Increasing the dynamism of the implementation of French public policies

Guest blog written by Kanan Dubal, Jess Redmond, Ankita Panda, Arba Murati

No amount of information or research can and did prepare us for the intensity and unlearning that the Problem Driven Iterative Approach (PDIA) process demands. Theoretically, we knew what the PDIA process was, but the course facilitated an opportunity to learn, implement and receive constant feedback on the application of PDIA to a real policy case.

PDIA provides a blueprint to follow, but it’s not that straightforward. Each time we thought we had defined the problem and then deconstructed it, a new conversation or reading would spark a new idea, and new way of thinking about the problem leading to many versions of a problem definition. The deconstruction of the problem using the ‘fishbone’ approach helped us dive deeper into the problem whilst breaking a big issue down into smaller problems.

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Can PDIA become a regular part of how a government works?

Guest blog written by Peter Harrington

Recently I have been engaging with a government in a middle-income country which is using PDIA methods to tackle some of their thorniest public problems. As one would expect there have been successes and failures, and lots of learning. But in addition to this, leaders in the government want to ‘embed’ PDIA permanently into the way their government works. This raises some interesting questions for PDIA – can the methodology be institutionalised as part of the way a government works? If so, what does this look like? And what is required to make that successful and sustainable?

The government has decided that it wants to embrace more innovative methods of getting things done, and governments through the ages have had similar ambitions. There has been a recognition that existing ways of working leave some problems unsolved, and a good place to start is to understand why this might be.

Governments by their nature function in routines. These are established pathways which, to a greater or lesser degree depending on the government’s capability, serve a range of functions in maintaining the operations of the state. These functions are well established but can also change, adapting to new conditions and new social or economic needs through shifts in policy, legislation, new services and new ways of working. As such governments can be understood as complex adaptive eco-systems which are themselves embedded in and interacting with a larger complex adaptive system: wider society.

As functioning (or dysfunctioning) systems, governments get an awful lot of things done. To borrow an analogy used by Matt Andrews, the amount of coordination it takes to make a streetlight switch on at a specific time each day is actually quite extraordinary. But as systems whose configuration is a response to and reflection of their societal context, governments are by their nature unable to solve every problem through their regular operation. Some problems are complex, and/or emergent, and require different types of know-how to solve. Some of these problems may arise directly because the machine of the state is configured in such a way as to neglect, exacerbate or even cause that particular issue. Think of a robot vacuum cleaner: they are pretty smart these days, programmed to trundle around your house hoovering the floor space and capturing a lot of dirt. When it’s done the floor looks pretty clean, but anyone with a Roomba knows that it can’t catch dirt gathering in the hard to reach corners, and it may have even pushed extra dirt into some of those corners. Getting into those nooks and crannies requires something different – probably a human, using a different tool.

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An unexpected journey: ‘One fish in your hand is worth more than two in the river’

Guest blog by Raphaël Kenigsberg

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.

Integrate the Millennial generation into strategic decision-making and implementation

During the Covid-19 crazy crisis, I had a dream, shared by many: what would the world look like after this unexpected pandemic? Our landmarks were missing, and adaptation became key. With the support of hundred engaged members of the think tank I am running, we designed a set of 32 ambitions imagining youth expectations for a better future. For two months, during the first general lockdown, daily and after work, we decided to gather and organize ideas with the hope of being heard by policymakers. We designed a 150-page report in French and in English. The main goal of this report was to convince policymakers that youth should be included into designing and implementing public policies. We organized an influence communication directed towards the French President, all members of government, National Assembly, Senate, embassies, European Commission and Parliament, international organizations, and media.

Continue reading An unexpected journey: ‘One fish in your hand is worth more than two in the river’

Building resilience into U.S. government functions

Guest blog by Adam Harrison

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.

IPP Learning Journey: Learning in the Age of Pandemic

In early 2020, I was lucky enough to be selected into the Harvard Kennedy School’s executive education class, “Implementing Public Policy (IPP).” I was thrilled that my supervisors at work had shown the confidence in me and interest in my development to make this opportunity available. Even more, I was excited to spend a week in Cambridge with a diverse group of professionals from across the country and the world. The experience would be enriching . . . and a few good meals in Boston’s North End would be pretty nice, too. 

