Rolling out COVID relief programs in Reno using the PDIA approach

Guest blog written by Calli Wilsey

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.

During one of our first sessions, I remember Professor Andrews speaking about complex problems and the need to address these issues with a new approach typically not used by public policy professionals and government agencies. As he described the problems he has witnessed with the traditional “plan and control” implementation method, I thought, “Oh no. If there is anything I’m good at, it’s planning. And I’m a control freak.” [Insert wide-eyed emoji and head-exploding emoji here].

Professor Andrews and the team invited us into the PDIA world and encouraged us to give it a try with open minds. Boy, am I glad I did.

As the course started, I was working with an internal team to implement a financial assistance program for small businesses that had been economically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the many uncertainties involved with the virus and the response to the public health emergency, I decided to use this situation as my implementation challenge.

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IPP Reflection: It is the journey, not the destination that truly matters

Guest blog written by Deepa Singal

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.

Participating in the Executive Education program, “Implementing Public Policy” at the Harvard Kennedy School was a dynamic, motivating and humbling experience. Our global cohort consisted of emerging leaders and seasoned policy experts from multiple sectors and countries, all with the shared purpose of making a positive impact in the world. The course was an interactive and intense program, taught by world class faculty and guest lecturers, supported by Harvard case studies, internationally used and validated methods, and relevant and interesting readings. To say it was tremendously educational is an understatement.

While this course would have been pertinent and fascinating any given year, the teachings and lessons underpinning our curriculum were extremely relevant to the complex and unique challenges facing us in our current context. Our cohort partook in this course as the world dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. Loss, pain and daily stress prevailed throughout the duration of the course, as thousands of people lost their loved ones to an unknown disease, hundreds of thousands were isolated from their family and friends, and children and parents grappled with the stress of online learning and balancing working from home. Seniors were isolated and alone, businesses closed, livelihoods were lost, and front-line staff desperately tried to keep health care systems across the world from falling apart. In addition to the immediate and unintended consequences of the pandemic, our neighbours in the United States held one of the most important and contentious elections of world’s history, people united and divided over the death of George Floyd and the Black lives movement, and society reckoned with race, misogyny, structural inequalities, and the threat of rapidly spreading misinformation. As the world was in a state of unrest unlike most had seen in their generation, my colleagues were tasked with solving some of the world most pressing policy problems while navigating their own personal lives and loved ones through these unprecedented circumstances. 

While I expected this course to be world class, and the methods and tools to be effective in solving policy challenges, I did not expect the core approach – Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation – and the principles underlying this approach to be applicable to almost all challenges we were facing in this current context of uncertainty and loss. Here are my top three learnings from this journey:

Lesson 1: Problem Driven Iterative Adaption is applicable and generalizable to a wide variety of professional and personal challenges: While I entered the class with a challenge from my professional organization, I quickly changed my case study to my volunteer role as a member of my children’s school COVID-19 task force and board member.

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IPP journey reflections: Don’t try swallowing a whale in one go

Guest blog written by Joe Savage

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.

So, your fish bone skeleton is a whale

Even the biggest, most complex problems can be broken down into smaller pieces. First, you probably shouldn’t try to swallow a whale in one go. After all, it’s a whale. It would obviously crush you. Second, the process of digging deeper into problems and sub-problems will help you to understand your challenge better. So not only can you go for a small bite, but you know the best place to start*. Not least because…

Momentum matters

If you’re working on a problem that’s not only wicked but possibly cursed by some ancient spirit, a slow start and subsequent lack of progress might seem like the prophecy has been fulfilled. First, we all need to feel like we’re getting somewhere. We can take energy from that. Second, our bosses and peers need that boost too. A sense that these guys are on to something and this is worth getting behind. Even little victories could help. Of course, the trick is knowing how to spot those victories.

Write. It. Down.

I used to help advisers embedded in ministries to trace their impact. I often heard “But the value of what I do cannot be measured”. The importance of a chat over coffee for example. I usually replied by asking “Well, did you write about the coffee anywhere?” Tackling complex challenges involves a lot of little victories and setbacks. You’ll forget most of them tomorrow. The personal learning tool is a great example of how reflections can be structured and captured simply, but effectively.

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IPP Journey: Though the flesh has departed, the spirit will be honoured

Guest blog written by Kagiso Maphalle

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.

“Hello, welcome to what will be some of your most difficult, but fruitful years of your career. We look forward to your leadership…”

Those are the words I remember when I think back on the day I joined the National Heritage Council of South Africa as the Head of Core Business. I remember these specific words because they stand out as a reminder of the indeed difficult journey that has been the past two years, but also as I come to the end of the IPP program, I note the fruitfulness which was referred to on that very first day of duty. After two years shy of a decade in the academia and research consulting industries, I made the leap and joined the public service in 2018.

