IPP Learning Journey: PDIA Helped Me Find My Way and My Voice

Guest blog written by Yasmine Robinson

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.

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At first I was not sure how PDIA would be applicable to what I do as an urban planner, but as I listened to Matt’s first lecture about why policies fail, lightning struck. Over the years I had witnessed the adoption of many policies that were not successful for a variety of reasons, and often as one of the people responsible for implementing those policies, I felt that I was set up to fail. I knew that a flawed policy could not be implemented to achieve its original function but I didn’t have the tools or vocabulary to communicate this to those who mattered.

The key takeaways from the course felt so obvious after the fact – why wasn’t everyone already doing this?

  • Define what success looks like
  • The problem might not really be the problem
  • Consider the user
  • Engage your authorizers

Through this course I was able to understand a few important things about my challenge of plan implementation:

  1. My problem wasn’t really the problem – deconstructing and reconstructing showed me that there were several problem areas that needed to be addressed. Simply organizing myself in this way set a clear path forward which felt empowering and alleviated a lot of the frustration I had been dealing with.
  2. Change needed to happen at every step of the planning process – especially public outreach.
  3. Bringing authorizers together helped to break down the various silos of government so that decisions could be reached as a group and nobody was “out of the loop”.
  4. I can’t do it all alone – creating a team that allowed others to grow and learn moved the process along faster and kept up momentum even during slower times.

Continue reading IPP Learning Journey: PDIA Helped Me Find My Way and My Voice

IPP Program Journey: Remember the Sherpas!

Guest blog written by Marco Mastellari

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.

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When I came in to the course, I thought to myself that what I really wanted to learn was a predesigned structure or framework, if you will, that would allow me and my colleagues down in Panama to approach policy problems in an organized way, or pre-structured format. This is exactly what I found in PDIA, but with a huge difference in focus. My focus was a solution driven approach, I knew what the problem was, or at least I thought I did; I knew what the solution was to that problem, I thought I had identified it adequately; and what I thought I needed was a pre-established path to implement that solution. Oh, was I wrong! I was approaching policy implementing in a self-absorbed manner. Complex problems, surrounded by uncertainties and plagued with what ifs, just cannot have a preconceived solutions, we have to work, iterate, get things wrong, re-think, do the leg work, to then put all the pieces together and then maybe, just maybe, we may find ourselves in the right path towards solving the problem. IPP taught me a very humbling lesson as well. That while our human nature moves us towards approaching problems with a preconceived solution, this manner of acting, more often than not, results in failed policies. And we see this approach daily from authorizers; it is so common to hear a Minister or Director, asking public servants “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions!”. IPP and PDIA has opened up for me a completely new way of attacking policy problems, of thinking about public policy, and most importantly it has shown me, and consequently my colleagues in my country, that problems are better approached from within, utilizing the intellect and experience of our own people, people that know the stakeholders, that can reach genuinely the grassroots; instead of using prepackaged solutions flown in from abroad.

Some of the key learnings I got from this course are humbleness, optimism, and pride of purpose. I came into the course with a problem “Chronic Illnesses Patients don’t have access to Medicinal Cannabis” and a solution, “We need to pass a bill in Congress to legalize Medicinal Cannabis”. At approaching the problem with PDIA we found out that even though passing a Law was a part towards a solution, it was only one variable, only one, in our problem deconstruction diagram. There were many other iterations to be made before even thinking about talking to congressmen about passing a Law. However, as humbling the experience may be, it creates an environment of optimism. The process of constructing and deconstructing our problem, showed us the incredible amount of work that we needed to do, before getting to a Bill, and this outline of work to do allowed us to organize responsibilities and breakdown the problem into smaller tasks, with the opportunity of showing quick wins along the way, which in turn creates the environment of optimism needed to keep attacking our challenge through PDIA. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Remember the Sherpas!

IPP Program Journey: Enhancing the employability of young people in Guinea

Guest blog written by Thierno lliassa Balde

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.

