Examining the commercial viability of a ‘Mega Food Park’ in India using PDIA

Guest blog by Ajay Chaudhry

To be honest when I joined the IPP online, it was purely an experiment in COVID days. The idea was to engage myself more constructively and to gain knowledge. I searched upon many courses and finally zeroed in on this. Learning through ‘Implementing Public Policy’ at HKS has been an amazing experience.  I got new insights on the work I had been doing for last two decades. There were successes and failures, highs and lows during the journey of a long career. The course content at IPP at HKS brought back the whole journey and gave me a chance not only to learn new ways and means to tackle and implement public policy but also enabled me to analyze the work done in the last two decades of my career in the light of PDIA. I can vividly recount all those stories of success and failure where the elements of PDIA were present and where they were missing. It is remarkable to find that long lasting success was achieved whenever I was closer to the principles and tools explained in PDIA. Although I was not aware of this beautifully carved out project implementing approach which amalgamates the principles of management, psychology, history and other relevant disciplines. Motivation, morale, and leadership concepts revealed to me fresh dimensions which were hitherto unknown to me.

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The survival of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in India using PDIA

Guest blog by Tapasya Obhrai Nair

The journey through the IPP course has been like the pilgrims’ progress. Every stop has given some insight and revelation and shown the path to the next stop or destination. I signed up for this course to learn from other practitioners of public policy about their experiences and the alternative ways of approaching problems. I felt that the course would equip me with new tools and methodologies to better understand issues and to find ways of addressing them. It has been more than a satisfying experience for me in this respect.

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Developing State Capacity in a Weak State

Guest blog written by Dr Himanshu Jha

Dr Himanshu Jha is a Lecturer and Research Fellow at the Department of Political Science, South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University.

What engenders state capacity in a weak state?  How do weak states develop state capacity? And Under what conditions do policy paradigms succeed in historically weak states? In this blog I discuss a case of weak state developing state capacity – an aspect hitherto ignored in the mainstream literature. The state capacity lies in its ability to use its extractive potential to mobilize resources, formulate and implement policy, effectively distribute goods and services and establish control within its territory. States lacking in these capacities are considered weak with poor socio-economic development and service delivery. However, there are cases where even such weak states may selectively display remarkable state capacity albeit in pockets. Such a state poses a puzzle and becomes a tough case for explaining state capacity. 

The sub-national case of eastern Indian state of Bihar presents us with such a puzzle[1]. Bihar has historically been a weak state on all the above counts and yet the state has demonstrated a remarkable state capacity in selected policy domains. Oddly, in this case the state did not develop state capacity comprehensively, but selectively in pockets. Deeper analysis of these successful cases will enable us to isolate conditions under which a weak state develops state capacity in some areas.  

Here, I will discuss just one such case of infrastructure where striking improvements have taken place since 2005 coinciding with a new political party forming government in the state. However, the new political regime inherited a socially, economically and administratively weak state. Astoundingly, in a matter of few years the state witnessed a turnaround in some selected policy domains. Indeed, the state capacity could not have developed so swiftly. Therefore, the change in political regime alone cannot explain the improved state capacity (contrary to what some have argued).

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HIV: Patient Safety and Infection Prevention in India

Guest blog by Vijay Yeldandi 

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.

Why IPP? Honestly because I needed a navigator! After 25 years of doing public health work in India focusing on HIV Infection Prevention, I realized that not everything I did was a resounding success. While some projects were gratifying, in retrospect there were many hard lessons to learn and much heartburn to endure. Many of my friends and colleagues would remark “Oh there goes Vijay again….. where angels fear to tread…. Yes, it is true I have always been an unapologetically optimistic (hopelessly romantic) Gandhian revolutionary going about trying to make the whole world a better place. My anthem is John Lennon’s IMAGINE https://youtu.be/SfGuTigICo8

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To Increase Girls’ Schooling, Improve Girls’ Learning

written by Michelle Kaffenberger, Danielle Sobol, Deborah Spindelman, Marla Spivack

A new paper shows that girls who are learning are more likely to stay in school. Improving learning could be key to achieving both schooling and learning goals.

The G7 recently agreed to two new education objectives: ensure that 40 million more girls attend school and that 20 million more girls are able to read by 2026. A new RISE working paper suggests good news: that progress on the girls’ learning goal may actually be one of the keys to delivering on the girls’ schooling goal. 

