse the multimedia summary of the event.

In the opening plenary, Shanta Devarajan stated that the WDR 2004 changed the nature of the conversation by recognizing that: (i) services fail poor people, (ii) money is not the solution, and (iii) “the solution” is not the solution.

What have we learned?

  • Context Matters: We got better at describing service delivery problems but not at improving services. Ruth Levine in her interview acknowledged that we have learned how to measure how significant the problem is and to unpack the dimensions of service delivery quality. But we have not learned anything generalizable because context matters.
  • Politics Matters: Marta Foresti noted that ‘politics is not just a problem it’s also part of the solution.’ Working around politics rather than with it, does not work.
  • Connections Matter: In her reflections, Leni Wild wrote – we are dealing with systems and networks through which a much wider set of stakeholders are connected. So the nature of the connections matters, in terms of power balances, incentives and norms. This is similar to what Matt Andrews calls multi-agent leadership.
  • Motivating actors to do the right thing is much harder in practice, said Rakesh Rajani in his interview.
  • Individual capacity ≠ organizational capability: Lant Pritchett explained the difference in his interview.

So what will it take to deliver services for the poor?

  • Experimentation: Ruth Levine stressed the need to focus on organizations, individuals embedded in local circumstances/context and enabling local  providers to experiment and learn what works in their context. She added, “it is a long complicated road.”
  • Humility, Curiosity and Openness: Rakesh Rajani stated that we have to be able to know we don’t have all the answers. It is unlikely to work the first time and so we need to have the courage to tweak, listen to others and to learn from failure. Asking questions, trying, iterating, struggling and learning, rather than having solutions, is key.
  • Commitment at every level, political, organizational and individual.
  • Willingness to acknowledge and learn from failure.

These sound a lot like PDIA principles …

Muddling

Image reproduced from a blog on writing and inspiration:  http://inkspirationalmessages.com/2012/02/10371/

The 5 M’s of Development: Mobilizers matter (Part 5 of 5)

written by Matt Andrews

As I reflect on how change happens in development, 5 themes come to mind. I have written about the importance of moments, muddling, the mundane and multiple men and women. In keeping with the ‘m’s’, today I will emphasize the importance of mobilizers.

These are the people who bring multiple men and women together, encourage them to work beyond the mundane, muddle purposively, and take advantage of or create moments for change. They are people who convene small groups of key agents needed to play specific roles (often in teams or in small authorizing groups), or who connect distributed agents to each other (so the agents don’t even need to interact directly), or who motivate people across networks. These mobilizers are the key to effective leadership, if you ask me, because they bring all the different fucntional roles together. Here is an example of conveners and connectors in action, in a simplified version of a recent reform story I was engaged in. It was work in the judicial sector of a country. A donor had been supporting initiatives to introduce a statistical management system to the sector, so that resource allocation decisions could be more evidence based (everyone would know where case loads were high, where judges and prosecutors were present, where buildings were in place, etc.). After five years and millions of dollars no system existed. This was partly because different groups across the sector did not engage in the reform together. The donor had connections to the ministry of justice and although there were overlaps with the Supreme Court and prosecution, there were no direct connections. Thus the reform was not supported by the other agencies. See my diagram … Sorry it is a mess. Image
I started working on the issue, and had a local person work with some of the folks in the ministry of justice and the courts and the prosecution, as a convener (see M1 in the figure below). This person worked with me to hold meetings of people from these different agencies, and in this way created first degree relationships across the agencies that helped foster a common understanding of the problems warranting change and of the potential ways the agencies could work together to foster change. The role of one mobilizer created direct links between key agents and indirect links between all agents in the system. This opened up access to new ideas, functions, contributions, etc. Image
A second type of mobilization was also important, however, and involved another person working as a connector between distributed agents in the ministry of justice, courts and prosecution office (because it is not only important to convene the heads). This person (M2 in the figure below) created relationships between multiple people in the system and allowed them to connect with each other THROUGH him. This connector role ensured that all people in the system had a first or second degree link to other people, which made the network tighter than it was before, opening a path to agreement on reform and enhancing access to talents and ideas needed for reform to work. Image
The reform is still going step by step, but the connections are better than they have ever been. These connections are proving vital to reform and development and are only possible because of the role of mobilizers in the change process.

