Examining Rising Teacher Shortages in the United States

Guest blog by Razan Alayed, Aleena Ali, Ryan S. Herman, Cecilia Liang, Krizia Lopez

There were many lessons to be extracted from this course and through applying the Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) approach to our concurrently ordinary and extraordinary problem. The issue of teacher shortage has existed for many years and is persisting in the United States, with the pandemic exacerbating and laying bare the public education system. Through iterative thinking and discussions, we as a team were able to narrow and focus our problem to what was relevant to our authorizer and her context, as well as surface the causes that continue to influence the issue at hand. Specifically, the PDIA process has taught us to dig deeper into root causes and distill them into comprehensive understandings; in fact, we discovered along the way that some sub-causes are shared among larger entry points, which was pivotal to defining our ideas and action steps. This process taught us that starting with small ideas and growing them is key to the iterative approach, since we were able to take frequent pauses, reflect, modify and then go back into the solution space. This also allowed us to experiment with our ideas and to obtain timely feedback through stakeholder interviews prior to investing time and resources on ideas that may not work in our context. Suffice to say that this experience has been fruitful for our professional journeys, and we will be taking these learnings as we move forward in our careers.

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Examining public administration and budget in Peru

Guest blog by Nohelia Navarrete Flores

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.

There is a phrase that reads “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link”. After 10 years of managing Public Health projects, I had realized that it was more than just a phrase; it was a fact, and I started reflecting on how to make that weak link stronger.
I first thought of joining the Implementing Public Policy course to complement what I had learnt in Leading Economic Growth. I was looking forward to experiencing a longer and adaptive process to help me developing the policy challenge I had identified in the previous course.

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Using PDIA approach for sustainable and integrated health system strengthening in Nigeria

Guest blog by Aisha Allamin Daggash

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.

My expectations for the IPP Online Program when I signed up was to gain insight into strategies and frameworks that will support my work in getting government to be more effective and efficient in implementing innovative, integrated and sustainable solutions for health systems strengthening in Nigeria. However, this course has exceeded my expectations in combining leadership management and the PDIA, which has equipped me with the right resources, knowledge and skills to build the teams and networks required to succeed in the work that I do.

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Strengthening Collaboration to Tackle Increasing Homicides in Charlotte, North Carolina

Guest blog written by Simone D’Abreu, Smriti Iyer, Sofia Salas, Hafou Toure, Annie White

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 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

PDIA can simultaneously hold the complexity of being exciting and frustrating; challenging and inspiring; harder and easier than you think. If we could choose one phrase to define PDIA, it would probably be iterative learning. In the next few lines, we want to share some of the main things we learnt in this process, both about doing PDIA and about working with a team.

Bring on the problems, not the solutions

We have been trained to jump to solutions and answers and not spend enough time diagnosing the problem. Through this process we learned that asking the right questions and defining the problem -over and over again- is often more productive than finding the “right” solution. This understanding and learning stems from the idea that often problems are complex in nature and understanding the levers within the problem we can operate in is more important that jumping to a solution immediately.

Problems have many explanations as they are people involved

Everyone has a different view of the problem and the factors driving it. It’s hard to explain how knowing more about a problem makes it even harder to articulate it in one sentence and honor the conflict and ambiguity that exists in its definition. Problems, as well as problem definitions are not static and evolve over time. Different people have different views and explanations that must be listened to. As such, we should constantly evaluate our definitions of the problem.

The problem we were trying to delve into was that of coordination between the city and the county in order to tackle the increasing rates of homicides better in the city of Charlotte. We went back and forth on what to define the problem as and in our initial discussions our fishbone analysis which looks at root causes resembled the diagram below.

As time progressed our problem definition continuously evolved and we found that each stakeholder we spoke to had a different perspective on what the problem was and what were the root causes that led to symptoms such as high homicide rates. We mapped the root causes against the three dimensions that PDIA framework provides us, that is; Authority, Acceptance and Ability of the authoriser of our work to affect change in the problem of lack of coordination between different agencies. On the basis of this framework, we narrowed the causes and the areas we could intervene in, to Competing Priorities and Trust Deficit. We chose these two because they rated highest on the parameters of acceptance, authority and ability and were not problems that we felt were necessarily structural in nature.

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Leading Remote Teams during Covid-19

Guest blog written by Lindsey Marchessault

In the last few weeks, many organizations around the world have had to pivot sharply to remote work due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This shift can be a daunting transition. However, there are many strategies and tactics that can help teams to maintain effectiveness, productivity, and a sense of normalcy during this challenging time.

At the Open Contracting Partnership, I’ve managed a global remote team since 2015 and I’ve worked from home since 2017. We have staff in Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Germany, Nigeria, Ukraine, the UK, and the US. In addition, our wider Helpdesk team (composed of staff and contractors) sits in New Zealand, Paraguay, and the UK.

My organization supports governments, civil society and business to improve public contracting outcomes around the world. This work involves advocacy, technical assistance, and learning activities. Ultimately, our goal is to empower our partners to implement transformational reforms.