The paper draws on longitudinal quantitative and qualitative data from the Young Lives Surveys in Ethiopia, India, Peru, and Vietnam to understand why children drop out of school. The quantitative data reveals a strong link between low learning and later dropout. The qualitative findings reveal that low learning often underlies other, more commonly cited reasons girls drop out such as marriage or work. Girls report seeking ways to provide for their futures, and when it becomes clear that they are learning too little for school to provide future security, they seek other means such as a husband or a job.

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Improving Nutritional Outcomes in India

Guest blog written by Saachi Bhalla

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.

When I applied for the IPP online course, I was hoping to help strengthen my understanding and capacity for policy analysis and to spend dedicated time in identifying ways of making progress on complex public policy issues. I was particularly interested in engaging with ways of identify formal and informal power relationships and processes which can lead to strong policy implementation and action by policy makers.

In particular, I was keen to explore how to build on the capability-accountability of state and non-state actors and how to shape processes for convergent action across ministries to impact nutrition outcomes in India. 

The course’s approach of teaching theory combined with the space to work on applying theory to one’s own implementation challenge is what was particularly attractive. 

My biggest learnings from the course include:

  • Understand the problem: define, redefine, and unpack the problem. The approach of constructing and deconstructing the problem, drilling down till you are really identifying the root causes and what are the smaller pieces that constitute the root causes. Asking the five whys and drawing up the fishbone has been such an enriching process. I find that I am using the fishbone diagram as an approach in much of my work now, beyond the policy challenge I have been working on through this course. 
  • Understand the change space: related to the learnings from constructing and deconstructing the problem and drawing up a fishbone, I find that understanding the change space is critical. The 3 As – acceptance, authority, and ability – helped in understanding what is critical to be able to act on policy challenges, but even more importantly, it helped me in identifying where to start. This has possibly been the most important learning for me from the course. I’ve learnt from colleagues at work about the concept of relentless incrementalism but have always questioned about where to start. This framework and analysis of change space has helped me with a tool to be able to answer the question. 
  • Practice leadership: this course has provided some rich resources and the reflective questions within modules have helped me think about myself as a leader, reflect on what constitutes leadership, and how to practice those skills. The multi agent leadership model made me think about how the same person could play the role of a leader and a follower simultaneously. Being cognizant of what role you play where, who are the others involved, and what role could they be playing, can help in building allies and recognizing when more efforts may be required to bring critical stakeholders along.
  • Learning as critical to success: the idea of short feedback loops and actively learning what, how, and why has been at the back of my mind for long. This course has helped me in articulating it better and defining a process through which this can be practiced. 
  • Importance of a collective voice: aligning on vision, engaging with legitimate sources of knowledge, understanding what we are projecting are important for success. Having a collective voice helps in building traction for a narrative and support for the aspects of the policy challenge we are trying to address. 

My implementation challenge relates to improving nutrition outcomes in India. My problem definition was that Malnutrition remains a rampant problem in India despite evidence- based policies to address it. The major causes to this relate to poor multi sectoral governance, program design not allowing attention to be paid to address the causes of malnutrition, public finance management systems which limit effective spending on nutrition, and information asymmetry and social/gender norms impacting both govt leadership as well as community behaviours. 

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Becoming Comfortable with Complexity

Guest blog written by Rebecca Trupin, Prateek Mittal

This is a blog series written by students at the Harvard Kennedy School who completed “PDIA in Action: Development Through Facilitated Emergence” (MLD 103) in March 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

Our PDIA journey began with our authorizer, a senior bureaucrat in the State Government of Meghalaya, sharing a document with us about his vision to build capability of the state administration to deal with complex problems. We had been working with him on local governance-related projects and were keen on institutionalizing adaptive problem-solving processes. We suggested that he try a few pilot projects in different sectors to understand and document how a PDIA approach could work in the state. At that time, he had recently taken over the health department and improving maternal and child health indicators had become one of his priorities. We decided to focus on the complex problem of high maternal mortality in the state.

We had several late night/early morning interviews, courtesy of the 10-hour time difference, with different stakeholders and had weekly check-ins with our authorizer. Through this process, we mapped the various causes of maternal deaths in a fishbone diagram that helped us visualize the complexity of the problem.

Based on this, we generated some ideas that could be useful in learning more about the problem and help the health department better prioritize resources towards issues that can give them some strong gains in the short-term. We used this work to make a case for building a PDIA team in Meghalaya that could build on this and make some tangible progress on improving maternal health outcomes in the state. 

As we reflect on the process, we want to share three things about three things that capture our key learnings and takeaways for anyone who is interested in doing PDIA.

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Motivation Sustains Passion the PDIA way

Guest blog written by Upamanyu Basu

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.

