As a leader of audit and advisory assignments working in a Big 4 consulting firm, I have developed an expertise in accompanying public sector clients (ministries, central administrations, states owned companies) in different fields of public policy making, policy evaluation (SMEs & private sector, investment promotion strategy, development of agricultural sector).
While attending HKS programs, I expected to enhance my capabilities in economic development and public policy matters such as: (i) understanding key concepts of economic growth, (ii) acquiring tools to design, implement and assess public policies in the perspective of growth, (iii) sharing best practices with other executives. Finally, my ultimate goal was to acquire new skills to impact on the economic development of African countries.
When I first thought of my policy implementation challenge, it appeared daunting, knowing that past policy attempts had not yielded any dependable solution to the problem. When I constructed the problem, it became even more frightening. As I went further to deconstruct the problem, I realized it was indeed a complex…too many causes and seemingly endless sub-causes. I began to imagine how tedious it would be to mobilize enough agents, and the diversity of agents I would need scared me even further. I had one thing going anyway – the courage to continue, drawn essentially from the early readings provided by faculty and the assurance that there existed an approach for dealing with complexity in the policy arena. I was simply curious!
My confidence started to grow after reading the piece on the journey to the West in 1804. Even then, I retained some doubts about the mission. I think my actual breakthrough came when PDIA – Problem-driven iterative adaptation – was introduced as the approach to be used. I had been introduced to the PDIA concept at earlier programs I had attended at HKS. Furthermore, I was particularly inspired by the Albanian example of its application. PDIA is a policy implementation approach that offers the policy implementing team ample learning experience and opportunity to adapt, anchored on a stepwise or incremental process of developing a policy and executing same. It is especially suited to a policy situation in which there are many unknowns, which are often better understood along the way.
The Leading Economic Growth course has been an absolutely inspiring intellectual journey for me. Having taken place during unprecedented times and mostly under lockdown, it was a unique opportunity to truly reflect on key principles of economic growth while using that toolset to better understand the unfolding of policy choices and drivers of economic growth for my own country (as a policy professional working for the administration, you don’t always get that chance often). The world class academic excellence was a major driving force that triggered my intellectual curiosity and led me to deepen the involvement with course material and do further research, whereas the way the on-‐line learning platform was designed made the course a delightful experience that I was looking forward to, every time I switched back from my day job.
Admittedly, coming from a background of political science and international relations, I had some initial self-‐hesitation as to what level I would be able to absorb and internalize concepts from economic theory. Those doubts were slowly overshadowed by the exiting content that I read during the week and the engagement of faculty during live session discussions that made the course look highly practical and versatile to many situations around the developing world. Because of the breadth of information and cases from around the world brought by faculty and participants, it was easier to confront ideas and challenge existing ones. The design of weekly assignments in the form of a snowball (or rather straw rolls) that relied on information obtained during the weeks and build towards a final strategy to promote economic growth were a very engaging and demanding task that helped me to stay focused and better adapt abstract ideas and principles taught during in the course, in a concrete environment and circumstances of my country.
Guest blog written by SakinehRoodsari, Son Truong Can (Kenny), Dinh Quoc Cong, Nguyen Uyen, Phuoc Hung Thach, and Long Ho.
This team is made up of an independent group composed of 6 individuals coming from both the public and private sector. They are a multidisciplinary team of professionals who have worked in the following positions: the head of agricultural cooperatives and farm division – Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), a former manager of an agriculture cooperative in Tan Thanh Tay, director of Cu Chi High Tech Agriculture Cooperative, former World Bank consultant, project finance specialist, and as a facilitator of ASEAN SMEs Academy. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in December 2018. This is their story.
How do we solve our wicked hard problem of farmers’ lack of motivation to learn, follow safe standards, and new techniques with higher value added? Although our team only has three members with experience in the agriculture sector, we all understood the urgency of working on this problem. In particular, because food safety is one of the biggest concerns in Vietnam, and the lack of food safety is the number one cause of cancer. Due to the agriculture inefficiencies in the value chain, it is difficult to tackle this problem using conventional methods.
This course taught us a series of toolkits that required innovative and experimental approaches to development, through a process called Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA). During the first half of the course, we learned a lot of concepts. One particular term that really stuck was Isomorphic Mimicry. “Isomorphic mimicry is the tendency of governments to mimic other governments’ successes, replicating processes, systems, and even products of the “best practice” examples.” The governments appear capable, but in reality are not. So how do we step away from mimicry?