IPP Program Journey: Solving Complex Problems in Albany

Guest blog written by David Galin

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.

Coming into this course, I was under the impression it was going to help me better understand the nuances of implementing policy from a roadmap that was created for every situation.  I was a bit nervous we would be taught a rigid set of procedures on how to implement policy – something that was made for every situation but really only worked for maybe one out of every ten, if we were all lucky.  Thankfully I was very wrong.  I learned about a theory that works for those situations that aren’t rigid and need meaningful analytical evaluation.  Situations where you need to think outside the box, need support from your authorizers, but also need to continually build a team.  Situations where you are not only implementing policy but in fact problem solving.  Read: messy, confusing, complex situations.

I learned there truly are a variety of issues – complex and complicated and everything in-between.  I think this is a principle that sometimes you think about in the back of your head but start to say to yourself you’ve overcomplicating the issue and that can’t be.  Turns out, it is.  I learned that you need to see things for what they are but also be willing to look past the first layer of the issue.  You need to unpack the problem.  People are very quick to hear what they think the issue is, and immediately try to come up with solutions.  Sometimes the issue isn’t complicated and that type of problem solving can work.  But sometimes the issue is so complex that you need to spend a significant amount of time unpacking the problem.  Taking the time to understand the hurdles in front of you and the hurdles that may be hidden beneath the surface, before developing a game plan. 

The other thing I learned is that PDIA is as much about relationships as it is about process.  Building relationships – before, during, and after iteration and implementation – is very important.  Having established relationships can cut down on the time needed to build them when trying to solve a complex problem, and helps foster a sense of trust – not only with your authorizers, but with your peers.

The entire process is designed to create a constant feedback loophelping you to review whether your potential solutions are working or not, but also to getting you working with other people, obtaining and re-affirming authorization from your superiors, and brainstorming additional methods to tackling an issue.  When it comes to our problem, we were able to learn that data-driven decision-making is optimal to use as part of PDIA.  Having data and being able to evaluate it before and after the feedback review helps to determine whether that iteration was successful or not.  We made progress narrowing down some of the core issues behind the perceived sub-optimal performance of See Click Fix, including no consistent methodology of using “acknowledged” vs. “closed,” and have also seen a decline in days to acknowledge and days to close as part of the expanded use of ipads as part of our improvements.

Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Solving Complex Problems in Albany

IPP Program Journey: Three Lessons of PDIA, or the Art of Public Policy

Guest blog written by Olga Yulikova

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.

It is not surprising to anyone who is a part of the PDIA community that Matt Andrew’s book Building State Capability uses medical metaphors and examples to describe public policy. Like Matt, I too believe that policy-making is a form of therapy for society’s ailments. (Wouldn’t be great if all bureaucrats took a version of a Hippocratic Oath upon entering the service to build a person-centered practice?) And just like medicine, policy work is uncertain and difficult. And the more you learn, the more you understand your limitations. PDIA offers a way to make that task of healing societies a little less treacherous.

I decided to enroll in Implementing Public Policy (IPP) class because I was stuck. I was stuck and I was helpless. I was stuck and I was helpless and I was miserable. I needed something to fix my misery. Coming into the class, I had no idea what to expect. At first I did not really understand the language of PDIA. It all seemed too cerebral to me. My problem was about very poor and unskilled older people who are trying to get a job, any job and just can’t. They rely on the state’s program I administer to help them. The program has limited federal funding and can accommodate less than one percent of the eligible population. We do all we can to help as many as we can, but half the people we serve are just not getting the jobs, even when the economy is fine. Agencies that I work with ask me for more funding, but I don’t have it. All I can do is provide creative solutions to help them. And it is not a new problem for me – after all I have been doing my job for ten years – I simply ran out of ideas on how to solve the problem of chronic and persistent unemployment for this vulnerable population. After ten years of public service, I felt I was a failure.