I am a career bureaucrat from India and my job responsibilities have always revolved around implementing public policy – whether in my postings in my parent department i.e. Income tax Department or in my secondments to the Ministry of Human Resource Development and now in the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying. My job of administering the Government’s policy of ‘prevention, control and containment of animal diseases’ entails vaccination of all eligible animals (livestock and poultry) against diseases considered economically important for the humongous losses caused by them. My challenge includes managing limited public funds and its timely availability, large number of eligible animals with lack of animal identification, farmers with few livestock, scattered in difficult geographical terrains, multi-agency implementers, availability of quality vaccines and their efficacy, motivating vaccinators in the wake of shortage of supervisory veterinary staff, risk management at quarantine stations, animal movements across state borders, lack of last mile monitoring of service delivery. Stakeholders include Central and the State Governments and their Veterinary Services, vaccine and vaccination equipment industry, farmers (and their animals) and finally, the political authorizers.

Taking all the challenges into consideration and meandering through multiple roadblocks is the true test, in my opinion, of implementing public policy. Yet, I was drawn into the programme offered at HKS titled ‘Implementing public policy” simply wondering as to what is it that is going to be taught different than what our experiential learning could not teach. My curiosity was fuelled further by simply talking to my peers at the commencement of the course. Everybody appeared to try to solve their respective public policy in their own way. Yet, the binding thread appeared to be the selflessness and the honesty of approach that was clearly visible on their faces. The urge to passionately pursue their public problem appeared to be in everyone’s mind. It seemed as if everybody had a story to tell!

In the classes and thereafter, it was clear that while our experiences taught us a lot about implementing public policy to alleviate a public problem in a sustained manner, there were gaps that we did not realize. Our perceptions somewhere went awry and hence a single problem often tried to grow hydra-like tentacles. Iteration of a problem often helped in solving it, striking at the roots rather than trying to address it in a chalked-out path. Iteration of a problem followed by construction, deconstruction and reconstruction helps in understanding not only the source of the problem but whether the one that we are trying to solve is the actual problem or otherwise!

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Lack of Student Engagement in Bastar District, India

Guest blog written by Nikhilesh Hari, Poona Verma, Sadashiv N., Vijay Siddharth Pillai

This is a team of four development practitioners working for the PMRDF in India and an M.Phil student in the UK. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in May 2019. This is their story.

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We began the course with a feeling that the approach which we are going to learn is going to be unique. As we progressed through the initial weeks, we realized that it’s a common sensical approach to solve problems. However we realized that the common sensical approach is rarely followed. We also realized while operationalizing the approach that it is not easy at all and requires a lot of perseverance.

Some of the key takeaways from this course are: Continue reading Lack of Student Engagement in Bastar District, India

Solving the Problem of Blood Transfusion in India

Guest blog written by S. Subash, Vimala Devi Vidya and J. Ravishankar

This is a team of physicians working as District Blood Transfusion Officers for Tamil Nadu AIDS Control Society (TANSACS) living in India. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in December 2018. This is their story.

We enrolled into the PDIA course without knowing what it was and what we needed to do. But the Project Director of TANSACS encouraged us, gave us objectives that we were struggling with and directed us to engage with this new tool/approach. So one fine day, we joined the ride on “Practice of  PDIA 2018F” with our objective to solve – How do we address the problems faced by Government blood banks, in acquiring 20% of blood units collected by private blood banks in Tamil Nadu, India.

Government blood banks in Tamil Nadu are facing a shortage of blood units and acquiring 20% of blood units from private blood banks was a strategy to increase the blood stocks. But private blood banks were not willing to part with blood units as it was money for them. They either did not report their blood donation camps or under-reported their collection in camps. Either way, the Government blood banks were suffering from increasing demand and a reducing donor pool.

We started with a 6 member team and early on, we learnt about the big stuck faced by countries aiming for development. The book “Building State Capability” became the bible for the next 15 weeks. We learned new terms like Implementation gap, Isomorphic Mimicry, Premature load bearing and Transplantation. Some of our team members could not spare the time and energy needed for PDIA and bowed out. And this was the ‘first lesson learnt’ for us and we rallied and reinforced ourselves that we will fight to the finish, like plotting the map of 1804!

We found that the problem we were facing belonged to the typology ‘Implementation intensive service delivery’ which was not wicked hard category. We came to know that success of a leadership is not for the face of the leader but through multi-agent leadership. We formed the team norms and started our group activity of engaging our problem. As we constructed and deconstructed our problem and formed our first fishbone diagram, we found that there were many sub-causes that led to our problem. Continue reading Solving the Problem of Blood Transfusion in India