Disaster Resilience in Australia

Guest blog written Jorida Zeneli

When I came to IPP my motivation level was at the lowest it had been in a decade. After two years of struggle to revamp the policies that underpin resource allocation, operating on the edge of the established processes, knocking on many doors, speaking to many people, pouring a lot of sweat and long hours, agitating, engaging, consulting, and facing much resistance for the sake of resistance rather than for sake of progressing the work, I had managed to get something over the line that I believe was a much improved product. There had been several attempts to do so from predecessors, but these had failed. By the looks of it I had succeeded, but I did not feel that way. So I had a bunch of questions and I was hungry for good answers, not non existing silver bullets, just credible insights:  What went wrong and what went right? What insights can I gain into working better and smarter next time? What are the organisational processes that supported me and what hindered my work? How can I manage these more effectively? How can I make meaningful change count? How can I prevent myself but also other people around me from burning out? How can I empower people to drive change? How can I sustain their motivation? How can I support their curiosity?

So the IPP started and it must have been on day 2 when Matt Andrews was talking about the roles that define project success that I had one of these enlightening and so scary realisations at the same time – I had taken over most of the key project roles for pretty much all projects I had been involved in: Ideator, problem identifier, organiser, convenor, empower, authoriser etc. not just for a bit of time, but for the entire duration of these projects, as a complete outsider in a team of accountants. In the same classroom, I was surrounded by incredibly passionate, capable and bright people from all over the world with similar experiences. I learned three lessons in those first two days:

  • Lesson number 1 – I was not alone and shared pain is half the pain and shared joy is double the joy. Loneliness in the workplace is real – so surrounding yourself with a community and sharing the risks/ benefits is the only healthy and sustainable way to approach complex problems that need creativity, perseverance, motivation, skill and a diver’s breath.
  • Lesson number 2: Operate and team like a snowflake molecule that has a strong centre and is linked, however not two of them are the same, so make it unique and tailor it to the context and problem at hand – yes to chemistry!
  • Lesson number 3: Leadership is about risk and restraint (thank you Monica Higgins) – we all have our Everests to climb!

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Improving Roadside Ecology in Calgary

Guest blog written by Andrew McIntyre

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.

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Improving Tax Compliance in Uganda

Guest blog written by Doris Akol

My previous experience with public policy has hitherto been mainly as a formulator of organizational policies which are then implemented by other units and more recently as a first hand implementer of fiscal policies passed by the Government for revenue collection. Frankly speaking, I had never quite addressed my mind to that fact that the process of implementing public policy is akin to being on a rollercoaster of thrilling adventurous fast paced rides, being stuck on a cliff and sometimes being dropped off that cliff (when the policy creates a backlash during implementation).

Eight months ago, I started on a process of walking the public policy implementing journey. This started with a definition of the policy challenge I am facing for which a solution is required. I selected a challenge relating to improving compliance for taxes, especially in the informal sector of our economy.

Reporting for the in-person training at Harvard was like a dream come true in itself…. I mean, this was me at Harvard! Meeting accomplished and likeminded professionals from all over the world, all seeking answers to the question, “how does one successfully implement policies for impactful change” was another fulfilling experience. We were all looking to better our communities or other spheres of influence and make great impact though public policy.

I learned that, policies are a response to a problem or the perception of the existence of a problem. It is in the process of understanding the gap between the existing (status quo) and the ideal situation that a public problem may be identified. This then sets off the thinking process of how the situation may be moved from existing to ideal i.e., how the gap may be closed. This process will elaborate the steps that may need to be taken, the resources that will need to be deployed and the persons/ institutions required to take action in order for the problem to be rectified or mitigated. The end product of the process will most definitely be a policy.

I also learned that for successful policy implementation, it is key to obtain acceptance, especially from authorizers…those power holders with a big “P”, who are likely to ensure your policy implementation is supported, such as bosses or financiers, and those power holders with a small p, who may frustrate the implementation of the policy because they wield power with other influencers. In public policy implementation, it is crucial to identify all those that wield some form of power, overt and covert and seek to bring them along in order for the policy to succeed. Continue reading Improving Tax Compliance in Uganda

BSC 2019: The Year in Review

written by Salimah Samji

Reflection is a key part of the PDIA iteration process and as I have done in previous years (20172018) here’s a look back at what we @HarvardBSC achieved in 2019.

Some highlights of the year include: training and engaging with 740 practitioners around the globe (incl. degree programs, executive education, online courses and direct policy engagements with governments); publishing 9 papers and 54 blog posts; activating our PDIA online course alumni community of practice; releasing a new 12-part podcast series on the Practice of PDIA; translating our content into Spanish and French; and last but not least … drum roll please … launching Harvard Kennedy School’s first blended learning Executive Education program Implementing Public Policy, designed to equip policymakers around the world with both the skills to analyze policies, as well as the field-tested tools and tactics to successfully implement them.

2020 promises to be another exciting year for us. Here’s a few things we have in store for you: releasing our PDIA Toolkit in French, Portuguese and Arabic; publishing blogs written by our Implementing Public Policy program alumni; launching our new long read podcast series; and sharing our experience on creating and sustaining communities of practice with you. To stay tuned, follow us on twitter, or subscribe to our blog and podcast.