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Lacking stakeholder engagement in policy-making process in Turkey

Guest blog by Emir Gelen

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.

IPP Program Journey: Empathizing with peers from public sector

As a young public policy professional having seen and worked both in government and private sectors a little more than 10 years of experience, I have been always aware of the importance of self-development. The COVID-19 period has changed the way of doing business, social interactions as well as corporate cultures and even the running of bureaucracy. Besides the heartbroken outcomes and drastic impacts of the pandemic process, I believe that the “new normals” of our daily lives have provided us a new opportunity of using our time more efficiently. The company I am working for has a principle called “Learn and Be Curious” which tells us that leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. I am a person with high curiosity about new possibilities, so this is how I decided to enroll in Harvard Kennedy School’s Implementing Public Policy Executive Education program.

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Decentralization in Lebanon

Guest blog written by Pascale Dahrouj

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 7-month blended learning course in December 2019. These are their learning journey stories.

When I first registered in this program, I never thought I could get that much insights on how to work out a complex problem by identifying entry points, root causes, possible solutions, authorizers and teams. I just thought it will be a learning journey filled with readings and videos that might help me with some ideas…But no…It was much more. 

The first part of the program was indeed an introduction of the entire concept of public policy and its implementation. But the most important part of the journey was the week course at Harvard where we spent intensive hours in learning about PDIA and doing our fishbone. A fishbone? I laughed at the idea first but when I ended up doing mine, I never felt more concerned and understanding of my problem. I am working on a public policy that will change the entire system of the Lebanese Republic. Decentralization… Moving from a central strong government control power to a decentralized functioning of the state. And guess what? My policy has not yet been ratified by the parliament. My work has a double shredded effort: getting the policy ratified and then implementing it. 

PDIA is a new concept for me as I had never heard of it before that week in June. Now, it has become part of my daily thinking. It is a guiding dynamic tool: it gives you all the necessary to help you think outside the box and do things yourself. You are the center of this entire approach. You have to know well the problem, deconstruct it and then construct the points, identify the authorizers and whom to approach, and mostly build your team so that your policy can get to a realistic end result. 

During this course, I enjoyed so much learning from other students and getting to know their problems and how they envision to solve it. The group sessions that we did also made me realize how vague my problems were …. I kept on narrowing them down… I kept on redoing and changing my fishbone based on feedback from my group… That learning process was the best part of it. You think that you grasp the context, but you come and hear the comments from your group or class, and then you have to do it all over again. Oh and not to mention the professors and directors of the program; They all added to me in different ways. The Pascale that went in June to Harvard is not longer the same Pascale… It is a different version equipped with hopes, prospects and determination. 

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A half-empty glass and the joy of “failing forward”

Guest blog by Silverio Zebral Filho

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.

I’ve started my PDIA journey 6 months ago, interested in gaining a deeper learning about alternative approaches to tackle a wicked (ill-defined, multi-sourced, technically complex and politically sensitive) problem in the context of large institutional divergence (weak rules, strong social norms), lack of state capacity, declining interpersonal trust and confidence in government, gradually leading to social decohesion and violence – all boosted by the presence of transnational crime in several societal domains. 

Our challenge was to help The Office of the Presidency of Government of Honduras in improving transparency and accountability in country public sector, targeting a reduction of 20% on corruption victimization measured by the “control of corruption” indicator of MCC BSC Honduras FY2021. This reduction was instrumental to qualify Honduras to apply for a second Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) award starting in 2021, estimated in USD 255 millions.

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Anticipatory Government

Guest blog by Urkhan Seyidov

Urkhan Seyidov is an expert in the field of innovation and strategic communication, a senior fellow of the Center for Political Psychology in Azerbaijan, and the author of two books: Innovation – Implementation Guidelines and Soft power and Public Diplomacy of Azerbaijan in the Digital Age. 

Imagine a gleaming government office tower in a modern city. Inside, new computers sit on every desk and flat screens line the walls. The 5G Internet connection ensures that the word’s data is a nanosecond away. As you pass through the revolving door into the lobby, a bureaucrat with a clipboard and pencil scribbles down your name and your business on a triplicate form and hustles away to the warren of offices behind the glass door. When the worker returns, you ask why he didn’t simply use the computer.

