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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Creation of jobs for youth through entrepreneurial development in Ghana

Guest blog by Osman Haruna Tweneboah

I was actually excited to start the Implementing Public Policy (IPP) program at Harvard Kennedy School not only because of the brand name of the School, the popularity and the international respect accorded to the School, but I was also looking for a solution to my policy challenge. My policy challenge revolves around, “the creation of jobs through entrepreneurial development for the youth”. The IPP programme actually provided me with the tools not only overcoming the problem but also learning.  Upon commencement of the programme, I thought I was going to learn through the usual theoretical way, little did I know and believe that the course was very practical and interesting, though rigorous and time consuming.

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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

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.

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A learning year out of the comfort zone

Guest blog by Alex Fernandez

Now that we have these pandemic times, at the beginning of this year I decided to continue my studies by studying something totally different from my professional and educational background, a program called Implementing Public Policies at Harvard Kennedy School.

The reason of this decision was to understand how public servants live the challenge of implementing a public policy, the barriers, obstacles, bad things, and good things.

In my current role, I need to connect with the public sector to implement social impact activities in some moments. Some of those practices end in community initiatives with the back up of the local government.

What better way to understand my ally than taking a course full of policymakers and discussing the challenges and best ways to implement public policy?

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Using PDIA to Improve Public Education in Brazil

written by Salimah Samji

São Luis, Maranhão, Brazil – December 2021

In August 2021, we began an engagement with Instituto Sonho Grande (ISG) in Brazil to build the capability of public servants working in secretariats of education in the states of Maranhão and Paraíba.  

In this virtual action learning program, 60 public servants working across 11 teams, learned how to use PDIA to solve locally nominated problems, through action-oriented work.

The teams in Maranhão worked on the following problems:

  • Low learning in Mathematics
  • High teacher turnover
  • School dropouts
  • Age-grade distortion
  • School feeding programs

The teams in Paraíba worked on the following problems:

  • Low learning in Portuguese and Mathematics
  • Vacancies for Teachers and Technicians
  • Data for strategic decision making
  • School infrastructure
  • Clarity of roles and responsibilities
  • Budget execution
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Alleviating homelessness in Toronto

Guest blog by Rob Graham

My public policy implementation challenge is the alleviation of homelessness in Toronto. The problem is getting worse as evidenced by the increasing number of homeless, the frequency and severity of their comorbidities and the increasing demand for shelter services like housing support, mental health, addictions, other medical needs, clothing, beds for the night and battling food insecurity.

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Building resilience into U.S. government functions

Guest blog by Adam Harrison

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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Building a coordinated service delivery model in the U.S. using PDIA

Guest blog by Debra Porchia-Usher

Initial Expectations

I entered IPP Online Course with excitement and with the expectation that guidance would be provided to simplify the proposed ‘public policy challenge’ facing myself and my colleagues. The timing was great, as my colleagues and I had recently committed to the design and execution of a coordinated service delivery model of human services. The authorizing team of 12-15 human service leaders, including myself, made a firm visionary statement (“if not now, when”), affirming the commitment to get this done. I was sure that a guidebook would assist the team to develop an outline that would lead to an immediate solution. Essentially, an opportunity made simple and I believed that we, as a diverse team of providers, had all the pieces in place were for immediate action: 1) strong partnerships, 2) a common vision and goal, 3) motivated supporters, 4) County Chief Executive Office support, 5) consultant resources, 6) diverse group of champions, 7) community commitment to pilot the model in four communities and 8) a project timeline. It became very clear in the first two week of lectures and the introduction of PDIA, that our team did not have a clear understanding of the complexity of our problem, nor did we have a concise problem statement reflective of the intended goal. Early on, it also became evident that PDIA offered the Fishbone Diagram as a tool to map out the known and unknown factors. The input of the technical support and from peers on the fishbone identified additional gaps in knowledge, potential missed entry point opportunities and critical stakeholders. In addition, the diagram generated input from the larger stakeholder group which subsequently led to further clarification on the resource gaps and small win opportunities. The use of the Fishbone Diagram promoted an expanded thought process, strategic thinking about the actual problem at hand and extensive consideration of cause and effect influence within both the planning and execution of response to a complex policy challenge. 

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PDIA for Delivery Facilitation

written by Matt Andrews

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.

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