Was it an easy transition? Absolutely not! But on each day, I saw glimpses of small victories which reminded me why it was a worthy change in career trajectory. I still bemoan my flexible working hours and dress code, but I digress. Let me take you through a little journey of what ultimately brought me in search of a program which has not only changed my thinking, but made sense of the challenges I experienced in attempting to do things differently within the public service.

Reality Check: Kindly find attached herewith your mammoth task

As Head of Core Business, one of the units under my portfolio is called the Resistance Liberation Heritage Route. This tongue-twister of a unit is tasked with documenting the heritage of South Africa’s resistance to colonialism and the liberation struggle during the apartheid era leading up to democracy in the year 1994. In a country as diverse as South Africa, carrying the painful history and legacies of the past, documenting the contribution of the old and young alike is beautiful for documenting stories and cementing them in stone for future generations. However, the key word here is pain; the pain of loss, the pain of suffering; the pain of accepting that life as you had known it prior to a specific date etched in your memory for ever will never be your reality; pain of lives that will never be lived; pain of smiles which will never be seen; pain of dreams which will never be fulfilled; and pain of unprepared for goodbyes and so-longs. The pain of those who gave their lives so that future generations can know freedom and democracy. Many of these lives, lost in far-away countries.

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It’s about the P’s

Problem Construction, Perception, Process, People and Projection

Guest blog written by Cynthia Steinhauser

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.

Over the course of 12 months, I was pursuing my public policy executive certificate through HBS when I came across the IPP program designed by Professor Matt Andrews and his amazing cadre of peers. The timing couldn’t have been better as my organization was working on a new initiative to create a one-stop shop for innovation in development services from three previously “siloed” departments. Our team is focused on one major task – to rethink our development services program and create an integrated, efficient process that results in a positive experience for our customers. I saw this program as an opportunity to assist with this effort. 

As someone with over 25 years working in local government, I often assist in strategic planning efforts for new initiatives or to “reset” existing programs to help get them back on track. I was usually brought in because something wasn’t working and had reached some type of impasse.  It was often my belief that many failed for one primary reason, they did not have a clear path forward i.e. a solid strategic plan. All it would take was the right person to shepherd them through a process to develop a plan that had a clear vision, mission, goals, objectives, assigned tasks, identified resources and a well-defined timeline. Once a plan was in place to hold people accountable, all would be good. While I have many examples of success using this approach, there are also examples of failures. However, when you work in the public eye, you don’t like to talk about “failures” because on face value they seem just that – a failure that taught us nothing and did so at the expense of taxpayers.  However, as PDIA (Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation) has taught us, this could not be further from the truth. In fact, I believe that is exactly where PDIA can be most useful and have some of the greatest impact (but that is for another blog). This blog is about my entire IPP learning journey.

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Implementing Planning Reform Amid Great Disruption

Guest blog written by Oliver Luckhurst-Smith

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.

South Australia is one of the most affordable and liveable places in the world, with its capital, Adelaide, ranking the world’s 10th most liveable city according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. Adelaide’s unique colonial design, with grid-pattern streets and lush belt of continuous make it an enviable destination to live and visit.

Despite Australia being ranked as a Top 20 Easiest Economy to do Business in, and Adelaide being the most competitive city in Australia to do business in, South Australia is currently in a sluggish state, with some of the highest unemployment in the country and an ageing population.

To counteract this lag behind other states, the South Australian Government is pursuing a Growth State agenda to increase the population, foster a skilled workforce and entice new industry to the state. While much of this is being completed in collaboration with the private sector, the Government is also putting an emphasis on becoming a low-cost jurisdiction; removing red-tape and streamlining existing services.

One addressable area is through simplifying and modernising the planning system, and is a policy area has piqued my interest for a number of years as an Advisor to the Lord Mayor of Adelaide.

Anyone needing to use the planning system in South Australia, whether it is because they are seeking to extend their home, convert a disused office building for their retail business, or build a multipurpose facility, must presently navigate up to 27,000 pages of planning rules, across 500 residential zones, with some 2,500 combinations of zones, overlays and spatial layers.

This causes issues not only for applicants, but for the bureaucrats at state and local government level who need to assess these development applications.

As evidenced through media reports, one council was found to take up to 50 days to approve minor developments such as garden sheds and pergolas. Worse, in some instances, a planning application to change land use could take up to 20 weeks for approval.

