My PDIA Journey: Decentralization in Lebanon

Guest blog written by Pascale Dahrouj

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.

When I first registered in this program, I never thought I could get that much insights on how to work out a complex problem by identifying entry points, root causes, possible solutions, authorizers and teams. I just thought it will be a learning journey filled with readings and videos that might help me with some ideas…But no…It was much more. 

The first part of the program was indeed an introduction of the entire concept of public policy and its implementation. But the most important part of the journey was the week course at Harvard where we spent intensive hours in learning about PDIA and doing our fishbone. A fishbone? I laughed at the idea first but when I ended up doing mine, I never felt more concerned and understanding of my problem. I am working on a public policy that will change the entire system of the Lebanese Republic. Decentralization… Moving from a central strong government control power to a decentralized functioning of the state. And guess what? My policy has not yet been ratified by the parliament. My work has a double shredded effort: getting the policy ratified and then implementing it. 

PDIA is a new concept for me as I had never heard of it before that week in June. Now, it has become part of my daily thinking. It is a guiding dynamic tool: it gives you all the necessary to help you think outside the box and do things yourself. You are the center of this entire approach. You have to know well the problem, deconstruct it and then construct the points, identify the authorizers and whom to approach, and mostly build your team so that your policy can get to a realistic end result. 

During this course, I enjoyed so much learning from other students and getting to know their problems and how they envision to solve it. The group sessions that we did also made me realize how vague my problems were …. I kept on narrowing them down… I kept on redoing and changing my fishbone based on feedback from my group… That learning process was the best part of it. You think that you grasp the context, but you come and hear the comments from your group or class, and then you have to do it all over again. Oh and not to mention the professors and directors of the program; They all added to me in different ways. The Pascale that went in June to Harvard is not longer the same Pascale… It is a different version equipped with hopes, prospects and determination. 

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Urban Development in Argentina: How IPP helped me achieve my goal

Guest blog by Catalina Palacio

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.

This is the story of an inspiring journey.

Everybody is working hard around the world looking for increasing their wellbeing, which in turn affects the improvement of the quality of life of others. Everybody plays a determinant role to make lives better, even more, when people share the public policies sphere due to it is the core of the society’s balance. In this regard IPP journey has turned into the most significant experience which gives all the participants extraordinary tools to be better practitioners, better people and better leaders around the world.

My entire working experience has been with public sector in different countries where I have noticed such similar situations: unsolved problems, a lot of effort with unsatisfactory results from some practitioners, lack of ownership from some staff and so on, as a result, the social, economic, and environmental dimensions are increasingly unbalanced. In this context, I decided to course the IPP journey hoping to get meaningful technical tools to add value to my professional skills to make the difference when facing the less desirable public policy arena conditions. No matter how high my expectations were, definitely this course has exceeded them. Not only gave me valuable technical information regarding a better understand of the current situation and how to deal with to be more effective, but also taught me the importance of the human aspects, how to be aware of myself as a person facing complex problems and how to build teams, encourage and support its members as people as well as a practitioners.

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Caring for a Community of Practice

written by Anisha Poobalan

All IPP Community of Practice Moderators (January 2020-June 2021)

Communities of Practice come in all shapes and sizes. But no matter how large, how diverse, how global, as the name suggests the key word here is community. The Implementing Public Policy Community of Practice (IPP CoP) was formed in December 2019. It surprises me every time I think about this; it does not feel like it has just been a little over a year. In fact, I feel like I have known this community forever. 

We have become a global family over the past year sharing exciting news like promotions, marriage, births, but we have also grieved together over lost family members, neighborhood attacks, job loss, and so much more. So why do we share these big moments with people we spent one week with (class of 2019) or have never even met in real life (class of 2020)?

A family member recently said something that stuck with me: “It is not about the carrot or the stick, but rather about the heart”. This describes the IPP Community of Practice in a nutshell. We have repeatedly brainstormed and discussed ways to engage members or incentivize them to join sessions, but ultimately, those who genuinely care for others in this community show up.

Now that you have a sense of what type of Community of Practice we are creating, here are a few of my reflections after managing this group for the past year.

  • Adapt through every season

From the moderators to current affairs to the age of the CoP, there are many factors that affect the season of a CoP’s life. The IPP CoP was founded in December 2019. Four moderators from four different regions were appointed to lead and care for this budding community. It was an exciting time of experimenting, learning, and adapting. We were all relatively new to this and were determined to build a strong foundation. In July 2020, it was time to transition over to the next group of moderators. By this time COVID had taken the world by storm and life seemed to be this uncomfortable combination of change, anxiety, isolation, and impending loss. I felt it, the moderators felt it, the community at large felt it. Zoom fatigue was a concept we became familiar with very quickly, so engaging a Community of Practice that operates purely online was challenging to say the least. However, amidst their own personal and professional struggles, our set of moderators took on the challenge and were determined to serve their community by creating a space of positivity, comfort, and encouragement for everyone else.

