IPP Program Journey: Disaster Resilience in Australia

Guest blog written Jorida Zeneli

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.

When I came to IPP my motivation level was at the lowest it had been in a decade. After two years of struggle to revamp the policies that underpin resource allocation, operating on the edge of the established processes, knocking on many doors, speaking to many people, pouring a lot of sweat and long hours, agitating, engaging, consulting, and facing much resistance for the sake of resistance rather than for sake of progressing the work, I had managed to get something over the line that I believe was a much improved product. There had been several attempts to do so from predecessors, but these had failed. By the looks of it I had succeeded, but I did not feel that way. So I had a bunch of questions and I was hungry for good answers, not non existing silver bullets, just credible insights:  What went wrong and what went right? What insights can I gain into working better and smarter next time? What are the organisational processes that supported me and what hindered my work? How can I manage these more effectively? How can I make meaningful change count? How can I prevent myself but also other people around me from burning out? How can I empower people to drive change? How can I sustain their motivation? How can I support their curiosity?

So the IPP started and it must have been on day 2 when Matt Andrews was talking about the roles that define project success that I had one of these enlightening and so scary realisations at the same time – I had taken over most of the key project roles for pretty much all projects I had been involved in: Ideator, problem identifier, organiser, convenor, empower, authoriser etc. not just for a bit of time, but for the entire duration of these projects, as a complete outsider in a team of accountants. In the same classroom, I was surrounded by incredibly passionate, capable and bright people from all over the world with similar experiences. I learned three lessons in those first two days:

  • Lesson number 1 – I was not alone and shared pain is half the pain and shared joy is double the joy. Loneliness in the workplace is real – so surrounding yourself with a community and sharing the risks/ benefits is the only healthy and sustainable way to approach complex problems that need creativity, perseverance, motivation, skill and a diver’s breath.
  • Lesson number 2: Operate and team like a snowflake molecule that has a strong centre and is linked, however not two of them are the same, so make it unique and tailor it to the context and problem at hand – yes to chemistry!
  • Lesson number 3: Leadership is about risk and restraint (thank you Monica Higgins) – we all have our Everests to climb!

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Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Disaster Resilience in Australia

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.

Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Improving Roadside Ecology in Calgary

PDIA Course Journey: Lagos Beats Plastic

Guest blog written by Emmanuel Adedeji Animashaun, Sedoten Agosa-Anikwe, Olumide Gregory Adeboye and Eriifeoluwa Fiyin Mofoluwawo

This is a team of development practitioners who work for the Lagos State Ministry of Environment and the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in May 2019. This is their story.

The 15-week long PDIA course has finally come to an end. And it has been a time of multiple discoveries and intensive learning for Team Lagos Beat’s Plastic.

Emmanuel had learned about the course from course alumni, who explained the many advantages the course holds for practitioners in the public sector. He discussed this information with other people and selected individuals who displayed interest in learning a new approach. Together we formed Team Lagos Beat’s Plastic. Selecting a team of like-minded individuals is partially responsible for the team’s success. And this is one of the important lessons we learnt in the earlier weeks of the course.

Our team consists of 4 individuals from different backgrounds, but who are directly involved with work related to the environment. Thus, agreeing on a problem to solve was quite easy because waste management, and especially indiscriminate plastic disposal in Lagos waterways, was an issue that already ‘stared us in the face’. Hence, we started the course with the mindset of learning what is different about the Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) approach, and what role it can play in solving the challenge we selected: plastic waste management in Lagos state, Nigeria. Plastic waste pollution/management is an issue that had not received the necessary attention from agents tasked with waste management. About 20% of total waste generated in Lagos is plastic, which suggests to us the (potential and) need for increased attention either for achieving a cleaner city or economic reasons (or both) if this problem is solved.

The Building State Capability book and other essential readings have been wonderful companions for our team. The first five weeks of the course involved individual work (assignments, reflections and graded discussions) in laying a foundation for the course and future teamwork. In those weeks, we all filled huge gaps in our knowledge of how change works. We also learnt about the big stuck faced by countries.

