IPP Program Journey: Engage with the People in the Place

Guest blog written by Julia Martin

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.

PDIA is about engaging with the people in the place.” If I think back to the last few months, this line from Matt’s blog strikes a chord. Coming into the course, I really had a serious case of the “not enoughs” – not enough experience, not enough expertise, not enough authority, not enough intelligence, not enough importance. I scanned the resumes of my classmates and hoped they wouldn’t look me up on LinkedIn and see my short, much less accomplished resume. When I arrived on campus, I realized I didn’t have to have as much experience or be as smart as everyone else, I just had to be curious. As a general society, we try to dissuade curiosity because it can slow down a process, because people are threatened by change, and/or because it creates more work. For whoever needs to hear this: you don’t need to be the smartest, loudest, or best at data analysis, you just have to have to have an unrelenting, genuine curiosity for whatever you are working on. To me, the core of PDIA is being curious in every forum you are in. You have to examine a problem and take the time to think about a) who impacts (or is impacted by) the problem b) where do you find these people c) how do you have them be an active participant in creating a solution. Being curious in every forum means meeting, listening, talking, sharing coffee, or doing a walk-through with the people in the place.

My problem centers on decades of purposeful, legal, and systemic racism in Charlotte, North Carolina. Within that almost incomprehensively difficult problem, I carved out a space to specifically look at increasing the availability of Accessory Dwelling Units or ADUs. These are small, separate dwellings that can be placed on a lot with an existing single-family home. They add gentle density to a neighborhood, can provide a space for aging parents to move in, or can be rented for extra income. ADUs also provide access to neighborhoods that were previously only accessible to wealthy homeowners. So many outcomes are linked to where you live – educational attainment, health outcomes, lifetime earnings. To me, in Charlotte, how we can start to break down decades of racially punitive policy is to create neighborhoods that are accessible to all our residents regardless of income (and race, because in America those are so closely linked).

An ongoing part of our project has been to, painstakingly, read through Homeowner’s Association (HOA) Deeds and Covenants. HOAs are property associations that often have additional restrictions, above city and state regulations, to create neighborhood standards around things like home height or size. After reading almost 100 HOA Deeds and Covenants, an overwhelming majority prohibit the use of ADUs. Similarly, our team is in the process of mapping HOA-owned land to get a better understanding of what percentage of Charlotte’s single-family zoned land is restricted under HOA regulations.

There are a number of barriers to building ADUs outside of HOA restrictions. In no particular order: stringent zoning requirements, confusing process, lack of contractors and builders, and lack of financial resources. Our team put out a survey to local builders and homeowners who built ADUs to better understand their concerns. After hearing from them, we developed a mock-up “How to Build an ADU in Charlotte” guidebook that succinctly described what an ADU was and how to understand if a property is eligible. We invited the builders and homeowners to follow-up session and observed them as they read through the guidebook to see what was confusing, what was clear, what can we improve on etc. Within the guidebook, we created a link to a mock-up 3-D sketch in GoogleEarth that enabled a potential builder to visualize what a detached ADU would look like on a property.

What motivated me throughout the work was every time we asked a builder, homeowner, member of the planning team to share their experience with us and be an activate participant in improving a process, they were so incredibly grateful that we wanted to hear their opinion. My teammates in this work, Rachel, Andrew, and Providence were also a constant well of encouragement and support. We were all balancing additional jobs, but held each other accountable to complete the work we committed to. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Engage with the People in the Place

IPP Program Journey: Finding Family through Process Improvement

Guest blog written by Maggie Jones

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.

Trey’s words hung in the air. Would you like to go to Harvard? A million thoughts ran through my head as I watched the unsuspecting traffic pass outside my office. Of course I wanted to go. I had to go. As soon as “yes” stumbled out of my mouth and I hung up the phone, my hand gripped the handset for a moment before I stared blankly at my computer screen. 

How am I going to do this?

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There’s something magical that happens when you walk into an HKS classroom with 48 students and staff from around the world with challenges and backgrounds as diverse as the names on the tent cards. We may have not known it then, but we would become more than HKS’ first Implementing Public Policy cohort, staff included; we would become family. Family with similar struggles in authorization, acceptance, and ability, but also filled with passion, strength, and determination that only comes with a love and respect for this work and for each other.

Over the past seven months, I’ve learned more than I have in a decade of public service; it feels like someone opened a window, fresh air pouring in. Although all of the learnings would certainly take up more than these words, there are a few key takeaways:

  • Failure is always an option. While the private sector may embrace failure, we are rarely given the grace to fall in government. The stakes are framed too high; however, what we seem to have forgotten is what the consequences will be if we continue our current course. If we are failing to meet the needs of those we’ve committed to serve, then we have only lost. We owe it to them – and to ourselves – to be better. We simply must be better.
  • Projects have completion dates; problems evolve. It is important to think about who owns the problem on a constant, iterative basis. As the problem changes, your toolbox needs to change, too.
  • You do not have to go at this alone; you need to find people to share it with. Period.

In my particular challenge (i.e. addressing performance of a federally-funded home repair program), we have finally begun to see a little bit of movement: Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Finding Family through Process Improvement