Creation of jobs for youth through entrepreneurial development in Ghana

Guest blog by Osman Haruna Tweneboah

I was actually excited to start the Implementing Public Policy (IPP) program at Harvard Kennedy School not only because of the brand name of the School, the popularity and the international respect accorded to the School, but I was also looking for a solution to my policy challenge. My policy challenge revolves around, “the creation of jobs through entrepreneurial development for the youth”. The IPP programme actually provided me with the tools not only overcoming the problem but also learning.  Upon commencement of the programme, I thought I was going to learn through the usual theoretical way, little did I know and believe that the course was very practical and interesting, though rigorous and time consuming.

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Building resilience into U.S. government functions

Guest blog by Adam Harrison

Learning in the Age of Pandemic

In early 2020, I was lucky enough to be selected into the Harvard Kennedy School’s executive education class, “Implementing Public Policy (IPP).” I was thrilled that my supervisors at work had shown the confidence in me and interest in my development to make this opportunity available. Even more, I was excited to spend a week in Cambridge with a diverse group of professionals from across the country and the world. The experience would be enriching . . . and a few good meals in Boston’s North End would be pretty nice, too. 

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Helping Current and Future Adolescent Girls Requires Bailing Out the Boat but Also Fixing the Hole

Guest blog written by Michelle Kaffenberger, Kirsty Newman, Marla Spivack

Guaranteeing quality education for every girl requires a two-pronged approach: bailing out the boat and fixing the hole in its hull. We need to invest in today’s primary school girlswho are future adolescentsto ensure that they gain the foundational skills they need to start and stay on a strong learning trajectory. Programmes aimed at girls who have already reached adolescence need to focus on closing learning gaps, not just inducing greater attendance, so that girls reap the full benefit of additional time spent in school.

The consequences of low learning

You only have to look at modern-day heroines Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg to appreciate the power that adolescent girls have to change the world. Their potential is limitless. But tragically, too many adolescent girls struggle to reach their full potential, often because education systems are failing them. Many stakeholders blame early marriage, pregnancy, or entry into the workforce for pulling girls out of school, and propose solutions to tackle these.  But these pulls are often symptoms of dropout. The deeper cause is often low learning pushing girls out.

new RISE Insight Note discusses how insights from learning trajectories (analysis of how much children learn over time) can inform approaches to supporting today’s and tomorrow’s girls. For many children in developing countries, learning trajectories are too shallow and flatten out far too quickly. The illustration in Figure 1 shows how damaging flat learning trajectories can be. The purple line shows a learning trajectory that makes enough progress to reach threshold goals, like basic arithmetic, early and sets girls up to reach aspirational goals (like advanced calculus) by the end of school. But the orange learning trajectory is too flat, meaning that children learn little and fall behind the level of instruction. Even if a girl whose learning follows this trajectory persists all the way to the end of school, she can’t reach even the threshold goal at this slow learning pace.

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PDIA and Coordination Challenges within Government

Guest blog written by Nevena Bosnic, Mehdi El Boukhari, Ama Peiris, Matthew Welchert

This is a blog series written by students at the Harvard Kennedy School who completed “PDIA in Action: Development Through Facilitated Emergence” (MLD 103) in March 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

Over the past seven weeks, our group embarked on the learning journey of problem driven iterative adaptation (PDIA) as it applies to coordination challenges facing the various levels of government as well as civil society in addressing homelessness in Tarrant County, Texas. We had the great pleasure to work with an authorizer, Maggie Jones, who serves as the Assistant Director of Tarrant County Community Development. Our team – comprised of graduate students from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts, Harvard Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Harvard Kennedy School of Government – provided a diversity of perspectives and richness of insights. Together, we confronted and struggled through the challenges that come with working in complex adaptive challenges as we constructed and deconstructed the problem, sought potential entry points, developed and acted on ideas for interventions, and finally, reflected and iterated with yet another round of the process. Through this blog post, we hope to share with readers: (1) our key learnings from the course, (2) insights we gained about the problem we sought to address, and (3) words of wisdom for other students and practitioners.