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The Guinean tertiary education and Technical Education and Professional Training (TVET) system is dominated by programs that do not meet the needs of the labor market. Inappropriate orientation of training is a major cause of programs’ lack of relevance to business requirements. The system lacks scientific, technical, and professional training opportunities. Graduates rarely develop entrepreneurial skills, as most aspire to enter the public service. Challenges include overstaffing, poor linkages between training institutions and businesses, an over abundance of theoretical courses, dilapidated laboratories, and a lack of practical activities. The result is a very high unemployment rate among young graduates, despite many years of study.

Unemployment is highest among Technical Education and Professional Training (TVET) – 40% and Higher Education graduates -60%. With the exception of large-scale mining companies, the economy is dominated by informal enterprises and low productivity jobs and a skills mismatch between graduates and those demanded by employers.[i]

This problem is politically sensitive (the population of Guinea is young) and it affects the country’s growth as well as its prosperity. Once this problem is solved, it will put an end to the paradox of seeing employers complaining about the lack of skilled labor on the ground to fill the available positions.

Moreover, including entrepreneurial programs in the skill-training will also save most unemployed graduates complaining about the lack of jobs/employment; they can instead use their initiative to create their own enterprise with some kind of support both financially and morally.

For all these reasons, the Government of Guinea and its partner the World Bank, have set up a project to address this problem which will aim to boost the employability and employment outcomes of Guinean youth in targeted skills programs. More specifically, it aims to improve the effectiveness of training programs in universities and vocational institutions, and provide professional opportunities to young, job-seeking graduates by strengthening their skills through training, internships, jobs, or personalized support for business setup.

The project is based on public-private partnership. Its success in terms of impact and sustainability depend on the ability to use standard project management tools, the commitment of the various stakeholders and the quality of the partnership. For all these reasons, these points have been identified as critical and are essential for the sustainability and effectiveness of the project. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Enhancing the employability of young people in Guinea

IPP Program Journey: The Legitimacy of Performance and Problem Oriented Institutional Development

Guest blog written by Etambuyu A Gundersen

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.

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I had very high expectations of the course and what I was going to get out of it in terms of gaining not only new knowledge but also important skills in policy implementation that would assist me in my job. The course went above and beyond my expectations. The problem focused dimension of the Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) eludes most practitioners in the policy space, explaining the high percentage of policy implementation failures. The IPP course has taught me not only how to create a space that enables learning in the process of policy implementation but also the importance of teams in driving the process in which a problem is identified and a solution or multiple solutions are designed to respond to the identified problem. I have since modified my idea of legitimacy and functional success based on the PDIA framework.

The key learning for me was realising that implementation is not the end phase of a policy cycle, it is just as important as the conceptual and formulation phase. In fact, it is a critical phase of the policy cycle because it is in the phase of implementation when things normally go very wrong, no matter how well designed a policy is. Engaging with an eco-system that either enables or inhibits the success of the policy requires acceptance of the problem and the cooperation of authorisers, all in the name of negotiating space for implementation.

The beginning for me was very muddled. As evidenced in my almost confused first fish bone. My policy challenge as I had conceptualised it was very daunting, my perceived role I soon realised was overwhelming. The fishbone exercise was an interesting moment during the process because it made me not only aware of my role and the limitations of my role but also strangely the opportunities that this presented because I did not have to shoulder the responsibility of this huge task on my own. I also realised that what I thought was the main policy challenge was in fact not. The structural set up of the Ministry of Peace was way beyond my sphere of influence even though I recognised that the new set up was a factor impacting on the policy challenge. My role and that of my organisation was made clearer after I identified through the fishbone the areas where other critical challenges needed to be addressed that would ultimately contribute to supporting the Ministry enhance its effectiveness when implementing its expanded mandate. Before the IPP course it never occurred to me to unpack and prioritise the role of my authorisers, I just assumed that they were on board since I have been assigned a task. The PDIA method helped me to deconstruct and recognise the critical role of authorisers, whom I needed to engage with and at which stage and what I needed to do to engage them in contributing to addressing my policy challenge. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: The Legitimacy of Performance and Problem Oriented Institutional Development

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