written by Michelle Kaffenberger, Danielle Sobol, Deborah Spindelman, Marla Spivack
A new paper shows that girls who are learning are more likely to stay in school. Improving learning could be key to achieving both schooling and learning goals.
The G7 recently agreed to two new education objectives: ensure that 40 million more girls attend school and that 20 million more girls are able to read by 2026. A new RISE working paper suggests good news: that progress on the girls’ learning goal may actually be one of the keys to delivering on the girls’ schooling goal.
The paper draws on longitudinal quantitative and qualitative data from the Young Lives Surveys in Ethiopia, India, Peru, and Vietnam to understand why children drop out of school. The quantitative data reveals a strong link between low learning and later dropout. The qualitative findings reveal that low learning often underlies other, more commonly cited reasons girls drop out such as marriage or work. Girls report seeking ways to provide for their futures, and when it becomes clear that they are learning too little for school to provide future security, they seek other means such as a husband or a job.
A big headache. It was what I felt in the introductory class at Kennedy School. It was not my first experience at Harvard. I had taken a course in 2018 at Center on the Developing Child, but it didn’t have the same pressure I was feeling as a Public Policy Implementation student. My company was paying for me to be there and Harvard gave me a partial scholarship. While I was listening to Matt introduce the course to us, my painful head did not stop with mixed thoughts: “I should give my best to show I deserve all this investment. I feel so special to represent my country in such a selected group of people. I am worried if I will be able to implement my project”.
When I am overwhelmed with so many feelings my body complains with a migraine. Then I have to stop. It is a way to tell myself: take it easy. Breathe. Calm down. After the first night in pain in Cambridge, I could slow things down. During the week, I felt motivated by the professors and engaged with colleagues. Always feeling exhausted with so many assignments and tasks, but fulfilled. I came back home feeling empowered and secure. And missing my PDIA folks already.
My problem in a few words
Early Childhood Education (ECE) in Brazil currently covers 34% of 0 to 3-year-old population and 93% of 4 to 6-year-old population. These percentages represent eight million children enrolled in ECE. The public sector is responsible for 70% of enrollments. In the past 10 years, we have had a significant increase in the number of enrollments, but with budget limitations, so the quality of services may vary quite substantially nationwide. The municipalities, which are responsible for implementing ECE, are struggling to improve service quality.
Although Early Childhood Education in Brazil has many problems regarding the quality of services, we still do not have a national assessment that could provide data about children’s development and learning environment. Without data, policy managers struggle to plan, improve and make decisions about ECE.
My problem is “lack of systematized information about ECE quality”. Working with PDIA and presenting my fishbone to as many people as I possibly could ended up with 12 causes and 16 subcauses for the problem.
Here I will present three that were my entry points during this year, in other words, the causes I selected to try to address first:
The education area has criticisms and resistances about ECE assessment, mainly because the teachers are afraid that the results are used in a negative way: to punish them or stigmatize the children with low results.
Municipal ECE managers are not used to working with data. They do not have access to systematized data, so they did not develop the skills to analyze results and use those to inform policies.
There are no instruments adapted for the Brazilian context. Until now the assessments implemented in the country used translated instruments, which were not totally suitable for ECE in Brazil.
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.
Hamad Almalki is the Undersecretary for National Economy at Bahrain’s Ministry of Finance and National Economy. He is a graduate of the Edward S. Mason mid-career Masters in Public Administration program at the Harvard Kennedy School.
My Zoom interview captures Hamad’s reflections (as of April 3) on Bahrain’s response to the covid-19 pandemic. It is an interesting case, especially because Bahrain has –to date—managed to control the crisis better than most other countries (as evidenced in the relatively flat curve here—the red line at the bottom of the chart, showing the situation on April 2-3).
It should be noted that Bahrain is an island-state in the Middle East with a population of about 1.5 to 2 million people. That makes it about the same size as Philadelphia in the United States, or just more than twice the size of Boston. It is similar in size, or larger, than many countries (including Latvia, Estonia, Trinidad and Tobago, Timor-Leste, Cyprus, Mauritius, Malta, Iceland, and more). I make this observation because the case will be more relevant to specific places or levels of government than others (as with all cases).
