The Importance of Entry Points in Long Term Policy Problems

Guest blog written by Jacob Lestock

After a little over a year working from home during the pandemic, I quickly realized that returning to ‘normal’ was still far from sight in a professional sense. Virtual work has become the new norm even in public policy settings. Many of the benefits of living in a political hub like Washington, DC with its excess of work events, meet-and-greets, and policy happy hours to network with new people from various public policy fields had abruptly ended. I realized I would need to be more proactive in looking for new opportunities to help advance my own professional development and learn from others about new ways to work on public policy challenges. It was around this time that I came across HKS’s Implementing Public Policy Program and thought it would be a perfect opportunity to fill that void.

Coming into the program I was uncertain of what I could expect as I had little knowledge of the problem driven iterative adaption (PDIA) and how a course designated for public policymakers across the world in the public sector would intersect with my policy problems working for a trade association representing the private sector. On top of this, it was both inspiring and intimidating to hear from my colleagues in the program who are working on such impressive/important public policy issues across the world. Once I was able to catch my bearings, I came to find that there are a set of key concepts and strategies that one can use to help break down any complex public policy challenge. While numerous strategies and concepts have proven helpful during the 6-month course, here are a few that proved particularly useful with my challenge.

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Implementing to design better: Clean energy transition for islands

Guest blog by Ana Laca

I work primarily in foreign affairs and regional development, but as a side passion project, I have been actively working on islands’ energy transition. I work for a European institution on legislative procedures, following particular files as they pass through a legislative train until their final adoption.

For my action learning process, I focused on islands’ energy transition as my project for this course. My policy challenge was to tackle the energy dependence of islands since they have an abundance of natural resources that could be used for renewable energy.

This is my most tangible project as I authored or co-authored three successful pilot projects approved for financing from the EU budget. Their purpose was to provide technical assistance for islands and rural areas, to start and guide them through their clean energy transition processes.

My incentive to apply and my first expectation was to learn more about the implementation process. I hoped to gain theoretical and practical knowledge on challenges practitioners face while implementing their policies, to take that with me and apply it in my work – which is legislative work. I wanted to learn about implementing public policy to cover the link I frequently think is missing in the institutions when we design public policies. I feel that we design without really having the perception of the policies’ implementation and outcome. To my (positive) surprise, this class was more practical than theoretical. 

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Unsustainable civil service expenditure in Fiji

Guest blog written by Susan Kiran


I never imagined I would have the privilege of enrolling in a course from the Harvard University even though I had always harbored the dream of going to Harvard. When the IPP online opportunity was offered, I grabbed it instantaneously and I did not regret any single moment of having to wake up for the group sessions and the Q&A sessions, the weekly assignments and later the fortnightly assignments. It was not easy juggling a full-time job with its many demands, and being a mom to two girls, but it was a worthwhile journey of understanding how to implement policy solutions for complex problems especially in the public sector.

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Private sector investment in renewable energy in Mongolia

Guest blog written by Hisaka Kimura

1. My expectation of IPP Online

Asian Development Bank, which I work with, has been strengthening its field offices to respond more effectively to the evolving challenges. Based in Beijing, one of the largest field offices, I lead private sector country work for China and Mongolia, focusing on strategy, business development, structuring, negotiation, implementation, regulatory monitoring, and knowledge-sharing. Following COVID-19, implementation jumped up the agenda among the full spectrum of new challenges. I had to deep-dive more project implementation, and I was thrilled at IPP online opportunity to prepare myself to deliver greater responsiveness to the client needs in these trying times.

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Building sustainable and equitable transportation systems in Toronto

Guest blog written by Judy Farvolden

I am passionate about vibrant, equitable, sustainable urban life. My journey began in Paris when, as a 17-year-old living for a year in the City of Light, I wondered at the difference between living in a place where every day-to-day thing I needed was on my own block and my familiar and comfortable North American suburban life. I decided that the difference was the extensive subway system that made it possible for me to get anywhere in the city in 30 minutes, cheaply and safely, even as a teenage girl. That led me to study transportation engineering, and in particular systems design, because I believed the answer was to be found in mathematically optimizing transportation networks.

In the 30 years I’ve lived in Toronto, Canada I’ve watched the city grow from – not much – into North America’s fourth largest and fastest growing metropolitan region, with North America’s worst traffic congestion. About 10 years ago, after three engineering degrees and two decades in network optimization and mathematical finance, I realized that more math was not the “answer” to our transportation problems, and the real problem must be getting it done in policy. I decided to see if I could come back around and contribute to addressing the issues that had so motivated me but that I’d never actually engaged in.

I found that opportunity at the University of Toronto where, earlier this year, our proposed Mobility Lab was designated an Institutional Strategic Initiative and granted three years of seed funding on the promise that it would create a multidisciplinary network of researchers that would drive innovation in urban policy, thereby addressing the global challenge for cities to evolve into more sustainable, equitable, and resilient urban forms and mobility systems. The question was, how?

