Caring for a Community of Practice

written by Anisha Poobalan

All IPP Community of Practice Moderators (January 2020-June 2021)

Communities of Practice come in all shapes and sizes. But no matter how large, how diverse, how global, as the name suggests the key word here is community. The Implementing Public Policy Community of Practice (IPP CoP) was formed in December 2019. It surprises me every time I think about this; it does not feel like it has just been a little over a year. In fact, I feel like I have known this community forever. 

We have become a global family over the past year sharing exciting news like promotions, marriage, births, but we have also grieved together over lost family members, neighborhood attacks, job loss, and so much more. So why do we share these big moments with people we spent one week with (class of 2019) or have never even met in real life (class of 2020)?

A family member recently said something that stuck with me: “It is not about the carrot or the stick, but rather about the heart”. This describes the IPP Community of Practice in a nutshell. We have repeatedly brainstormed and discussed ways to engage members or incentivize them to join sessions, but ultimately, those who genuinely care for others in this community show up.

Now that you have a sense of what type of Community of Practice we are creating, here are a few of my reflections after managing this group for the past year.

  • Adapt through every season

From the moderators to current affairs to the age of the CoP, there are many factors that affect the season of a CoP’s life. The IPP CoP was founded in December 2019. Four moderators from four different regions were appointed to lead and care for this budding community. It was an exciting time of experimenting, learning, and adapting. We were all relatively new to this and were determined to build a strong foundation. In July 2020, it was time to transition over to the next group of moderators. By this time COVID had taken the world by storm and life seemed to be this uncomfortable combination of change, anxiety, isolation, and impending loss. I felt it, the moderators felt it, the community at large felt it. Zoom fatigue was a concept we became familiar with very quickly, so engaging a Community of Practice that operates purely online was challenging to say the least. However, amidst their own personal and professional struggles, our set of moderators took on the challenge and were determined to serve their community by creating a space of positivity, comfort, and encouragement for everyone else.

Last December, we had a group of 140 alumni from the Implementing Public Policy program join the community. It has been a learning process for our moderators as they work together to merge the two groups while also maintaining the tight-knit relationships that exist within each cohort. We have had to rely more on supportive members to take the lead on community events and initiatives. This is a work in progress and will continue to be so with each new phase the CoP enters. The ability to adapt, be flexible, and support each other through every stage is so important for our moderators and community members alike.

Continue reading Caring for a Community of Practice

Building a Movement of Public Problem Solvers

written by Salimah Samji

Solving public problems is a hard and thankless job. One that is undertaken with a shortage of time as well as resources, and often under pressure to deliver results. A common approach used to solve public problems is to develop a plan, sometimes with experts, and then to assume that implementation will happen on autopilot. To quote Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.” The question is, what do you do after you get punched? Continue with your existing plan? Or do you learn from the punch? 

In the face of complex and interconnected public problems, approaches like plan and control often fail to provide results. We believe that flexible approaches which focus on problems, follow an iterative process, and allow for learning and adaptation are better suited. While public problem solvers agree, they often lack the know-how and tools to use alternative methods to plan and control. In addition to these capabilities, public problem solvers also find themselves feeling lonely and isolated. As Kirsten Wyatt, co-founder of Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) said in a recent podcast, “everyone is not lucky enough to be married to a bureaucrat.”

Our experience in training development practitioners and working directly with governments around the world, has taught us that action learning is crucial for building the muscle memory of solving complex problems: the only way to learn is by doing. We have learned that you cannot solve these problems alone – you need a team. However, working collaboratively is neither obvious nor innate. It is yet another muscle that needs to be built. You also need to engage with diverse stakeholders and constantly navigate difficult conversations which requires particular skills.  

Putting our learning into practice

Drawing from our experience, BSC designed Harvard Kennedy School’s first blended learning Executive Education Program Implementing Public Policy (IPP), in 2019. The objective of this 7-month program was to equip public problem solvers around the world, with the skills, tools, and strategies needed to successfully implement policies and programs. Participants were required to identify an implementation problem that they could work on resolving over the period of the program. The program was divided into four phases:

Phase 1: Online preparatory work. (May 2019). In this phase, participants completed two online modules that helped them reflect on their problem and to think about public policy success and failure. 

Phase 2: Learning the theory in the classroom. (June 2019). In this phase, participants explored the conditions under which different implementation methods like plan and control, adaptive management or agile, and facilitated emergence or PDIA, should be used. They also learned how to work collaboratively in teams, how to engage in difficult conversations, as well as, leadership, and management skills. The faculty included: Matt Andrews, David Eaves, Monica Higgins, Salimah Samji and Rob Wilkinson. We also invited Ganga Palakatiya and Alieu Nyei, whom we had worked with in Sri Lanka and Liberia, to share their experience trying to operationalize PDIA in their governments. Anisha Poobalan, who had worked with us in Sri Lanka as a PDIA coach, and had led our efforts to help build a community with the alumni of our PDIA online course, joined us to support the program participants in the action learning phase. 

Phase 3: Action learning in practice. (July – November 2019). In this phase, participants returned to their countries to apply the new tools and strategies they had learned to their implementation problems. They built teams, worked on self-study online modules, completed assignments and attended virtual peer learning group meetings every month.

Continue reading Building a Movement of Public Problem Solvers

Practice Makes Purpose

Guest blog written by Eleanor Sarpong, Maggie Jones, Marco Mastellari, Mohamed Hejres

This blog is written by the alumni of the Implementing Public Policy Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Alumni of this program become part of HKS’s Implementing Public Policy Community of Practice. These are the first set of Moderators of this Community. This is a reflection of their learning journey. 

When we graduated from IPP in December 2019 and began our journey together as a Community of Practice, 2020 was only a few weeks away. A new voyage. A fresh start. However, none of us could have predicted what the first six months of 2020 would bring. The world seemed to be on fire – and in some places, it was.

Wildfires.

Violence.

Pandemic.

Racism.

Protests.

It quickly became clear that our prospect for 2020 might be different than what we originally envisioned on our fresh, clean page of a new year. Our original challenges became more complex and in some cases they changed altogether. However, this is where the lessons of PDIA enter perfectly into play. PDIA is no stranger to the unknown and well-equipped our Community not only to enter the next phase of IPP, but to face new quandaries of an undecided future.

As we reflect over our time together, it is important to tie all these learnings back to the PDIA process. We hope we will be able to provide valuable insights by reflecting on four key check-in questions that continue to guide our work.

What did you do?

Over the past six months as moderators, we posted weekly announcements, shared blogs and videos, told personal stories, and hosted several Zoom calls. We were able to help each other better understand our environments and constraints we were working in. Occasionally, we would nudge discussions in WhatsApp or send reminders in hopes of engaging the group. Thanks to several active members in our Community, these discussions were always welcome, often sparking new ideas and resources. These conversations continue to connect us, even though we are thousands of miles apart.

It is important to note that absolutely none of this would have been possible without the help of Anisha and Salimah. Under their leadership and guidance we never had to worry about what blogs or links to share, questions going unanswered, or whether or not an idea was a good one. The constant feedback and support we received – and continue to receive – is remarkable and we are so grateful for the opportunity to work with them. Continue reading Practice Makes Purpose