IPP started with a bang for me – there were people from all over the world with the energy and enthusiasm unmatched in my day to day reality of a state office. They were all highly accomplished, driven, enthusiastic and yet everyone had a similar problem to mine, they all were struggling with their “problems.” Corrupt governments, indifferent agency heads, low budgets, unclear guidance – all familiar aches. We became a team in just a few days. We shared so much in common. Our individual problems became common problems, individual pains became a common condition. And the fantastic and practical PDIA team became our therapists, our mentors on our individual paths to alleviate some of the pain we felt for ourselves and the people we advocate for in our work. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Three Lessons of PDIA, or the Art of Public Policy

IPP Program Journey: Improving Roadside Ecology in Calgary

Guest blog written by Andrew McIntyre

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.

Public policy is hard. Mitigating climate change as biodiversity continues to decline, tackling growing wealth inequality, and building a healthy, pluralistic society in the face of rising authoritarian populist movements across the world are just some of the most significant problems facing governments in 2019. These problems are complex, but we must summon the will to tackle them. To paraphrase an insightful colleague in our Implementing Public Policy (IPP) cohort: as practitioners of public policy, our passion to overcome our challenges must, by necessity, be greater than the problems themselves. 

Only governments can truly address collective action problems and market failures. Governments also need to be able to address changing policy objectives and public expectations in the face of institutional and cultural inertia that resists change. But too often governments select the wrong tool for the task. Around the world we’re witnessing a breakdown in public trust and confidence in governments as the traditional public policy tools and processes used by governments fail to deliver the results necessary to meet public expectations and solve the complex problems we’re facing. Too often the risk-averse culture within public administration prioritizes the traditional approach to project management – what our IPP coursework referred to as “plan and control” – over the incremental testing, learning and building on successes. The erosion of the governments’ legitimacy in the face of these mounting complex problems calls for new tools.

So for me, IPP solidified many of the critiques I’ve long made – or simply felt but hadn’t yet clearly articulated – about how governments do their public policy work. Further, IPP presented a clear alternative approach to test and learn as we make progress incrementally on policy problems. The Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) method is actually quite straightforward. The simplest explanation of PDIA is that it focusses on correctly diagnosing and categorizing the problem(s) to be solved and then seeking authorization to create a space for learning and testing in order to scale up what works. This is in stark contrast to “plan and control” which is often mandated by governments – including the City of Calgary – as the only acceptable approach project management wherein a “solution” is quickly arrived at without much thought. The resulting work is structured around achieving this “solution” in a linear, sequential fashion. By spending more time carefully defining and testing the elements of the problem(s) PDIA helps ensure that governments address the delta between project success and the outcomes being sought. PDIA seeks to rectify why projects are often successfully completed but do not actually solve the problem.

Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Improving Roadside Ecology in Calgary

IPP Program Journey: Improving Tax Compliance in Uganda

Guest blog written by Doris Akol

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.

My previous experience with public policy has hitherto been mainly as a formulator of organizational policies which are then implemented by other units and more recently as a first hand implementer of fiscal policies passed by the Government for revenue collection. Frankly speaking, I had never quite addressed my mind to that fact that the process of implementing public policy is akin to being on a rollercoaster of thrilling adventurous fast paced rides, being stuck on a cliff and sometimes being dropped off that cliff (when the policy creates a backlash during implementation).

Eight months ago, I started on a process of walking the public policy implementing journey. This started with a definition of the policy challenge I am facing for which a solution is required. I selected a challenge relating to improving compliance for taxes, especially in the informal sector of our economy.

Reporting for the in-person training at Harvard was like a dream come true in itself…. I mean, this was me at Harvard! Meeting accomplished and likeminded professionals from all over the world, all seeking answers to the question, “how does one successfully implement policies for impactful change” was another fulfilling experience. We were all looking to better our communities or other spheres of influence and make great impact though public policy.

I learned that, policies are a response to a problem or the perception of the existence of a problem. It is in the process of understanding the gap between the existing (status quo) and the ideal situation that a public problem may be identified. This then sets off the thinking process of how the situation may be moved from existing to ideal i.e., how the gap may be closed. This process will elaborate the steps that may need to be taken, the resources that will need to be deployed and the persons/ institutions required to take action in order for the problem to be rectified or mitigated. The end product of the process will most definitely be a policy.