Here’s a month by month playback of 2019.

January

BSC Faculty Director Matt Andrews chaired the executive education program entitled, “Public Financial Management (PFM) in a Changing World” at the Harvard Kennedy School. 47 PFM practitioners from 25 countries participated in this program.

PFM 2019
BSC collaborated with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative in their Cross-Boundary Collaboration Program held in New York City. Director Salimah Samji served as a City Team facilitator during this program.

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Why I Almost Left Local Government (and Why I Decided to Stay)

Guest blog written by Maggie Jones

Public sector work is not for the faint at heart.  Over a 48-hour period, you may experience a rollercoaster of emotions including:

  • Inspiring others about why they should pursue a career in local government
  • Shutting the office down early due to a citizen threat
  • Receiving one of your best performance appraisals of your career
  • Regrettable HR decisions
  • Making a policy change that positively impacts your work and those you serve
  • Being reprimanded for making said policy change
  • Power struggles
  • “We’ve always done it this way”

Swiss Army KnifeFor much of my career in public service, I’ve been faced with angry constituents, toxic work environments, bad bosses, mean girls (and guys), and meetings that should have been emails.  I’ve been bullied, threatened, gaslighted, and incredibly uncomfortable.  There are days when you start to see the lotus coming up through the mud and then there are days when you’re hiding your favorite blog posts and articles from Medium and Fast Company under your desk like contraband.

I’ve always been a bit of a Swiss Army knife: multi-tool (multi-job), reliable, practical, adaptable.  But that doesn’t mean I’ve always been equipped to handle life in local government.  Sometimes the Swiss Army knife doesn’t cut it and you need something else.

Over the years I had three amazing supervisors, one who later became a wonderful mentor and friend. Robert Sturns taught me how to manage up, navigate the ever-changing political landscape, and ask the right questions at the right time.  He also taught me how to be resilient, that leadership comes at all levels, and that kindness always wins.  Rob gave me the freedom and support to try new things, even if it meant failing (forward).  Even as an A-Team of three, our little division’s workflow produced as much (if not more) than an entire high-performing department, which can certainly be attributed to Rob’s coaching leadership style and the diversity of our team’s skills and talents.  Reflecting on this time with the A-Team has brought me back to life on the toughest of days and has sparked me to lead my own team in a way that I hope inspires them, too.

Eventually my career track moved me away from that job and I found myself in a series of situations that challenged my ethics as well as my heart.  “We’ve always done it this way” was king, “change” was a bad word, asking questions was frowned upon, and we weren’t getting the desired results at cost to those were were claiming to serve.

And then, in a series of events, everything changed. Continue reading Why I Almost Left Local Government (and Why I Decided to Stay)

How often do public policies really fail? A question to help you escape the policy futility trap

written by Matt Andrews

Last week I blogged about the ‘public policy futility trap’ in which countries get stuck when a negative feedback loop institutionalizes itself in the public policy domain. Experiences of past policy failure erodes the confidence (of citizens and public officials) to deliver in future, which undermines the potential for positive future policy results, which in turn reinforces the view that  government cannot ‘get things done’, and on and on and on.

I think many countries are stuck in this trap, where negative feedback loops frustrate effort after effort to improve government capabilities. Initiatives designed to help governments get things done tend to fail when no one (in the citizenry or government) actually believes government can get things done.

So, how do governments get unstuck?

This is the question we plan to address—in practice —through the forthcoming Implementing Public Policy executive education course (starting in May 2019). The answer we suggest is simple: challenge the existing negative feedback loop by promoting cases of implementation success that can become the basis of new positive feedback loops—that help citizens and officials believe that more is possible tomorrow than it was yesterday.

Continue reading How often do public policies really fail? A question to help you escape the policy futility trap

Implementing Public Policy: Is it possible to escape the ‘Public Policy Futility’ trap?

written by Matt Andrews

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Polls suggest that governments across the world face high levels of citizen dissatisfaction, and low levels of citizen trust. The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer found, for instance, that only 43% of those surveyed trust Canada’s government. Only 15% of those surveyed trust government in South Africa, and levels are low in other countries too—including Brazil (at 24%), South Korea (28%), the United Kingdom (36%), Australia, Japan, and Malaysia (37%), Germany (38%), Russia (45%), and the United States (47%). Similar surveys find trust in government averaging only 40-45% across member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and suggest that as few as 31% and 32% of Nigerians and Liberians trust government.

There are many reasons why trust in government is deficient in so many countries, and these reasons differ from place to place. One common factor across many contexts, however, is a lack of confidence that governments can or will address key policy challenges faced by citizens.

Studies show that this confidence deficiency stems from citizen observations or experiences with past public policy failures, which promote jaundiced views of their public officials’ capabilities to deliver. Put simply, citizens lose faith in government when they observe government failing to deliver on policy promises, or to ‘get things done’. Incidentally, studies show that public officials also often lose faith in their own capabilities (and those of their organizations) when they observe, experience or participate in repeated policy implementation failures. Put simply, again, these public officials lose confidence in themselves when they repeatedly fail to ‘get things done’.

Continue reading Implementing Public Policy: Is it possible to escape the ‘Public Policy Futility’ trap?