Traditionally, our activities have involved a combination of remote and in-person support. For example, in 2019, we remotely supported 112 partners from 44 countries. We also undertook 46 ‘high-intensity’ engagements (involving significant staff time and/or resources) involving both remote and in-person support. Finally, we delivered 34 training events in 29 countries, most of which were in-person. In 2020, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, we envision conducting most (if not all) of our support and training activities remotely.

So, how do we as an organization manage all of this remote work effectively?

Clear Strategic Targets

The most critical element is to have a clear organizational strategy. This strategy should be codified in clear organizational targets with regular reporting and reflection calls on progress towards the targets. We do this reporting and reflection quarterly. Organizational targets, however, are not enough. We found that clearly defined individual work plans and targets are required to help each team member prioritize their tasks and take responsibility for their own workloads.

Efficient Meetings

When you manage a remote team, it’s important to maintain the types of interactions you would have in a typical office setting. That’s why every Monday morning we have a virtual team meeting that is accompanied by a shared google document. In advance of the meeting, each team member documents the tasks they completed in the previous week and lists their tasks for the week ahead. During the meeting, the management team will also share important updates that are relevant for the whole team. Furthermore, each team member has the opportunity to ask questions to management or other team members, make requests for other team members, and to offer assistance for tasks outside their domain of responsibility.

In addition to these full team meetings, smaller teams within the organization will meet on a regular schedule to cowork and coordinate on tasks. The senior management team meets virtually every Wednesday to make important decisions, share key updates, and reflect on our organization’s progress and performance. Each manager also holds individual biweekly virtual meetings with each of our direct reports. These check-ins are opportunities to discuss work-life balance, assess progress on specific tasks, and strategize to overcome challenges.

Knowledge Management

In an ever-evolving global field that cuts across public financial management, tech, and advocacy, knowledge management is vital to keep us on track and to help us capture lessons learned from our engagements. We use a customer relationship management system (CRM) to manage the support requests from our 100+ partners from different jurisdictions around the world. With the CRM, we can assign issues to each other and add team members as ‘watchers’ so that they receive updates about the issue even if they are not responsible. We also use Google Drive to file our key shared documents, such as our organizational policies, the process documentation for our regular tasks, and detailed descriptions for each engagement, training, research project that we undertake.

Finally, for our technical work on the Open Contracting Data Standard and related software, we use Github (a platform for open source development) to document and work collaboratively on tasks and issues.

Decision Making

When you work as a remote team, it’s important to establish clear lines of decision-making and identify mechanisms for relevant staff to be informed of key decisions, especially relating to budgeting, expenditures, travel, and communication. Over the years, we found that it is extremely beneficial to have a shared document available to all team members that documents explicitly who is authorized to make types of decisions under different scenarios, and who needs to be informed. This approach mitigates uncertainties or blurred lines that can cause stress or affect our work.

To ensure that decision-making is prioritized, we also encourage staff to write concise emails inspired by the advice from this Harvard Business Review article. This way colleagues and managers understand when they are being asked for a decision, for input, or are simply being informed of an important decision.

When issues are too complex to solve through emails, decision calls are scheduled with the relevant team members.

Collaboration and Team Bonding

One thing I miss is being able to go for coffee with colleagues. Coffee breaks are nice for unstructured conversation about our work. To make up for these coffee runs, I sometimes schedule ‘virtual coffees’ or short Google Hangout chats with colleagues when time and workload allows. And to keep as much personal connection as possible, we use a Whatsapp group to share photos and other more ‘fun’ content.

Our organization does meet in person at least once a year for a team retreat. This in-person meeting provides an opportunity to reflect on the implementation of our strategy, agree priorities for the year ahead, and bond as a team. Our team retreat this year was supposed to be in New Orleans this last past week. However, we canceled it in response to the emerging Covid-19 guidance.

Instead, we held a virtual team retreat (using Google Meet and Google Documents). While it was not quite the same as an in person retreat, we managed well since we are accustomed to virtual interaction. Due to time differences, we scheduled only 1.5 to 3 hours per day for the retreat and managed to get through most of the objectives. Our team building exercises also had to adapt. For example, instead of using sticky notes to document progress and priorities on a world map, we used the Conceptboard tool to replicate this task virtually. We are still discovering the many great virtual tools available to enhance our remote work and engagement.

Balancing Work & Childcare

Most schools and daycares have closed due to Covid-19. Having young children at home and working from home presents an additional challenge. During these times, it’s important to work with staff to identify how they will adjust working hours and manage their work and home responsibilities. Ultimately, it comes down to having a bit more patience and flexibility.

The Road Ahead

The breadth and pace of Covid-19 is unprecedented. In this time of social distancing, working remotely is necessary to halt the spread of this outbreak. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t be productive. With the right targets, approach, and adaptability (including toddlers on laps during video calls), your organization can stay on track and keep performing to the best of its abilities.