Falling in love with the problem, not the solution

Guest blog by Kyle Novak

“Fall in love with the problem, not your solution.”  It’s a maxim that I first heard spoken a few years ago by USAID’s former Chief Innovation Officer Ann Mei Chang. I’ve found myself frequently reflecting on those words as I’ve been thinking about the challenges of implementing public policy. I spent the past year on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. working as a legislative fellow, funded through a grant to bring scientists to improve evidence-based policymaking within the federal government. I spent much of the year trying to better understand how legislation and oversight work together in context of policy and politics. To learn what makes good public policy, I wanted to understand how to better implement it. Needless to say, I took a course in Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA), a framework to manage risk in complex policy challenges by embracing experimentation and “learning through doing.”

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Changing the Way we do Business in the U.S. through Data Sharing

Guest blog written by Rachel Cychosz

Sharing. It’s the concept of “using, occupying, or enjoying something jointly with others” or “giving a portion of something to others”. It’s a concept that I’m confident most people learned as young children. It’s a simple concept, that’s why we learn it as children, because it’s something that can be understood without substantial explanation or justification, and as children it just makes sense. Why then, does sharing seem to be such a complex challenge for adults?

Working in government is a unique and interesting journey, always navigating to find a balance between meeting the demands of a political machine that yearns for immediate change to prove the success of their regime (often without understanding, advocating for, or appropriating the resources necessary to adequately address the request) and being able to spend sufficient time thinking through a given problem to find the best solution. Over the past seven years, I’ve worked in both policy development and more direct program management. I’ve struggled with different challenges, but ultimately found that much of it comes down to the same issues – how we choose to approach a problem.  Too often, the programs and policies that I’ve worked with approach problems with a direct to solution approach. More often than not, without much if any, consideration for the root cause of the problem, a “solution” is identified and pursued. There are any number of shortfalls that come out of this approach, but the most obvious is that it often only scratches the surface of the problem, resulting in (often another) failed attempt at a novel idea, which discourages program staff and disincentivizes innovation.

Going into this course, I was seeking a fresh perspective and a different way to think about and approach the problems I was facing in my program. Thinking back over the time since starting the course, PDIA was so appealing to me because it offered a mechanism to address exactly what I had been so frustrated about, but hadn’t been able to articulate a solution to addressing. The concept of not looking at something as one single problem, but diving into it more deeply to get to the root cause, find entry points, and apply an iterative approach to problem solving, was enlightening. It offered a different way of thinking, that so effectively changed the way we could approach new projects and program development.

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