1. LEARNINGS FROM THE COURSE:

  • The ecosystem is large and not all actors have a clear picture of how they fit within the larger system. Thus, they do not strategize well how they as an individual organization can encourage better coordination. It can be helpful to think of a metaphor of topographical map wherein your key organization is in a valley. You may see other related organizations and actors in some nearby hills and bluffs, but you might be blind to what exists beyond those heights. PDIA requires you to venture forth beyond the hills to get a sense of the total ecosystem. 
  • There are a lot of different stakeholders who are working independently to fight homelessness. There is little to no capitalizing on each other’s strengths because each stakeholder is bound by short term objectives and constraints. Coordination inherently requires compromising a degree of control to others, but asking organizations to share or give up some of their autonomy is a difficult ask. Constructing a problem that matters helps rally and galvanize support. 
  • It is alright to not have a big idea which might theoretically have a large impact. It is often better to try multiple small, achievable actions to shift towards greater change. Complexity is daunting, but by deconstructing the problem and identifying where there is sufficient authority, acceptance, and ability to act you can begin to take action. Rather than focusing all of your efforts on a big solution, removed from potential feasibility, taking immediate, fast action where possible provides lessons and begins the process of change. 
  • Huge challenge in understanding all of the many moving parts. Interactions and causal relationships are unlikely to reveal themselves without first pushing at the problem from multiple angles. By taking many different, small, independent actions pathways and connections might become more visible. 
  • The wonderful world of positive deviants. Do not reinvent the wheel. It sounds simple enough, but if you do not explore, ask around, look for the small successes already underway, then you risk missing solutions already in action. 
  • Deconstructing the problem is an endless process. You will always go back to redefining the problem and uncovering new root causes (rather than manifestations of the problem). Iteration can be trying, even frustrating, but the process of purposeful repetition building on what has been learned is critical to uncovering new solutions, and taking meaningful next steps.
  • Un-learning’ or learning you were wrong is still learning. Through the process of iteration and adaptation, you will likely be wrong. Indeed, you should be wrong. Embrace the potential for an idea not panning out, or an action not producing the desired result. By hitting a wall, you now know there is a wall there. In dealing with complex problems, even learning the boundaries of action is an important step. But be sure to learn and adapt. Why is the wall there? Where is a backdoor? It is in asking these deeper questions that PDIA’s repetition allows us to overcome hurdles. 
  • Examining change space is something most people don’t think about outside of PDIA. This results in a lot of efforts being made, sometimes to no avail. Crawl around the design space; which means to explore and make use of other success being done elsewhere. Perhaps a best practice has been implemented with success elsewhere. How would it be applicable to my situation? But remember to reflect inwardly as well. There is likely a great deal of latent potential within your own organization which can be brought to bear. Change will require many kinds of actions, from both without and within. 
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Early Childhood Education in Brazil

Guest blog written by Beatriz Abuchaim

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.

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A big headache. It was what I felt in the introductory class at Kennedy School. It was not my first experience at Harvard. I had taken a course in 2018 at Center on the Developing Child, but it didn’t have the same pressure I was feeling as a Public Policy Implementation student. My company was paying for me to be there and Harvard gave me a partial scholarship. While I was listening to Matt introduce the course to us, my painful head did not stop with mixed thoughts: “I should give my best to show I deserve all this investment. I feel so special to represent my country in such a selected group of people. I am worried if I will be able to implement my project”.

When I am overwhelmed with so many feelings my body complains with a migraine. Then I have to stop. It is a way to tell myself: take it easy. Breathe. Calm down. After the first night in pain in Cambridge, I could slow things down. During the week, I felt motivated by the professors and engaged with colleagues. Always feeling exhausted with so many assignments and tasks, but fulfilled. I came back home feeling empowered and secure. And missing my PDIA folks already.

My problem in a few words

Early Childhood Education (ECE) in Brazil currently covers 34% of 0 to 3-year-old population and 93% of 4 to 6-year-old population. These percentages represent eight million children enrolled in ECE.  The public sector is responsible for 70% of enrollments. In the past 10 years,  we have had a significant increase in the number of enrollments, but with budget limitations, so the quality of services may vary quite substantially nationwide. The municipalities, which are responsible for implementing  ECE, are struggling to improve service quality.

Although Early Childhood Education in Brazil has many problems regarding the quality of services, we still do not have a national assessment that could provide data about children’s development and learning environment. Without data, policy managers struggle to plan, improve and make decisions about ECE.

My problem is “lack of systematized information about ECE quality”. Working with PDIA and presenting my fishbone to as many people as I possibly could ended up with 12 causes and 16 subcauses for the problem.

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Here I will present three that were my entry points during this year, in other words, the causes I selected to try to address first:

  1.  The education area has criticisms and resistances about ECE assessment, mainly because the teachers are afraid that the results are used in a negative way: to punish them or stigmatize the children with low results.
  2. Municipal ECE managers are not used to working with data. They do not have access to systematized data, so they did not develop the skills to analyze results and use those to inform policies.
  3. There are no instruments adapted for the Brazilian context. Until now the assessments implemented in the country used translated instruments, which were not totally suitable for ECE in Brazil.

