Disruptive innovation is critical – but it is the opposite of what many people think it is

Written by Lant Pritchett

Disruptive innovation is the key to long-term excellence, even though its early results are less glamorous than those of approaches that seek to be at the “cutting edge” of innovation.

The term “disruptive innovation” is thrown around a lot in policy discussions about education system reform. However, it is important to recognise that, when this term was introduced by the late Clay Christensen (The Innovator’s Dilemma, 1997), it had a specific meaning which is diametrically opposite to the meaning that many people now ascribe to it. This is not a purely semantic point; the original idea of “disruptive innovation” is a key concept that can help solve the problems facing low performing education systems.

I briefly recap the way in which Professor Christensen used the term and discuss how this concept relates to current debates in the education sector.

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Engaging youth in sustainable development in Barbados

Guest blog written by Arpita Tiwari, Diana Ly, Emma Catalfamo, Hina Musa, Katherina Hruskovec Gonzalez, Morgan Benson 

Early Days 

The first PDIA meeting for the KEYS to Success team focused on one goal: getting to know each other. Our team members came from different backgrounds, different programs within HKS, even different countries, and each of us was curious about what the team dynamic would look like. We built our team Constitution – a critical trust-building exercise for the PDIA process – which guaranteed enough psychological safety for each of us to freely participate and contribute. Over the next six weeks, each team member grew in our ability to think critically about our problem, propose creative solutions, and ensure that these ideas were most useful for our authorizer and ultimately for Barbados.  

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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 the secondary education system in Georgia

Guest blog by Levan Karalashvili

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.

That was a great course. A lot of countries are facing major policy challenges due to COVID19 and there is especially high uncertainty on post-covid era. The world simply will be different and any policy-maker needs to be equipped with the best possible tools and be able to efficiently analyze complex problems, which will require unorthodox strategies to develop and implement, with goal to accelerate process of recovery.

I found the provided materials and course dynamics very interesting, widening the understanding of complex problem handling, learning the PDIA approach in action, and sharpening problem understanding and solution development strategies.

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Using PDIA to Improve Public Education in Brazil

written by Salimah Samji

São Luis, Maranhão, Brazil – December 2021

In August 2021, we began an engagement with Instituto Sonho Grande (ISG) in Brazil to build the capability of public servants working in secretariats of education in the states of Maranhão and Paraíba.  

In this virtual action learning program, 60 public servants working across 11 teams, learned how to use PDIA to solve locally nominated problems, through action-oriented work.

The teams in Maranhão worked on the following problems:

  • Low learning in Mathematics
  • High teacher turnover
  • School dropouts
  • Age-grade distortion
  • School feeding programs

The teams in Paraíba worked on the following problems:

  • Low learning in Portuguese and Mathematics
  • Vacancies for Teachers and Technicians
  • Data for strategic decision making
  • School infrastructure
  • Clarity of roles and responsibilities
  • Budget execution
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Keys to Unlocking Policy Locks: Legal Education in Ukraine

Guest blog by Artem Shaipov

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.

Having earned in 2018 a certificate for successful completion of the online series “The Practice of PDIA: Building capability by delivering results” offered by Building State Capability at the Harvard Center for International Development, I learned about the Implementing Public Policy Program (IPP) from the PDIA Community’s first newsletter. I jumped on this opportunity to learn and grow professionally as I knew from my previous experience with the Harvard Center for International Development that my new learning journey would be full of new ideas, discoveries, insights, lessons learned, and takeaways.

As I was already well-versed in the PDIA methodology before signing up for the IPP, I expected to learn more about leadership in public policy implementation, mobilizing teams for common policy purpose, and delegation for better policy results. I was also looking into opportunities for expanding my professional policy network by joining the IPP’s global community of practice.

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Helping Current and Future Adolescent Girls Requires Bailing Out the Boat but Also Fixing the Hole

Guest blog written by Michelle Kaffenberger, Kirsty Newman, Marla Spivack

Guaranteeing quality education for every girl requires a two-pronged approach: bailing out the boat and fixing the hole in its hull. We need to invest in today’s primary school girlswho are future adolescentsto ensure that they gain the foundational skills they need to start and stay on a strong learning trajectory. Programmes aimed at girls who have already reached adolescence need to focus on closing learning gaps, not just inducing greater attendance, so that girls reap the full benefit of additional time spent in school.