Last December, we had a group of 140 alumni from the Implementing Public Policy program join the community. It has been a learning process for our moderators as they work together to merge the two groups while also maintaining the tight-knit relationships that exist within each cohort. We have had to rely more on supportive members to take the lead on community events and initiatives. This is a work in progress and will continue to be so with each new phase the CoP enters. The ability to adapt, be flexible, and support each other through every stage is so important for our moderators and community members alike.

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Building a Movement of Public Problem Solvers

written by Salimah Samji

Solving public problems is a hard and thankless job. One that is undertaken with a shortage of time as well as resources, and often under pressure to deliver results. A common approach used to solve public problems is to develop a plan, sometimes with experts, and then to assume that implementation will happen on autopilot. To quote Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.” The question is, what do you do after you get punched? Continue with your existing plan? Or do you learn from the punch? 

In the face of complex and interconnected public problems, approaches like plan and control often fail to provide results. We believe that flexible approaches which focus on problems, follow an iterative process, and allow for learning and adaptation are better suited. While public problem solvers agree, they often lack the know-how and tools to use alternative methods to plan and control. In addition to these capabilities, public problem solvers also find themselves feeling lonely and isolated. As Kirsten Wyatt, co-founder of Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) said in a recent podcast, “everyone is not lucky enough to be married to a bureaucrat.”

Our experience in training development practitioners and working directly with governments around the world, has taught us that action learning is crucial for building the muscle memory of solving complex problems: the only way to learn is by doing. We have learned that you cannot solve these problems alone – you need a team. However, working collaboratively is neither obvious nor innate. It is yet another muscle that needs to be built. You also need to engage with diverse stakeholders and constantly navigate difficult conversations which requires particular skills.  

Putting our learning into practice

Drawing from our experience, BSC designed Harvard Kennedy School’s first blended learning Executive Education Program Implementing Public Policy (IPP), in 2019. The objective of this 7-month program was to equip public problem solvers around the world, with the skills, tools, and strategies needed to successfully implement policies and programs. Participants were required to identify an implementation problem that they could work on resolving over the period of the program. The program was divided into four phases:

Phase 1: Online preparatory work. (May 2019). In this phase, participants completed two online modules that helped them reflect on their problem and to think about public policy success and failure. 

Phase 2: Learning the theory in the classroom. (June 2019). In this phase, participants explored the conditions under which different implementation methods like plan and control, adaptive management or agile, and facilitated emergence or PDIA, should be used. They also learned how to work collaboratively in teams, how to engage in difficult conversations, as well as, leadership, and management skills. The faculty included: Matt Andrews, David Eaves, Monica Higgins, Salimah Samji and Rob Wilkinson. We also invited Ganga Palakatiya and Alieu Nyei, whom we had worked with in Sri Lanka and Liberia, to share their experience trying to operationalize PDIA in their governments. Anisha Poobalan, who had worked with us in Sri Lanka as a PDIA coach, and had led our efforts to help build a community with the alumni of our PDIA online course, joined us to support the program participants in the action learning phase. 

Phase 3: Action learning in practice. (July – November 2019). In this phase, participants returned to their countries to apply the new tools and strategies they had learned to their implementation problems. They built teams, worked on self-study online modules, completed assignments and attended virtual peer learning group meetings every month.

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IPP Program Journey: From South Africa To Boston and Back

Guest blog written by Nkere Skosana

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.

From the moment I saw the advert on Twitter and read through the content provided, something just told me this is the real deal. I felt there was no way I could not find more about the course. It has always been my approach not to do any academic course for the sake of just obtaining a qualification but to engage in a course that speaks to real issues that we get confronted with as Public Servants on a daily basis.

The initial assignment already gave a hint of what was to come and the approach in terms of policy analysis and implementation. Breaking down the policy challenge in terms of who the critical stakeholders are, determining upfront what meaning of success one has to attach to its implementation was key. 

Getting to HKS, one was struck by the diversity of participants in the course from all walks of life and different continents. Amazingly, there were lots of similarities in terms of the challenges we encounter in our policy environments. The course turned out to be more than what I had expected. It was more interactive and practical and the wealth of experience and knowledge from the team of experts presenting was exceptional.

The course leader provided insights into experiences from different continents and the examples of real life situations and the kind of challenges encountered helped to us to realise that PDIA is not a theoretical but practical approach to policy implementation.

Some key learnings

One of the key insights from the course was the distinction between the Plan and Control policies which most institutions use and PDIA. The former may be useful in ensuring the achievement of policy products on time and within budget and this becomes the drill. PDIA on the other hand seeks to drill down to the heart of the problem, explore a variety of options and ensures that policy impacts are achieved which is what people mostly are looking for. 