This post works progressively through different parts of the interview, such that readers (and listeners) can more easily digest thoughts emanating from the full 1.5 hours. As with all blog posts, I conclude with a set of questions for reader reflection.
PART 1. A strong, inclusive, coordinated head start
Bahrain began preparing for the Covid-19 crisis 3 weeks before they experienced the first case. They “watched China very closely” and knew it was just a matter of time before the virus came to their shores. A 24 hour War Room was operational by February 13, coordinating an inclusive, varied group of experts focused on three streams of work – medical, economic, and social. The focus on all three streams from the start has meant that Bahrain has been able to balance concerns in all three streams at all times.Continue reading Public Leadership Through Crisis 15: The COVID-19 Crisis in Bahrain
Tolbert Nyenswah is a Senior Research Associate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In 2014 he was the head of the Liberian Incident Management System (IMS), leading the operational aspects of the government’s response to the Ebola epidemic. Following this, he led the establishment of Liberia’s First National Public Health Institute and became its First Director General and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) 2017-2019.
This is a podcast of a conversation with Tolbert on his experience (interviewed by Peter Harrington and Matt Andrews). Brief summary thoughts follow, with questions for leaders facing crises today.
Tolbert relates to the Covid-19 challenge facing many leaders, noting that he was asked to create the Incident Management System when the crisis had already begun (not in preparation for it): “When you’re in a dire situation where people are in the streets, [you have] no best practice testing capacity … and you are setting up an incident management system at the same time … Before you really understand what the process is about, especially when information is weak …”
I am sure may leaders feel like this in the face of crisis: unprepared and with much to do. In addition, Tolbert notes, the country was in a politically fraught position: “The president was in a very, very uncomfortable position as a leader .. in fact political leadership were calling for the president’s resignation [arguing that] the government should step down.”
I am a career bureaucrat from India and my job responsibilities have always revolved around implementing public policy – whether in my postings in my parent department i.e. Income tax Department or in my secondments to the Ministry of Human Resource Development and now in the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying. My job of administering the Government’s policy of ‘prevention, control and containment of animal diseases’ entails vaccination of all eligible animals (livestock and poultry) against diseases considered economically important for the humongous losses caused by them. My challenge includes managing limited public funds and its timely availability, large number of eligible animals with lack of animal identification, farmers with few livestock, scattered in difficult geographical terrains, multi-agency implementers, availability of quality vaccines and their efficacy, motivating vaccinators in the wake of shortage of supervisory veterinary staff, risk management at quarantine stations, animal movements across state borders, lack of last mile monitoring of service delivery. Stakeholders include Central and the State Governments and their Veterinary Services, vaccine and vaccination equipment industry, farmers (and their animals) and finally, the political authorizers.
Taking all the challenges into consideration and meandering through multiple roadblocks is the true test, in my opinion, of implementing public policy. Yet, I was drawn into the programme offered at HKS titled ‘Implementing public policy” simply wondering as to what is it that is going to be taught different than what our experiential learning could not teach. My curiosity was fuelled further by simply talking to my peers at the commencement of the course. Everybody appeared to try to solve their respective public policy in their own way. Yet, the binding thread appeared to be the selflessness and the honesty of approach that was clearly visible on their faces. The urge to passionately pursue their public problem appeared to be in everyone’s mind. It seemed as if everybody had a story to tell!
In the classes and thereafter, it was clear that while our experiences taught us a lot about implementing public policy to alleviate a public problem in a sustained manner, there were gaps that we did not realize. Our perceptions somewhere went awry and hence a single problem often tried to grow hydra-like tentacles. Iteration of a problem often helped in solving it, striking at the roots rather than trying to address it in a chalked-out path. Iteration of a problem followed by construction, deconstruction and reconstruction helps in understanding not only the source of the problem but whether the one that we are trying to solve is the actual problem or otherwise!
Coming into this course, I was under the impression it was going to help me better understand the nuances of implementing policy from a roadmap that was created for every situation. I was a bit nervous we would be taught a rigid set of procedures on how to implement policy – something that was made for every situation but really only worked for maybe one out of every ten, if we were all lucky. Thankfully I was very wrong. I learned about a theory that works for those situations that aren’t rigid and need meaningful analytical evaluation. Situations where you need to think outside the box, need support from your authorizers, but also need to continually build a team. Situations where you are not only implementing policy but in fact problem solving. Read: messy, confusing, complex situations.