The consequences of low learning

You only have to look at modern-day heroines Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg to appreciate the power that adolescent girls have to change the world. Their potential is limitless. But tragically, too many adolescent girls struggle to reach their full potential, often because education systems are failing them. Many stakeholders blame early marriage, pregnancy, or entry into the workforce for pulling girls out of school, and propose solutions to tackle these.  But these pulls are often symptoms of dropout. The deeper cause is often low learning pushing girls out.

new RISE Insight Note discusses how insights from learning trajectories (analysis of how much children learn over time) can inform approaches to supporting today’s and tomorrow’s girls. For many children in developing countries, learning trajectories are too shallow and flatten out far too quickly. The illustration in Figure 1 shows how damaging flat learning trajectories can be. The purple line shows a learning trajectory that makes enough progress to reach threshold goals, like basic arithmetic, early and sets girls up to reach aspirational goals (like advanced calculus) by the end of school. But the orange learning trajectory is too flat, meaning that children learn little and fall behind the level of instruction. Even if a girl whose learning follows this trajectory persists all the way to the end of school, she can’t reach even the threshold goal at this slow learning pace.

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“Knowledge can be global, but solutions must be local” lessons from my conversation with Dzingai Mutumbuka

Written by Marla Spivack

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to sit down for an in-depth conversation with Dr. Dzingai Mutumbuka, the first Minister of education of Zimbabwe after its independence, a global education leader and (to our great fortune) the chair of the RISE Delivery Board. 

I had already been fortunate enough to benefit from Dr. Mutumbuka’s insights on the global education architecture, through conversations he’d led with the Board. I also knew his thoughts on the most pressing challenge facing education systems today: the prolonged school closures due to COVID-19 and the risks they posed to further exacerbate the learning crisis. But this was the first time I had a chance to ask Dr. Mutumbuka about his experience as an education leader. Our conversation, which was recorded and is available as the first episode in RISE’s new podcast, touched on a range of issues education leaders face: navigating complex political challenges; setting and sticking to clear priorities; building effective, equal partnerships with donors; and leveraging global knowledge to develop local solutions. 

Negotiating complicated politics

We started our conversation with Dr. Mutumbuka’s reflections on leading the new ministry  of education in the newly independent, post conflict Zimbabwe. Black parents, whose children had been excluded from quality education for decades under the apartheid government demanded a swift move towards equity, integration, and inclusion, but at the same time white parents feared that integration would erode the quality of the children’s education. 

Dr. Mutumbuka knew that negotiating these complicated issues would require consultation and coalition building. He started his tenure by meeting with all relevant stakeholders, white parents, black parents, teachers, trade groups, industrial groups. 

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To Increase Girls’ Schooling, Improve Girls’ Learning

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.

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Countering Radicalization in France

Guest blog written by Mer Carattini, Sasha Mathew, Imara Salas, Kishan Shah, Katie Wesdyk

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 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

The PDIA process taught us how to turn a ‘wicked problem’—a highly complex tangle of many problems with high uncertainty—into manageable components that we can begin to address. We learned a strategy for how to deconstruct an abstract problem with the fishbone framework. Most importantly, we learned that complex problems in unfamiliar contexts can be addressed through a structured approach. We had the chance to put theory into practice by working on radicalization in France.

There was a lot to unpack for the problem of radicalization in France. We had the opportunity to work with our authorizer, Raphaël, whom currently serves as a cyber security expert to the BNP Paribas Bank and Board members of think tank “Les Jeunes IHEDN.” His initial problem statement was to detect, react to, and prevent radicalization within private companies. However, it is very difficult for private companies to play a constructive role in the radicalization debate because of how sensitive the issue is and because there is a lack of dialogue even at a community level. But before we could start a conversation, we had to zoom out on the big picture to grasp the full complexity of radicalization. 

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