Tackling Access to Affordable and Quality Childcare in Burien, Washington

Guest blog written by Harman Bhullar, Sasinat Chindapol, Crystal Collier, Doreen King, Jingli Yan

This is a blog series written by students at the Harvard Kennedy School who completed “PDIA in Action: Development Through Facilitated Emergence” (MLD 103) in March 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

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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