PDIA Course Journey: Supporting lasting Peace in Colombia

Guest blog written by Catalina Riveros Gomez, Irina Cuesta Astroz, José Luis Bernal Mantilla, Juan Carlos Garzón-Vergara, Juan David Gelvez Ferreira.

This is a team from Colombia working for an independent think tank called Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP). They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in December 2018. This is their story.

In many cases, people use to think that public issues are so complex and it is necessary to re-structure the system to improve or to change a reality. On the other hand, many academics argue that the solution is already done in other part of the world, so we just have to implement what worked in other country/city and the problem is solved. However, the public affairs are complex, it changes and have different reactions depending the time and the territory. With that in mind, this course taught us many things:

  • First, we learned that it is possible to advance in the solution of complex problems, developing small and concrete actions. To do this, it is important to understand that there is no single solution, but we can have multiple alternatives, from which we learned and adapted our responses.
  • Second, we understood that we should not have a fixed plan, but a strategy opened to change based on what we have learned. A key tool for this is iteration to identify what adjustments do we need to do to move ahead.
  • Third, we learned how the iterative process works in practice, and why it is relevant not only to ask what we did, but also what we learned and what we will do to solve it.
  • Fourth, not everything that presents itself as a problem is actually a problem. As highlighted in one of the sessions, many times what exist are solutions disguised as problems. This is a key element, as it facilitates the formulation and dissection of the problem into small pieces that can then be addressed independently.
  • We also learned that time management and expectations regarding possible goals are very important. We had to adjust our expectations about the results we could achieve and set up realistic and doable actions.
  • Finally, we also learned that it is important to translate ideas into practice, because it is through actions that we can learn and adjust what we want to do. I understand better the “try, learn, adapt” method and how the iteration process works.

Continue reading PDIA Course Journey: Supporting lasting Peace in Colombia

PDIA Course Journey: Family Farming in Colombia

Guest blog written by Alejandro Rueda, and Sonia M

This is a team from Colombia. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in December 2018. This is their story.

Throughout 15 weeks, our team was able to identify the causes behind our problem, to elaborate on them, to design strategies, to iterate, and, not less important, to discuss, debate, and engage as a group during the whole process. Although the primary objective of our team is to generate recommendations for public policy to overcome the problem of inefficient market access for family farmers, we were able to constantly work to make our strategies implementable for any public officer. We also had the good fortune of having one of our team members working for the Ministry of Agriculture directly involved in generating public policy for family farming. The course was very important to articulate a better, more centered, and methodologically stronger proposal as well as to guide a course of action taking into account the above.

The course left us various key takeaways.

  • The first one has to do with the importance of working as a team. This includes the whole process of defining who will be in the group, why, and what are the clear roles and tasks each one had to perform. It also includes the need to be periodically communicating and discussing, to be listening to the other points of view, and articulating it to the whole PDIA process. During the past months, we engaged in very serious as well as enriching discussions that shape the strategies that today we are articulating.
  • A second takeaway, which we consider is the key to action, is the process of identification of the main problem and its sub causes in a logic that denies pre-set solutions. This helped us to better understand what we were doing and how we should be doing it. The fishbone was a key element in our group since one of our authorizers is now using it (with some modifications) to strengthen our proposal.
  • A third takeaway of the course is the constant reminder to direct your efforts towards action. This is essential not only for the outcome, but for the whole process. If you start focusing on the more realistic and basic tasks your team can manage to do in a week, your are definitively approaching to the problem solved scenario. The latest not meaning that is a direct highway to the solution but, as you encounter difficulties in the way, manage to solve them and move along with what you’ve learned, you are a step closer to solving it.
  • A fourth takeaway is to engage fully to the process. A team that is active, that discusses and acts accordingly, that is constantly evaluating the process, reporting on the progress, bringing ideas of action and strategies for improvement, is a team that in engaged. Also, the engagement of team members will result in a more efficient engagement of third parties.

Continue reading PDIA Course Journey: Family Farming in Colombia

PDIA Course Journey: Stop, Look, and Listen! Preventing Recruitment of Youth into Illicit Activities in Southern Colombia

Guest blog written by Cameron Berkuti, Christina Schultz, Diana Acuña, Juan Pablo Castaño, Kelly Brooks, Susan Kemp

This team successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in December 2018. This is their story.

As development practitioners, we tend to rush in with solutions to deal with complex problems. We impose so-called best practices without digging deep to uncover the roots of a problem due to donor demands and other pressures to show short-term gains. However, acknowledging that a problem is “complex” means that we first need to step back and give ourselves room to figure out how to achieve sustainable impact. We found this to be the case when confronting the problem of youth recruitment in Vaparaiso, Colombia, where we applied problem driven iterative adaptation (PDIA).

In post-conflict Colombia, following half a century of civil strife, youth in municipalities previously controlled by the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are experiencing an emerging threat to their well-being. Violent groups that benefit from illicit activities, such as drug trafficking and illegal mining, are taking advantage of the power vacuum, left by the demobilization of the FARC, by coercing youth to join their ranks. The small, isolated municipality of Valparaiso, with a population of nearly 12,000, is no exception. Lack of trust in the judicial system and local authorities to bring perpetrators to justice and prevent retaliation has led to a severe underreporting of this phenomena. The mayor’s office and family services are responsible for preventing youth recruitment. The municipality is further hampered by limited budget resources, administrative capacity, and information to comply with its obligations regarding prevention and response to recruitment.

This is clearly a “wicked hard” problem that we had been contemplating from six different chairs in Colombia and remotely from the US. The first task we took on was that we stopped and conducted an initial problem analysis to agree on what exactly we were trying to solve. This consisted of constructing the problem – the municipal government of Valparaiso did not have the capacity and resources to deal with this emerging critical concern of youth recruitment. We subsequently deconstructed this seeming intractable issue by reaching out to stakeholders, looking at available (although scarce) data, and continually asking “why”. We discovered a range of root causes, from law enforcement still being conducted from a military perspective to a deteriorating social fabric. Mapping out the sub-causes only further confirmed that the problem could not be solved in one go. Rather than being overwhelmed by this complexity, we realized that there was ample space in authority, acceptance, and ability that provided us an entry point in one root cause – local government, schools, parents and others did not see the value in engaging youth in solving their own problems. Continue reading PDIA Course Journey: Stop, Look, and Listen! Preventing Recruitment of Youth into Illicit Activities in Southern Colombia