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.
We at the Building State Capability program (BSC) have been working directly with governments for over a decade now; focused on helping agents in those governments build their capability to deliver for citizens and society.
We are not consultants. We do not write purely academic papers, offer technical advice, or work in other traditional consultant ways. Rather, we ask the authorizers we are working with in the governments to nominate problems they care about and appoint their own teams to work on those problems. We then work with the teams regularly (often weekly) to learn their way through their problems, to new, locally defined solutions. The teams do the work, gain from the learning, and achieve the progress. This is how they grow their capability and make progress in improving delivery to their citizens and society.
The methodology we employ is called Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA). It is a simple management approach that helps organizations solve specific complex problems and build their capability to solve other complex problems in the process.
Some people ask if we are like delivery units. The answer is no.
The energy sector in Honduras has a history of inefficiency. Financial and energy losses have festered for decades. Various reforms and interventions (often supported by external agents, like this World Bank project) have not solved the problem.
In November 2018 a new unit in the President’s Office helped to mobilize a team of officials to take a fresh look at the problem and address it using the PDIA method—where the focus is on working relentlessly to understand the problem in new ways and to then tackle the problem in a pragmatic, step-by-step manner.
The team initially identified that their problem was to come up with a rapid strategy to liberalize the nation’s energy company. This was largely because an externally inspired law had set the country on a path towards liberalization years ago and officials were wanting to make progress on this path. They believed that the liberalization solution in other countries would solve the problems in Honduras.
From left to right: Jose Arocha, Matt Andrews, Marco Midence and Jorge Jimenez.
Over the past 10 weeks, Matt Andrews has been working with a team of three mid-career students from Latin America on a project applying the problem analysis in PDIA to the challenge of growth in Honduras. We had shared their fishbone diagram in a previous post. The team used growth diagnostics, product space analysis, and PDIA to find practical entry points for moving forward. We are proud of them and wish them the best on their PDIA adventure!