The 5 M’s of Development: Multiple Men and Women matter (Part 4 of 5)

written by Matt Andrews

As I reflect on how change happens in development, 5 themes come to mind. I have written about the importance of moments, muddling and the mundane. Today I will discuss the fourth one: multiple men and women matter. In my experience, development and governance reform is about people, not as targets of change, but as agents of change.

This is not a surprising observation but is an important one nonetheless, especially when one considers how little attention development initiatives commonly give to the men and women who have to risk and adapt and work to make change happen and ensure change is sustained. Development initiatives tend to emphasize ideas and money much more than people, even though it is the latter that actually come up with ideas, shape ideas to contexts, and use resources to foster change.

When people are considered in development initiatives, it is often with a narrow lens on ‘champions’ or ‘heroes’. That’s not the picture I see as relevant in the research and applied work I have been engaged in. This work shows me that development and change require multiple functions or roles: we need someone to identify problems, someone to identify solutions, someone to provide money, someone to authorize change activities, someone to motivate and inspire, someone to connect distributed agents, someone to convene smaller groups, someone to provide key resources other than money, and someone who can give an implementation perspective (of the implications of proposed change).

For a variety of theoretical reasons I don’t think we will often find these functions played by one person, or organization. My empirical research suggests that this is true in practice. What I see in my studies is that successful reform requires multiple people providing leadership in a coordinated and synergistic way, such that all the different functional roles are played in an orchestra of change (people who are familiar with Lee Kuan Yew’s view of leadership will relate to the idea of the orchestra).:

  • I wrote a paper on leadership in twelve interesting reforms, where I tested whether one person stood out as the major leader. I found that this was not the case at all. Many people were identified as leaders in the cases, all playing different roles in the change process.
  • In a review of 30 cases of successful reform (from Princeton University’s Innovations for Successful Societies repository) I found that an average of 19 agents were mentioned as playing the roles noted. They all took risks and stood out for providing an important part of the change puzzle.

    The research does find that ‘champions’ exist in many cases, however. But being a champion does not mean being multiple people (or wearing multiple hats, or playing multiple functional roles). Instead, my work showed that where a champion exists, he or she plays three specific functional roles: Authorizing, Convening, and Motivating. The champions do not typically play the other roles.

The 5 M’s of Development: Mundane matters (Part 3 of 5)

written by Matt Andrews

As I reflect on how change happens in development, 5 themes come to mind. I wrote about the importance of moments which are vital to foster change in complex contexts, and muddling which is important to find and fit reform and change content that fosters real development. Today I will discuss the third one: mundane.

The mundane matters in development. What I mean is simply that everyday, boring, taken for granted events, pressures, relationships, activities and such have a huge influence on prospects for change and development. We think these things are ordinary, banal, and don’t matter. But actually they dominate time and activity, and are the key to ‘getting things done’ and to prospects for change and development.

If mundane processes and pressures do not foster efficient activity, organizations are likely to be inefficient–there will be loads of meetings and people answering emails and writing papers and filling in time sheets and doing due diligence activities but these mundane activities will not foster effective results. Similarly, if the mundane does not support change then change and development will not happen: people will attend meetings but won’t follow-up with new activities because their time is already spoken for by the mundane.

I have seen this more than ever before in some of my reform experiments in 2013. The trouble they ran into had little to do with a lack of ideas or money. Instead, the challenges were mundane: getting people to ‘do’ new things in already full calendars, and to sit in meetings and engage purposively without looking down at the three cell phones on the table in front of them, and more. In all the experiences I have been part of, change only started when these and other mundane influences were managed or even altered.

