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.

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