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IPP Program Journey: Re-Enforcement of Passion for Public Service

Guest blog written by Idiat Adebule

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.

At some points in one’s life, certain decisions are made without necessarily knowing the outcome, such was my experience whilst on the Implementing Public Policy Programme. Having worked at the heart of government at the state level for eight consecutive years; first, as the Secretary to the State Government (2011-2015) and later as the Deputy Governor of Lagos State (2015-2019); I have witnessed different cycles of public policy formulation which are usually targeted at addressing societal challenges. Many have been very successful, a few have failed to meet its objectives, whilst some are still at different stages of policy development which include the State Policy on Civic Engagement whose implementation office was under my supervision up until May 2019. 

However, as I was preparing to exit office, the obligation and interest to continue to contribute intellectually to the real issues of development of the state motivated me to sign on to the IPP course. Hence, it was a choice made majorly to enhance personal growth and development as well as expand my frontier of learning beyond my field of study, therefore, choosing HKS was an easy call to make considering its global reputation and capacity. Interestingly, the experience has been life changing having encountered new and innovative learning methods that challenges the mind to do more of continuous personal reflection, reassessment and developing sustainable solution to problems.

The main kernel of my work was to interrogate the impact of “Effective Public Participation in the Governance Process”. The intention was to engage members of the public to find agreeable and acceptable modes and platforms of engagement that will open up space for majority of citizens to effectively participate in the electioneering, policy formulation and governance processes, especially for a state with population estimated at 22 million in a way that highly significant number of this population will participate and not only  showing  interest  which are not the same as grasped in the course of the field work.  Of great concern, were figures recorded during the February, 2019 general elections in Lagos State which revealed voter apathy as less than 1.2million out of 6.59million registered voters (18.9%) participated. The implication was that only about 5% of the total population of the State decided those who will govern it at both legislative and executive arms of government leaving out a huge number of eligible citizens that could have increased the data or made a difference.  

Against this background, the IPP programme offered an opportunity to learn from authorities on public policy implementation who have moved away from the traditional project methodology to an innovative approach called the Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) in solving the most intransigent policy problems around the world. Indeed, the meeting sessions in Boston were moments of illumination and empowerment for participants that are already dealing with policy design and implementation issues and a good integration for participants who are new to the subject. In summary, it offers genuine prospect for building capability. 

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IPP Program Journey: You Need to be Brave

Guest blog written by Margaret MacDonald

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 the Implementing Public Policy course I felt a little nervous. I wasn’t familiar with problem driven iterative adaptation (PDIA). I think I expected a prescriptive methodology and wasn’t sure if or how I would be able to apply the theory learned to my work. From the first assignments though the course work and theoretical components were obviously grounded in real-world observations because it was easy to think of examples from my own work experience that reflected the theory; for example – the distinction between functional success and legitimacy success really resonated for me. I really appreciated too that the strategies and tactics explored steered us away from searching for elusive “silver bullet” theories, approaches, or best practices and towards digging into a problem with those affected.

Instead modules focused on things like the importance of defining the problem and defining problems in a way that make it clear why they matter. In my experience we waste a lot of effort working on problems that are ill-defined or even implementing solutions because they solved a problem somewhere else. My experience is also that a lot of work is shaped significantly by existing processes or structures rather than by how that work moves us closer to desired outcomes. It can be difficult (and sometimes maybe not reasonably possible) for us to stop a project mid-stream if we are tracking towards project success based on success measures that were poorly defined or describe project markers rather than progress towards outcomes. The course has reinforced for me that complaints are a source of possible improvements rather than a disruptive detour.  

My colleagues on the course really helped to motivate me to push on. Seeing the complexity and enormity of some of the problems they are working on and their perseverance and enthusiasm in the face of that was both humbling and motivating. I really liked being able to connect with some other municipal government employees too. Their experiences were similar to mine and I could see a desire in all of them to make their local environments better places. Encouragement from the course instructors and promptings from Anisha Poobalan were helpful and motivating! PDIA more generally was motivating because it requires you to define your problem clearly and to be clear about why the problem matters – this is not only motivating to authorizers but to implementers as well. Keeping the end in mind helps with day to day motivation when the steps along the way can be a slog and when it is hard to find the time with so many competing priorities.

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IPP Program Journey: A Bridge to Sustainable Development begins with Purpose

Guest blog written by Lorena Fabrega

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.

After 25-years-experience in the private sector, steering the course of a professional career towards public service is challenging.  Implementing Public Policy came to me at such a moment, when I knew I cared and was willing to take risks.  

