Guest blog written by David Sperling
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.
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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