I also learned that for successful policy implementation, it is key to obtain acceptance, especially from authorizers…those power holders with a big “P”, who are likely to ensure your policy implementation is supported, such as bosses or financiers, and those power holders with a small p, who may frustrate the implementation of the policy because they wield power with other influencers. In public policy implementation, it is crucial to identify all those that wield some form of power, overt and covert and seek to bring them along in order for the policy to succeed. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Improving Tax Compliance in Uganda

BSC 2019: The Year in Review

written by Salimah Samji

Reflection is a key part of the PDIA iteration process and as I have done in previous years (20172018) here’s a look back at what we @HarvardBSC achieved in 2019.

Some highlights of the year include: training and engaging with 740 practitioners around the globe (incl. degree programs, executive education, online courses and direct policy engagements with governments); publishing 9 papers and 54 blog posts; activating our PDIA online course alumni community of practice; releasing a new 12-part podcast series on the Practice of PDIA; translating our content into Spanish and French; and last but not least … drum roll please … launching Harvard Kennedy School’s first blended learning Executive Education program Implementing Public Policy, designed to equip policymakers around the world with both the skills to analyze policies, as well as the field-tested tools and tactics to successfully implement them.

2020 promises to be another exciting year for us. Here’s a few things we have in store for you: releasing our PDIA Toolkit in French, Portuguese and Arabic; publishing blogs written by our Implementing Public Policy program alumni; launching our new long read podcast series; and sharing our experience on creating and sustaining communities of practice with you. To stay tuned, follow us on twitter, or subscribe to our blog and podcast.

Here’s a month by month playback of 2019.

January

BSC Faculty Director Matt Andrews chaired the executive education program entitled, “Public Financial Management (PFM) in a Changing World” at the Harvard Kennedy School. 47 PFM practitioners from 25 countries participated in this program.

PFM 2019
BSC collaborated with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative in their Cross-Boundary Collaboration Program held in New York City. Director Salimah Samji served as a City Team facilitator during this program.

Continue reading BSC 2019: The Year in Review

Views of public policy implementation success and failure: Sharing my thoughts

written by Matt Andrews

There are many views on what constitutes success and failure in public policy implementation. I have been chewing on these a lot over the last couple of years as I try to make sense of the challenges of implementation and of knowing when implementation is going well or not.

Here are some approaches I find useful in this work.

First, a large literature on project success is relevant in this discussionbecause many public policies are implemented through project-like processes (with some studies even referring to the ‘projectization‘ of various policy domains, especially in international development). The project management literature tends to emphasize different types of ‘success’ in the implementation process (if you want to read more detail,  I advise this article on the topic by Paul Bannerman):

(i) Process or project management success: the immediate performance of a project against its main design parameters—schedule (time), budget (cost), scope, and quality.

(ii) Product success: the extent to which a project delivered promised ‘products’, and if those products were used and considered useful by intended users (or beneficiaries).

(iii) Business or Strategy (or impact) success:  whether a project solved the particular problem that warranted it in the first place, and—even more expansively—if the project better positions the community  affected to address future problems or take future opportunities and benefits.

Another large literature on policy implementation offers related but also different ideas about ‘success’. A key article in this literature (by Bovens, ’t Hart and Peters 2001, which I cite below for those with interest) refers to two key dimensions of success: Continue reading Views of public policy implementation success and failure: Sharing my thoughts

How often do public policies really fail? A question to help you escape the policy futility trap

written by Matt Andrews

Last week I blogged about the ‘public policy futility trap’ in which countries get stuck when a negative feedback loop institutionalizes itself in the public policy domain. Experiences of past policy failure erodes the confidence (of citizens and public officials) to deliver in future, which undermines the potential for positive future policy results, which in turn reinforces the view that  government cannot ‘get things done’, and on and on and on.

I think many countries are stuck in this trap, where negative feedback loops frustrate effort after effort to improve government capabilities. Initiatives designed to help governments get things done tend to fail when no one (in the citizenry or government) actually believes government can get things done.

So, how do governments get unstuck?

This is the question we plan to address—in practice —through the forthcoming Implementing Public Policy executive education course (starting in May 2019). The answer we suggest is simple: challenge the existing negative feedback loop by promoting cases of implementation success that can become the basis of new positive feedback loops—that help citizens and officials believe that more is possible tomorrow than it was yesterday.

Continue reading How often do public policies really fail? A question to help you escape the policy futility trap