Knowing I had the ability to make a difference was enough to seek serving my country to achieve sustainable development goals.  However, nothing had prepared me foray into the public arena, and the Executive Program at Harvard’s School of Government seemed the perfect starting point. Searching for purpose, guidance and legitimacy, I luckily joined the 2019 IPP cohort.

Being a lobbyist for sustainable development policies had been my dream job since the beginning. But building a team, when I was in between jobs, and pursuing a specific policy proved to be my biggest challenge: I did not find it. It chose me in the unlikeliest of moments: the pandemic.

To focus on the problem, not the solution

Less than a year before the pandemic (B.P.), in May 2019 professor Matt Andrews asked us to define Public Policy Implementation; our first assignment into the course, I was reluctant to focus the definition on the problem, and so I declared that it was the design and execution of a response to further the public’s best interest.

It took at least two days into the on-campus part of the program for me to accept the value of focusing on what, for many years, most managers ask their teams not to do: you may not present me with problems unless you come with at least two possible solutions!  I even gave them “the face” when they came up to me with an issue, and they quickly turned back on their steps to figure out a possible answer to complicated and even complex problems on their own. I asked that they jump into possible solutions, without examining the problem in depth…without deconstructing it.

The basic switch on focus, to examine the problem and not the solution, is the biggest and most impactful of the theory behind Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA). Constructing the problem, which is to make it visible to those that matter, or those that it should matter to, is easier when you have mapped out why the different authorizers care or should care about it in order to secure resources: abilities, authorization and acceptance.  This triple A combo sums up the capabilities on board, or the lack thereof, to achieve successful policies.

But the easiest thing, almost instinctive, is to jump towards a solution or solutions for problems we have not deconstructed, an exercise needed to understand actions or responses that will be tried out. When deconstructing a problem, we understand the impact of such a problem, its ramifications, and why it needs our intervention.

Solutions create new problems

Halfway through the on-campus part of the program, reading that complex problems are not solved but managed, and that our policies create new problems made me stop. I mean full stop.  I breathed deeply and wondered if it was all worth it… maybe I should stick to the private sector.  Policies are ongoing, never finished, evolving continually and indefinitely. 

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IPP Program Journey: The Origins, Gospel, Path and Light at the End of the Tunnel

Guest blog written by Luis Paredes

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.

My new IPP Family

When I decided to apply for the Program, I was not sure I would get accepted! With all the complicated crises around the globe, I thought my country’s problems were not that hard to solve or -even- that important. Happily, I was totally mistaken. Once I arrived in Boston and interacted with each of the amazing group of participants, I realized I was in the right place. I could not believe that we shared almost the same problems no matter where we live!

The gospel …

As for my expectations about the course, well I thought it would be a very theoretical, book-oriented program with some interaction spaces and lots of academic work to do!

Of course, I was not totally mistaken! At HKS we had lots of readings, study sessions, and classes with world-class faculty. But it was not entirely theoretical, boring or book oriented. We really learned by listening and participating through the debates and experiences of our professors…

Of course, we had some fun too! I really enjoyed the on-campus experience.

The airplane exercise in class

One of the key learnings from this course is that your work is never really done. PDIA is based on iterations, permanently trying to understand the problem in a better way to find comprehensive solutions for our citizens. These iterations are at the core of the whole process because they help to identify and manage the problem.

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IPP Program Journey: Poor Tax Collection in Nigeria

Guest blog written by Fuad Kayode Laguda

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 must disclose that coming for this course was a product of careful decision-making and determination. It is not easy combining my job schedules with the academic tasks. The course structure, coupled with the quality of the administrators, lecturers and fellow colleagues, actually surpasses my expectations. It exposed me to improved patience, persistence, importance of building, having a team, diverse way of solving problems and formulating policy. This course has allowed me to understand and showcase the Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) to my authorisers and other decision makers.

The key learnings were too numerous to explain in details. However, I will not forget the “Fishbone” as well as the sequential techniques of problem solving. IPP has enriched my proficiency in critical thinking and programmatic application of various approaches to identifying and solving complex problems through strong network for consultation and collaboration as well as partnership for actions with different national or corporate decision makers.

However, IPP has made me more confident, courageous in handling data and emphasis on the importance of mobilising and working with a team(s) to implement the data. 

This course has taught me to appreciate little successes and that every effort taken to solve challenges are not a waste. It builds me for connecting with authority and building legitimacy around my actions. It has allowed me look for opportunity in the problems I proposed to solve. 

The IPP networking system is highly remarkable to the extent that implementation of the instructions, ideas and policy innovations passed in the classes (on-site and off-site) becomes successfully feasible. PDIA is a remarkable learning for me because it opens my eyes to gaining the confidence of authorisers through the cultivation of informal engagement with them. PDIA taught me to manage constructively every shortfall and celebrate every slight achievement.    

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