In those first few weeks, we learnt terms like administrative fact-fiction, isomorphic mimicry, transplantation, and premature load bearing. While these terminologies were new to us, their manifestations were not uncommon in our experience. And when we had completed the modules, we could easily identify these manifestations in various public sector interventions in our country, and outside (in literature). We also learnt that externally designed interventions cannot solve internal problems, where internal capabilities to implement and manage the solutions were low or absent. It was very surprising for us to discover that many of these (external) interventions were actually failing and the lesson for us was that throwing (only) money at a problem does not solve the problem (as we saw in the case of new country South Sudan which was a multi-billion dollar and multi-international agency intervention). And for our problem, we found an example of failed transplantation and isomorphic mimicry in existing waste management systems. Continue reading PDIA Course Journey: Lagos Beats Plastic

PDIA Course Journey: Disaster Risk Management in Tanzania

Guest blog written by Ignatus Jacob Matofali, Shamim Ahmed Zakaria, Catherine Peter Marimbo, Nyambiri Kimacha.

This is a team of four development practitioners working for the Prime Minister’s Office, OPML, and the World Bank in Tanzania. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in May 2019. This is their story.

Development is not something that can be achieved overnight and through ideas that worked in other contexts.

It is important to make room for really understanding problem and context instead of suggesting solutions that are external and may not work in the specific country context. There should be a clear definition of the problem by the agents who are facing the problem and they should be involved in finding solutions to that problem. There is no single solution to complex problems which means that solving it requires  finding the root cause of the problem by deconstruction, though this process multiple solutions to a problem will be generated as a result of the emergence of new ideas.

We initially only had scratched the surface and thought, perhaps the issue with disaster risk management in Dar es Salaam was simply that there are no disaster management committees. We thought that maybe by having these committees established and functional then our problem would be solved. Then as we got further into the course and were forced to construct and deconstruct our problem, we learnt that we were missing the bigger picture and that what we had done was propose a solution to what we thought was the problem. Further development of fishbone diagram, led us to understand that lack of committees at ward and sub-ward level was only really one sub-cause in a much more complex setting. Other issues such as a general lack of awareness of disaster issues by community members etc. came into play and eventually we restructured our problem and established about six sub causes in total. Our problem statement then changed from “Disaster Management Committees (DMCs) at ward level are non-existent or not fully functional in addressing Disaster Risk Management (DRM) in Dar es Salaam” to “Disaster Risk Management efforts in DES aren’t effective in managing disasters”. Continue reading PDIA Course Journey: Disaster Risk Management in Tanzania

PDIA and Climate Change Adaptation

written by Tim O’Brien and Salimah Samji

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We launched a pilot course entitled “The Practice of PDIA: Adapting to Climate Change,” in September 2017. This was our first attempt at customizing our free, PDIA online course to a specific theme of development problems. Our motivations in choosing climate change adaptation as an anchor for the course were:

  • A growing understanding that the impacts of climate change are increasingly making complex development challenges harder, and often presenting binding constraints to the growth of inclusive well-being in particular places;
  • A hypothesis that the tools and processes of the PDIA approach could be useful to address climate change vulnerabilities on various scales by empowering local teams and building local capabilities;
  • An observation that local vulnerabilities to climate change could present the kind of shared problems around which coalitions can form and capabilities can emerge for both adaptation and development;
  • An assumption that building resilience is rarely constrained by finance or technology, but often by a lack of shared knowhow to make use of these tools;
  • And a question of whether the development community’s toolkit for climate change adaptation might need to be less focused on discrete projects and “scaling solutions,” and more focused on building a highly-connected and adaptive global community of practice.

Continue reading PDIA and Climate Change Adaptation

We recently ran a PDIA course on climate change adaptation. Why?

written by Tim O’Brien

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Leader of farming cooperative in central Sri Lanka that diversified into ginger production as drought increasingly hurt rice cultivation.

If you live in a developed country, odds are that you think about climate change as something that will harm future generations — your children or your grandchildren perhaps. But if you live in a poor country, chances are much higher that you think of climate change as a source of problems that are affecting you and your family today. Climate change may not be the most important problem for you if you live in a developing country, but odds are that it is making your problems worse.

The climate is changing globally, but vulnerabilities are faced locally, usually in ways that exacerbate existing development challenges. For most poor farmers, when and how the rain falls matters a great deal. But climate change is tending to affect seasonal patterns on which many farmers rely, paradoxically increasing the frequency and severity of both droughts and floods, often in the same places. In many poor cities, climate change is increasing water scarcity, flooding, landslides and overall risk of extreme weather events. For people without electricity in tropical countries, heat waves are increasingly deadly events. For communities that depend on fishing as a means of both income and food, ocean acidification is both an economic and health issue. For countries with weak infrastructure, limited budgets and undiversified economies, macroeconomic vulnerability to weather shocks continues to grow more severe. Continue reading We recently ran a PDIA course on climate change adaptation. Why?