This is how we’ve always done it, he replies.

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COVID Act Two: Look beyond your borders to navigate what comes next

Guest blog written by Peter Harrington and Ben French

Act One of Covid is over. In places it has been frightening, in others orderly, and everywhere completely unprecedented. As we move into Act Two of this astonishing global drama, and a global recession on a scale not seen before, governments and leaders need to prepare themselves for what comes next and the big questions that will define whether countries sink or swim.

A defining feature of Act One was the seeming uniformity of the pandemic. It felt like the whole world was brought together by a shared experience – fighting a merciless enemy that swept the world and respected no language or national boundary. This feeling was also often matched by a striking uniformity of response – regardless of context, governments in almost every country pulled the lockdown lever to suffocate and slow the virus.

With the curtain coming down on Act One, we find ourselves wondering: was this uniformity of experience real or imagined? It may have been a mirage. Looking closely Act One has been a vastly different experience across countries. Whereas Europe and the US have seen massive caseloads, the predicted tsunami in Africa has yet failed to materialize, even after acknowledging the lack of data. In other places like Pakistan or Indonesia the crisis looks set to smoulder, with periodic flare ups. This divergence belies the impression of uniformity – an impression that may have had more to do with where headlines are generated than any true homogeneity of experience. The reality of Covid has been extremely heterogenous.

This brings us to Act Two. So far, the policy debate has focused on how to manage the pandemic and economic shocks. The result has been a narrow focus on managing the pandemic and its economic consequences in the present, and within countries’ own borders. As governments move into the recovery phase and start thinking about the subsequent waves, a more nuanced view of the evolving situation must take hold.

In the early stages of this crisis, it was the hyper-connected parts of the world that were impacted most. The more connected a country and its economy were to the rest of the world, the higher and faster the caseload. This is common sense – places with a huge through-traffic of travellers and visitors (like London, New York, Hong Kong), and more infrastructure, had far greater probability of transmission than Lilongwe or Lapland. In Act One, interconnectedness was a risk factor – it created vulnerability as travellers, tourists and flights became disease carriers. And to compound things, interconnected economies have suffered more initially – from loss of exports, loss of remittances, loss of investment. Meanwhile, those places with less inter-connection were sheltered from the storm, or at least suffered a slower spread. Continue reading COVID Act Two: Look beyond your borders to navigate what comes next

The Big Stuck: Updated

written by Lant Pritchett

chapter 1

The PDIA approach to building state capability grew out of a sense among practitioner/academics (or “pracademics”) that (a) organizational capability for implementation was key to success—as, if not more important the adoption of new policies or the creation of new programs and (b) that the existing models (both in the mainstream academy and in practice) for building capability in the public sector were not working and not up to the task.  Our shorthand name for the latter is “the big stuck”:  even when people acknowledge the importance of building state capability and are engaged in projects, programs, and policies to try and do so the facts on the ground are that state capability—at least on all of the standard measures—show little or no progress.

The idea for some new, even something pretty radically new as an approach, like PDIA, did not spring from a desire to create the latest new fad, but from a sense that the devil was not in the details of existing approaches.  Existing approaches to build capability were not working because of some minor flaw in the way these actions were themselves implemented, they were failing because key ideas about how to build capability—and even, really, what it was—were under-articulated and often just plain wrong.

Given the long lead time between research and publication the “big stuck” tables in our 2017 book were based on country data only through 2012, which now is 8 years ago.  So I went back and updated the book’s Table 1, the “big stuck” table with data from two sources:  the Quality of Government indicator (adapted from the International Country Risk Group) from the Quality of Government web-site and three of the state capability indices from the Worldwide Governance Indicators.  This brings the big stuck up to 2018 (latest available for these data) and, unfortunately the findings are roughly the same.

As Figure 1 shows the typical level of “quality of government” (measured as a combination of Rule of Law, Bureaucratic Effectiveness, and Control of Corruption) is slightly lower in 2018 than in 1996. Continue reading The Big Stuck: Updated