PDIA Journey: The Mozambique School Lunch Initiative

Guest blog written by Cara Myers

Cara Myers is the Co-founder and Executive Director of the Mozambique School Lunch Initiative (MSLI).  She learned about the PDIA approach by taking two courses at the Harvard Kennedy School as part of her Master’s in Public Administration in International Development (MPA/ID) program. She then began applying more of the concepts directly with the MSLI team. This is her PDIA story.

It was March of 2016 and the rains had completely failed for a second year in southern Mozambique. Farming families had no crops. Children were missing school to dig up river roots to eat. Teachers were sending students home because they were “too hungry to learn anything.” Even in normal years, child malnutrition and poor school participation are major issues in Mozambique. This is one of those big, complex problems that is caused by a myriad of interrelated causes and sub-causes that are difficult to disentangle and prioritize.

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So there we were, myself, Talvina Ualane and Roberto Mutisse, all of us former colleagues who had worked together for a disaster relief nongovernmental organization in Mozambique in the past and felt deeply motivated to do something to help people affected by this crisis. But, where did we even begin?

We started with what we could do. This is one of the key aspects of the triple-A framework used in PDIA, which stresses that the space for change must include three key factors: authority, acceptance, and ability. PDIA also emphasizes moving to action quickly rather than taking a long time to try and plan everything out before starting to work. By deconstructing the problem into small, manageable bits, it creates points of entry whereby you can start addressing one of the causes or sub-causes of the problem and build the capacity to do more from there.

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The problem with ‘best practice’: using PDIA to find solutions for Indonesian education

Guest blog by Mark Heyward

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Much is made these days of doing development differently, of adaptive programming, and thinking and working politically. Devpolicy Blog featured a series of articles on this topic in September 2018. But do these approaches work?

One program that has embraced adaptive programming is Innovation for Indonesia’s School Children (INOVASI). The program, which began in 2016, is a partnership between the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture. It is being implemented by Palladium. INOVASI has adopted the problem-driven iterative adaptation (PDIA) approach to help Indonesian government partners find out what works to improve learning outcomes.

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Developing Country Education Systems that Learn

written by Lant Pritchett

Change is hard.  It is hard for individuals.  It is extra hard for organizations.  Change is especially hard for organizations when they have been successful.  Organizations often develop strategies, norms, and practices that are tailored to produce success in a particular activity or context.  When those strategies are successful, organizations have an especially difficult time to create and manage change that is not simply “more of the same, better.”

This is true even of large, successful, well-managed private sector organizations facing (organizational) life or death consequences.

The Big Store recounts how Sears, a veritable American retailing behemoth—accounting in the early 1970s for one percent of all US GDP—fell into a crisis and how incredibly hard it was to turn the organization around.  Even when people could see the organizational crisis it was often the people who were the very best at doing what made the organization a success in the past who were in top management positions—and hence those least likely to be able to recognize the need for, plan out, and lead change.

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PDIA Course Journey: Tackling the problem of basic education in remote areas of Indonesia

Guest blog written by Annisaa Rachmawati, Agusti Padmanisa, Yossy Rachmatillah, and Senza Arsendy.

This is a team of four development practitioners working for an education program in Indonesia, INOVASI, that aims to find out ‘what works’ (and conversely what does not work) to improve student learning outcomes in literacy and numeracy in basic education. They are a multidisciplinary team of officers working in communications, program implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and operations unit. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in May 2019. This is their story.

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The term PDIA is something that our team is familiar with, in fact it’s a buzzword we hear everyday at work. Our project uses PDIA as its underlying approach, yet there seems to be different interpretations and debates around how it should be translated into program implementation. Having observed this notion for a while, we decided to enroll in PDIA Online Course to learn rigorously about the approach. We were convinced that this course will equip us with practical knowledge to actually do what we preach in our project.

There are four principles which encompasses PDIA. First, we need to ensure that our intervention is “problem driven” instead of solutions driven. Second, we need to engage relevant stakeholders and create environment which allows for “authorization of positive deviance”. Third, we need to foster experiential learning through “iteration and adaptation”. Last, we “scale through diffusion” successful interventions for reform to be sustainable.

The problem we are trying to tackle is “early grade students in remote areas in Indonesia have difficulties learning to read”, a persisting issue our country has been struggling for decades despite the many efforts collectively put by the government, donor programs, and education practitioners. Policies and best practices (either locally nominated or externally imported) seem to be successful in a short period of time, deceiving us into thinking that we might have solved this problem for good. Not long after specific project or intervention is completed, the same problem reoccurred – leading us right back into capability traps. (Isomorphic mimicry alert!)

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PDIA Course Journey: Monitoring FONACIDE in Paraguay

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.

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PDIA Course Journey: INOVASI’s experience with PDIA to solve the wicked hard problem of basic education in Indonesia

written by Mark Heyward

During the first half of 2018, a group of 21 development practitioners from the Innovation for Indonesia’s School Children (INOVASI) program and partners, formed cross-program groups and completed the intensive, 15-week online course conducted by the Building State Capability program at Harvard’s Centre for International Development, called Practice of PDIA; Building Capability by Delivering Results. In addition to INOVASI personnel, participants came from the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture (MOEC), the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the DFAT-funded Technical Assistance for System Strengthening (TASS) and Research for Improving Systems of Education (RISE) programs, the Social Monitoring and Early Response Unit (SMERU) Research Institute, and the independent Kuark organization. They worked together in four small groups to address real-world problems related to INOVASI’s aims:

  • How to improve learning outcomes in Indonesian primary classrooms?
  • How to systematically improve learning outcomes in Indonesian districts and schools?
  • How to build an evidence base on what works to improve learning outcomes – to inform policy and practice?

Continue reading PDIA Course Journey: INOVASI’s experience with PDIA to solve the wicked hard problem of basic education in Indonesia