The problem is two-fold:

  • First, development is full of mundanity. Governments and development organizations are the ones Andy Partridge (lead singer of the 80s band XTC) was talking about when he wrote: “We’re horrible mundane, aggressively mundane, individuals. We’re the ninjas of the mundane…”
  • Second, the mundane is mundane. What I mean is that most development specialists think it does not matter. “Too boring. Too unimportant. So easy to overcome. Surely not as important as rigorous empirical analysis and fancy new ideas.” But they often find that the mundane crowds out the new activities and empirics–again and again–to limit and undermine development initiatives.

mundane

It would be great to see development experts taking the mundane seriously. I think a strategy to identify, manage and even alter the mundane could be more important than most fancy development strategies. And infinitely more valuable than a fancy ‘Science of Delivery’. We need to rethink the mundane, seeing it as the key to getting things done and the key to change; less ordinary and banal and boring and more central to development.

The 5 M’s of Development: Muddling matters (Part 2 of 5)

written by Matt Andrews

As I reflect on how change happens in development, 5 themes come to mind. I wrote about moments yesterday. Today I will discuss the second one: muddling matters. What I mean is that developing countries need to muddle through if they want to improve governance; there are no quick answers to the complex challenge of governance reform.

However, I don’t mean that countries should be muddled. Muddling through–or purposive muddling as I like to call it–is an active, intentional and focused process that helps countries find and fit solutions that work in their context. I also don’t mean to say that muddling ‘should’ be part of a successful reform process. My research shows that muddling ‘is’ part of successful reform. There is ample evidence that successful change comes about through experimentation with multiple reform options, with an emphasis on solving problems, and a whole lot of iteration and learning. I’ve written a few papers in this regard and will continue to write more.

Many people in the development community tell me that they agree with the idea of muddling (conceptually), but don’t see how it can be done in developing countries or in governments where politicians are looking for solutions and want the solutions ‘yesterday.’ I keep telling these people, that purposive muddling is common, and necessary, and instead of saying ‘it isn’t possible’ we should be exploring the strategies others have adopted to make it possible (and to make it part of the DNA of some organizations).

Muddling

Image reproduced from a blog on writing and inspiration:  http://inkspirationalmessages.com/2012/02/10371/

The 5 M’s of Development: Moments matter (Part 1 of 5)

written by Matt Andrews

As I reflect on how change happens in development, 5 themes come to mind. The first is simple, but is one of the most important observations I continually make when observing successful change that fosters better government and development results: Moments matter.

‘Change events’ happen when contexts become ready for change. That is, when:

  • there is disruption that forces people to accept change,
  • incumbent structures are being questioned,
  • there are viable alternatives that local people are willing to try, and
  • the weight of agency shifts from the old and discredited ways to a search for new ways (that may be untested but promise better solutions to pressing problems).

Interestingly, I find that these moments are not always a product of lucky timing. In fact, I commonly see years of activity and engagement in advance of any ‘moment’ that seems to spawn change. Understanding the moment requires going back in time five or ten years (or longer) and learning about how coalitions were emerging, drawing attention to problems, and experimenting with new ways of doing things. These activities are often at the margin of the story until ‘the moment’ arrives… But without them there would probably have not been a moment at all.

The bottom line is that we should spend more time preparing for moments than we currently do. Moments of readiness matter more than the development solutions we try to stuff into contexts that are not ready for change.

BSC Video 7: Understanding your Authorizing Environment

In the systems we operate within, who identifies problems? who identifies solutions? and how do these people mobilize the ones who have power and authority?  In our research we find that leadership is about multi-agent groups and not single-agent autocrats.

In this video, Matt Andrews, contrasts examples of anti-corruption reforms in Malawi and Botswana to illustrate that authority is cultivated, built in groups, and not around individuals. You can watch the video below or on YouTube.

If you are interested in learning more, read Who Really Leads Development? and Limits of Institutional Reform.