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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 PDIA Course Journey: Solving the Problem of Blood Transfusion in India
Guest blog written by Sridhar Pabbisetty, Deepthi MR, Manivannan Ponniah, Salma Fahim.
This team is made up of a Public Policy and Sustainable Urbanisation expert, a Public Relations Officer, Bangalore Electricity Supply company, and two civil servants. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in December 2018. This is their story.
Bangalore, the capital city of Karnataka is dubbed as the IT city and Garden city alike. Residents of the city have called it retired-persons’ paradise. Over the last 15 years, the city has become a booming hub for IT companies which have not only brought in infrastructural development, but also has expanded leaps and bounds in terms of income. While the city saw rapid development on one side, it also began seeing heaps of garbage being generated and hit a roadblock when it came to managing its solid waste.
The city’s municipal corporation is called Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike is responsible for managing the city’s waste. BBMP decided to set up a solid waste management wing. This would help in managing solid waste of the city. Here are a few numbers to take into consideration:
1. Bangalore generated 57,00 MT of waste every day
2. Almost 1200 MT is unaccounted for
3. This comes to about 22% of the total waste!
4. Even though the BBMP has 30,000 cleaning workers, this is the state of affairs.
As we began understanding our problem, we got deeper insights about the demon we were dealing with. Littering is a cultural problem in India. People lack basic civic sense, irrespective of class. This leads to heaps of garbage strewn around on streets and street corners. Besides there are not adequate number of dustbins placed by the Municipality nor is the system of collecting the garbage from these public bins very effectively monitored. It is a problem with immense political and economic dimensions, we as a team decided to focus on one crucial sub component of ‘littering’ to work on.
Anyone who has ever worked in India knows how hard it is to implement programs. The sheer size of the country makes it impossible for anyone but the government, who is the only one with infrastructure and reach, to provide public services to its citizens. Currently, every district administers typically 100+ development schemes. Each scheme has its own rules, regulations, reporting, and funding. Districts are continuously burdened with new schemes and more work without the requisite resources. They are often understaffed and have few (if any) skilled functionaries to be able to do their job. The reality is that 90% of the time is spent on routine day-to-day management leaving no time for strategic planning or experimentation.
To address the capacity and implementation gaps in backward districts which are isolated and less developed, the Ministry of Rural Development launched the Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellowship (PMRDF) in 2012. The aim of the fellowship was to provide catalytic support to the district administration to help improve the delivery of programs and to develop a cadre of committed development professionals. The eligibility criteria was a minimum of a four-year degree from a recognized university. The fellows were to work for 2-3 years under the supervision of the District Collector, and paid INR 75,000 ($1,210) per month with a 10% increment each year subject to performance. That is a very generous amount. The rationale was to attract younger people who were passionate about development and willing to go to remote areas, but could not afford the low wages. In essence this was a way to bring in new blood into the system.
816 applicants were shortlisted from a total of 8,560 applicants for a group discussion and a personal interview. 156 fellows were selected to work across 82 districts in 9 states. Each state decided on the placement of fellows with 1-3 per district. Currently there are 137 fellows from the first batch and a second batch has just been selected. For more details see the TEDx talk.
Some of the challenges faced during the implementation of the 2012-13 PMRDFs include:
Building the trust of the States/District Collectors: When the program was initially announced, it was viewed suspiciously by some (i.e. was the center sending monitors to the states/districts?). Many meetings were held to explain and clarify the objectives of the program and to bring the states on board.
Ineffective use of the fellows: Depending on the District Collector, some fellows were welcomed and given a lot of responsibility and authority to experiment, while some others were used as glorified executive assistants – which is also understandable given the lack of human resources at the district level.
Lack of authority to issue instructions or to sanction funds: The fellows are not part of the government bureaucracy and therefore have no signing authority and cannot issue orders to lower level functionaries. As a result, they need to go to the District Collector with all those requests leading to time delays and inefficiencies. To address this, the state of Andhra Pradesh has delegated a budget head specifically for the fellows.
High monthly salary is attracting applicants who are not necessarily passionate about development: This has been an unintended consequence and they have tried to be more mindful in the interviews for the 2nd batch of fellows.
What happens after the fellows leave? One criticism is that they are building temporary capacity. To address this, the second batch will be offered one year of public service after their fellowship. However, this issue remains a challenge.
Here are some testimonies of the fellows, for more read their profile book or visit their blog.
“I still remember an incident from my initial days, when a village welcomed and garlanded me saying: We are receiving our first government official in our village after Independence.“
“… working with the field staff in implementation of these schemes was not always easy. My efforts at convincing them and the higher authorities did not yield fruit every time. The convergence of different schemes has also been a challenge as each scheme has different criteria for beneficiary selection and process of implementation. However, struggling with these issues every day helped me understand the minutest details of these schemes and the complexities involved in the development sector.”
“This last one year as a PMRDF has helped me develop both personally and professionally. It has given me a chance to work and interact with people at every level of the hierarchy, starting with the panchayat secretary and going up to state officials.”
“The last one year has been a period of immense pleasure, satisfaction, frustration, learning and un-learning … There were difficulties: sluggishness, winning the trust of various actors and bringing them onto common platform to get the ball rolling, getting bogged down with too many operational formalities needing to continuously establish yourself within the system. I learnt that things will happen if there is strong will. I learnt of a number of unsung heroes who keep things going—unappreciated and unrecognized—but making a difference each day with their integrity.” This comment is a great illustration of Matt Andrew’s multi-agent leadership paper, Who really Leads Development?
The PMRDF is a work in progress with a lot of learning, iterating and adaptation. There are no easy solutions when you are working on implementation intensive programs. It will be interesting to see what other lessons are learned from this dynamic experiment of trying to solve capacity issues at the last mile of service delivery.