I learned there truly are a variety of issues – complex and complicated and everything in-between. I think this is a principle that sometimes you think about in the back of your head but start to say to yourself you’ve overcomplicating the issue and that can’t be. Turns out, it is. I learned that you need to see things for what they are but also be willing to look past the first layer of the issue. You need to unpack the problem. People are very quick to hear what they think the issue is, and immediately try to come up with solutions. Sometimes the issue isn’t complicated and that type of problem solving can work. But sometimes the issue is so complex that you need to spend a significant amount of time unpacking the problem. Taking the time to understand the hurdles in front of you and the hurdles that may be hidden beneath the surface, before developing a game plan.
The other thing I learned is that PDIA is as much about relationships as it is about process. Building relationships – before, during, and after iteration and implementation – is very important. Having established relationships can cut down on the time needed to build them when trying to solve a complex problem, and helps foster a sense of trust – not only with your authorizers, but with your peers.
The entire process is designed to create a constant feedback loop – helping you to review whether your potential solutions are working or not, but also to getting you working with other people, obtaining and re-affirming authorization from your superiors, and brainstorming additional methods to tackling an issue. When it comes to our problem, we were able to learn that data-driven decision-making is optimal to use as part of PDIA. Having data and being able to evaluate it before and after the feedback review helps to determine whether that iteration was successful or not. We made progress narrowing down some of the core issues behind the perceived sub-optimal performance of See Click Fix, including no consistent methodology of using “acknowledged” vs. “closed,” and have also seen a decline in days to acknowledge and days to close as part of the expanded use of ipads as part of our improvements.
Guest blog written by Daniel Canteros, David Riveros Garcia, Irene Clementina Esquivel Hermosilla, Sofía Belén Pozzo Centurión.
This is a team working a grassroots NGO called reAccion Paraguay which fights corruption in the education sector through promoting citizen participation and technology. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in December 2018. This is their story.
In terms of education, Paraguay ranks among the worst in the world, only countries in civil war, continuous political conflicts or periodically affected by natural disasters have worse rankings. Hence, for a country that has lived in a relatively stable democracy for over 25 years, the education problem is a considerable challenge for the future of our nation. We applied to the PDIA course because we have been tackling a problem related to funds for infrastructure in the education sector that are not reaching the neediest schools.
Our team faced a particular challenge. None of our members are from the public sector. We are from a grassroots NGO called reAcción Paraguay, which fights corruption in the education sector through promoting citizen participation and technology. We train students to monitor a national fund for education infrastructure, so that public resources go to the neediest schools. During the course we worked hard to catalyze the 4 years of experience we have monitoring the National Public Investment Fund for Development (aka FONACIDE).
The processes of the FONACIDE law are unknown and not respected by government and non-governmental actors alike (i.e local governments, ministries, parent associations, students, directors, teachers). Our team has verified these irregularities and several others for over four years through the implementation of a monitoring mechanism. It consists of visiting the neediest schools to collect data about the infrastructure works for schools financed with FONACIDE. We then work with university students to match the collected data with open government data in order to expose irregularities.
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.
Guest blog by Daniela Espinosa Alarcón, Gabriela Suarez Buitron, Luis Fernando Ochoa, Verónica Villavicencio Pérez
This is a team working at the National Secretariat of Higher Education and Technology in Ecuador. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in December 2018. This is their story.
Developing strategies based on identifying the core complex problem that we have to solve has contributed to a change of collective mind-set. In the public sector in Ecuador we tend to work according to political agendas instead of working towards a long term project. Working towards the solution of a problem gives us a clear path to plan better strategies and better public policies.
Being together as a team in this course has been one of the most important elements to take away. Accomplishing great things alone can be hard. Thus, surrounding ourselves with great colleagues and professionals improved our capacity to build strategies to solve our problem, being more effective and strengthening our professional bonds. Setting clear norms and supporting each other has been key for success.
Finally, we have learned that projects do not have to be perfect from the beginning. In the way many things can go wrong, the important thing is to identify the mistakes and correct them in time. PDIA is a great tool to have this constant exercise of reflection and correction of our plans towards the solution of complex problems.Continue reading Higher Education Access in Ecuador