A Bridge to Sustainable Development in Panama begins with Purpose

Guest blog written by Lorena Fabrega

After 25-years-experience in the private sector, steering the course of a professional career towards public service is challenging.  Implementing Public Policy came to me at such a moment, when I knew I cared and was willing to take risks.  

Knowing I had the ability to make a difference was enough to seek serving my country to achieve sustainable development goals.  However, nothing had prepared me foray into the public arena, and the Executive Program at Harvard’s School of Government seemed the perfect starting point. Searching for purpose, guidance and legitimacy, I luckily joined the 2019 IPP cohort.

Being a lobbyist for sustainable development policies had been my dream job since the beginning. But building a team, when I was in between jobs, and pursuing a specific policy proved to be my biggest challenge: I did not find it. It chose me in the unlikeliest of moments: the pandemic.

To focus on the problem, not the solution

Less than a year before the pandemic (B.P.), in May 2019 professor Matt Andrews asked us to define Public Policy Implementation; our first assignment into the course, I was reluctant to focus the definition on the problem, and so I declared that it was the design and execution of a response to further the public’s best interest.

It took at least two days into the on-campus part of the program for me to accept the value of focusing on what, for many years, most managers ask their teams not to do: you may not present me with problems unless you come with at least two possible solutions!  I even gave them “the face” when they came up to me with an issue, and they quickly turned back on their steps to figure out a possible answer to complicated and even complex problems on their own. I asked that they jump into possible solutions, without examining the problem in depth…without deconstructing it.

The basic switch on focus, to examine the problem and not the solution, is the biggest and most impactful of the theory behind Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA). Constructing the problem, which is to make it visible to those that matter, or those that it should matter to, is easier when you have mapped out why the different authorizers care or should care about it in order to secure resources: abilities, authorization and acceptance.  This triple A combo sums up the capabilities on board, or the lack thereof, to achieve successful policies.

But the easiest thing, almost instinctive, is to jump towards a solution or solutions for problems we have not deconstructed, an exercise needed to understand actions or responses that will be tried out. When deconstructing a problem, we understand the impact of such a problem, its ramifications, and why it needs our intervention.

Solutions create new problems

Halfway through the on-campus part of the program, reading that complex problems are not solved but managed, and that our policies create new problems made me stop. I mean full stop.  I breathed deeply and wondered if it was all worth it… maybe I should stick to the private sector.  Policies are ongoing, never finished, evolving continually and indefinitely. 

Continue reading A Bridge to Sustainable Development in Panama begins with Purpose

Why do we persist so long with a reform approach that does not solve problems?

written by Kate Bridges and Michael Woolcock

In Malawi, efforts at institutional reform have been numerous, earnest and longstanding. Since 1966, there have been more than three times as many World Bank projects with ‘institutional reform’ content  as there have been in any other thematic or sectoral category.

In a recent paper, we argue that these efforts have largely failed. Public scandals such as “Cashgate” – in which about US$ 32 million in government funds was misappropriated between April and September 2013 – are the tip of the iceberg: high profile cases reflecting a logic of corruption that remains unchallenged by reform efforts. Continue reading Why do we persist so long with a reform approach that does not solve problems?