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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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Together for a better Business Climate in Morocco

Guest blog written by Thami El Maaroufi

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.

By attending the IPP course with Harvard Kennedy School, my main objective was to learn how to improve our approach in designing, developing, and implementing a public policy efficiently, using high standards, the best practices, and innovations. 

Attending this course with peers from all over the world was also for me a great opportunity to learn from them about their experiences, challenges, success stories and failures in implementing public policy. Learning from participants was an interesting part of this journey. 

As the general coordinator of the national Committee for business environment in Morocco, and given my role and functions within this Committee, it is important for me to continuously develop my skills and knowledge; to be up to date on how to motivate and keep on board authorizers and stakeholders, to identify pain points and most importantly issues to address. It is also equally important for me to continuously learn how to effectively lead multidisciplinary teams, oversee the implementation of reforms, and ensure proper monitoring and performance evaluation. In this regard, the IPP course has been very useful for me and has enabled me to develop astute skills in addressing more effectively the design and implementation of public policies.

Our national Committee, chaired by the Head of Government, has ten years of experience in public-private dialogue to identify, on a regular basis, the main constraints faced by entrepreneurs and foreign investors in the country. The Committee is also seen as a delivery unit for the implementation of cross-department’s reforms.

Due to the successful implementation of multiple reforms, Morocco has improved its ranking in the Doing Business report published by the World Bank Group, moving from the 128th position in 2010 to the 53rd position in 2020.

But beyond this international ranking, the Kingdom needs to create a more conducive environment with less constraints and difficulties for firms to enter markets, create wealth, grow and export.  

I was confident that this course would provide me with more skills, tools, and tactics to successfully contribute to one of the most important projects we are currently working on in our country, namely the design and implementation of the national strategy to improve the business environment. 

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Formin’ Normin’ and Stormin’ – My IPP Journey Through Pandemics and Hurricanes

Guest blog written by Liana Elliott

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 began this executive education course – in the middle of a pandemic, while still recovering from a cyberattack – I was expecting to get some dry, Harvard-y lectures and maybe some good business-speak tools, and join the network of HKS practitioners around the world. 

I was NOT expecting to work my ass off for 6 months. I did NOT expect to try and tackle one of the most insidious problems of New Orleans’s economy – again in the middle of a pandemic, cyberattack, and now fiscal crisis – and I did NOT expect to actually get traction or buy-in from any of my non-wonky colleagues. 

I expected a refresher course to revisit the basics of public policy that I learned in graduate school, now fading from muscle memory as the pace of life quickens, the stakes rise, and the crises compound. What I received from this course was intellectually stimulating, thought provoking, and practical policy support – but I also received professional coaching, therapy, a support group, and a whole new vocabulary and perspective on how I approach my work. 

The work that I do is invisible, it doesn’t have a photo op or ribbon cutting at the end. Since no one really knows what I do, it feels like my efforts are inconsequential and unimportant. I was feeling frustrated at work – I was FULL of great ideas, processes, and policies but they always seemed to get stuck on paper, and I felt like I was failing to ever get anything launched that could survive beyond my own massive investment of time, energy, and focus. I felt my colleagues become similarly frustrated with yet another “good idea” they would get roped into, and nothing would come of it after a few weeks or months. Other colleagues seemed to breeze through projects, make things happen with the wave of some magic wand that I just didn’t have. I attributed this to my own deficits as a leader and policymaker, and I wanted to do better – for myself, but more importantly for the people of New Orleans. 

The Universe of Complexity

Within the first readings, the distinction was drawn between the complex and the complicated – a fundamental difference that is often confused, or too mind-boggling to face. This completely changed my perspective. I recognized that my universe is one of complexity and the vast universe of unknowns.

The colleagues that I was comparing myself to aren’t smarter or more effective than I am, they just work with things that are complicated. I don’t know how to build drainage infrastructure projects, administer billions of dollars in FEMA money, or set up an emergency shelter in 2 hours. I could probably figure it out, but that’s not what my job is. And I am incredibly grateful for my colleagues that keep those roads getting built and those dollars getting spent, because I don’t think I would be happy in that role. Instead, my universe is everything else that’s too nebulous or too massive for anyone to tackle. I don’t know where I am going or what I am doing, and that’s actually a strength – I’m comfortable wandering into the mist of a policy fog. If I knew where I was going, this would be just complicated and I would be bored and unfulfilled. I accepted that I don’t know what I’m doing – not succumbing to imposter syndrome – but taking ownership of the inherent vast lack of clarity or direction.

Continue reading Formin’ Normin’ and Stormin’ – My IPP Journey Through Pandemics and Hurricanes