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IPP: A master key to close problem doors and open solution doors for a better world

Guest blog written by Mamadou Mouctar Diallo

The thousands of miles that separate Guinea from the United States and COVID 19 were overcome by technology to enable us to attend this public policy implementation training at the prestigious Harvard Kennedy School. When the opening bell rang in June, I knew I was about to embark on a new adventure that would not only change my life, but also end the suffering of so many young people in my country, Guinea.

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Civil Registration in Sierra Leone: A hero won’t save the day, applying PDIA might

Guest blog written by Laura Michelle Delgado Van Demen

A year after the COVID-19 pandemic started, the perception that our team working on the establishment of a Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) system in Sierra Leone, was standing alone in front of a very massive reform had increased. We were very frustrated since each time we were taking a step forward it seemed we were also taking two backwards. Authorisation was not there neither a spirit for reform and collaboration with different agents through this European Union funded project.

I have been working for five years in the field of EU development and external aid and one thing is clear to me: the system, collaboration and approach to building capacities needs to be done differently. It was in 2019 when I heard PDIA for the first time from a very inspiring PFM practitioner when discussing on alternatives and approaches for the projects we were implementing. Thus, building on frustration and trying to find a new way of doing things, I joined the Implementing Public Policy at HKS with the hope of regaining hope again.

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Developing deeper learning competencies in the United States

Guest blog written by Rholyn Barnhart

I was born in a very small town in the Philippines. Majority of the source of income in our town relates to fishing and trading goods. My family is one of the many families who wanted to go out of our current state of life – working just to survive. My mom’s hope is for my siblings and I to earn as much education as we can and read so we understand… It has been my dream to go to Harvard.

When I signed up for the course, I was in a great deal of frustration. I am starting to develop revulsion in “the system” and an internal chaos to my preferred profession. I thought, I have been teaching for almost eighteen years and have moved from country to country, yet the problem in the education system seems to revolve around political, legal, organizational, or personal authority gaps. For that reason, I started reaching out to people in “the system”. I was not aware that some authority figures follow a very rigid communication protocol. Before this course, I have an initial assumption that when an authority figure is tasked to function in a certain role, they would welcome ideas that would potentially provide a positive influence on authentic student outcomes. My assumption was wrong. It led me to a state of hopelessness, and I felt that I was on a ‘big stuck’.  

My implementation challenge is around Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) – a data driven approach that centers whole child metrics in responding to student’s individualized needs. It aims to ensure that the newly revised educational law in 2015, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), promote innovation, flexibility, transparency, accountability, and to reduce burden, while maintaining essential protections for all students.

Before I signed up for this course, I have been reading and compiling plenty of research, playbooks, guidelines, handbooks, and policies both international and local resources. The more I read, the more I am trapped. I felt that the mythology about Sisyphus felt the same way I felt. On the other hand, I did not stop. I thought that there should be a way to make ‘progress’ somewhere, somehow. Then, my Implementing Public Policy journey began. I felt hopeful again to explore and adapt the Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) toolkit – A DIY Approach to Solving Complex Problems. Through this process, I have learned that this journey is just the genesis of what is yet to happen.

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Implementing effective public policies in Peru

Guest blog written by Alexandra Ames

One of the greatest concerns of public servants in Peru is to achieve effective public policies, that is, that all the effort and resources invested become real results for the benefit of the people. But being involved in the policy-making process is not a simple task, we must recognize that the problems we seek to solve are not simple problems but rather complex problems, so a high level of complexity is required to address them. But this does not mean that the task is impossible. With the right tools and methods, it is possible to have greater clarity and better handling of complexity.

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Complexity is Simple with PDIA

Guest blog written by Ahmad Aljazaeri

After many years working in the for-profit private sector, I moved about two years ago into a government-owned company that was set up several year ago to be an execution arm for what used to be called the Ministry of Labor. This company grew to be a huge enabler for the transformation plans for that ministry and several other government entities and even some private companies. After being on the receiving end of public policy, I am now ever closer to influencing and even participating in drafting policies. Having been outside my comfort zone, I thought that nothing would be better than going back to school to learn how to better deal with the new challenges in front of me. I went through several options, but IPP grabbed my attention with its structure and scope. I thought this would be a good start for me to understand policy making and implementation and I honestly thought there would be a lot of theory. I didn’t mind that, but I was very interested in learning what it would take to succeed in the implementation of those policies. By that time, I have already worked on a couple of small policies that saw the light and were implemented successfully, but I wanted to tackle bigger problems and I needed to be well-equipped.

I had some concerns about the program being completely online, but I also knew that this could work although 20 weeks seemed a very long time for a training course. After the second week, I was completely convinced that this set up was going to be way better than a condensed 2-week course as it allows participant to fully digest the content and put what they have learned into real action. The course exceeded my expectations in every measure imagined and I would certainly like to see more of such courses in all disciplines.

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