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Seeing Pandemics as Complex Adaptive Problems

Guest blog written by Peter Harrington

As the world grapples with the first truly global pandemic, a crucial struggle is emerging between different ways of seeing the current coronavirus outbreak. On the one hand, it is a virus that medical science can tell us how to combat. On the other hand, it is a complex social challenge to which human behaviour and norms are the key. In truth it is both, but if we fail to understand this, and understand that it requires adaptive learning to overcome, far too many will die.

Five years ago, I worked alongside the late statistician and epidemiologist Hans Rosling in Liberia on the Ebola epidemic sweeping the country and its neighbours. I had gone back to Liberia having previously spent three years in the country with the Africa Governance Initiative, working in the office of President Sirleaf. Like many, including Rosling, I came out of a sense of duty. Looking back on that experience, it holds powerful lessons for how we respond to coronavirus today.

Rosling said something memorable in 2014, that ‘Ebola is both a biological and a social phenomenon’. In other words, beating it was as much about behaviour as beds, as much about trust as treatment. The huge spike of cases in Liberia – which at one point threatened to collapse the country – peaked around November 2014. Privately, many of the foreign epidemiological experts in Liberia admitted it is unlikely that the (belated) influx of beds, logistics, money and aid workers explains the decline in new cases around the country after that.

So what happened? It is actually really useful to look at what happened as an exercise in mass problem-driven iterative adaptation (PDIA). The headline problem was abundantly clear – an out of control epidemic with a mortality rate of over 50%. And the country lacked the capabilities to handle this epidemic. What followed was a mass learning process, encompassing many actors. Starting with the authorities: they had to learn how to set up an Incident Management System, the name for a completely new institution dedicated to the eradication of the outbreak, to avoid overloading the Health Ministry and other existing institutions. They had to learn to set up emergency response phone numbers, special burial teams, to build special Ebola treatment Units (ETUs), set up and run testing labs, mobilise mass logistics to distribute these resources, all without abandoning those in need of other healthcare.

At the same time, the stampede of outside organisations wishing to help had to learn too – to take their ‘expertise’ with public health, epidemics, logistics and communications and translate that to the local context. Some organisations – like the American CDC who came with ears and eyes open – proved very good at that. Others like the WHO proved very slow indeed. The difference was the willingness to learn. Continue reading Seeing Pandemics as Complex Adaptive Problems

Local Problems, Local Solutions to the Indonesian Education Sector

Guest blog written by George Adam Sukoco Sikatan, Lanny Octavia, Sarah Ayu, Wahyu Setioko

This is a team of development practitioners who work for INOVASI and DFAT in Indonesia. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in May 2019. This is their story.

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It is at last the final week of the course, and we say this full of gratitude and relief. None of us had anticipated just how intense and demanding this course was going to be, from the essential (and optional) reading, individual and groups assignments, to reflection exercises and graded discussions; needless to say they were onerous! At the same time, the abundance of knowledge was exciting and overwhelming.

Working in the public/development sector, in a large, populous country such as Indonesia, the 4 of us often come across bewildering, deeply rooted problems that seem just impossible to resolve. The PDIA approach shines a positive light on this situation and more importantly, confidence to overcome them. We learned to deconstruct a problem into smaller pieces and find the root cause using a relatively simple, yet powerful, tool namely the 3A analysis (Authority, Acceptance and Ability).

Another key takeaway from our group is the importance of reflective process to help us look into failures, challenges and feedback as opportunity to grow and construct (or when necessary, deconstruct all over). This methodology taught us to become better listeners, to arrive in a situation with an open mind instead of a will to impose external practices. These reflections and adaptations to the local context, allow us to remain relevant both to the problem that we are trying to solve and towards our beneficiaries.

This course also reminded us of the importance of collaboration and coordination with a broad range of stakeholders. We understand now that multiple perspectives, incentives and even interests are actually useful in defining problems and formulating solutions. Sharing a common goal at the beginning of the work had founded a sense of belonging and motivation for all team members, even when the time is hard and problem becomes more challenging.

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Solving the Wicked Hard Problem of Education Quality in Indonesia

Guest blog written by Rina Arlianti, Stephanie Carter, Murni Hoeng, Siti Ubaidah Idrus, Susanti Sufyadi, Aaron W Watson.

This is a team of six development practitioners working for Indonesia’s Ministry of Education and Culture, the Tanoto Foundation, the Australian supported INOVASI program, and Australian Embassy, Jakarta. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in May 2019. This is their story.

The Harvard BSC’s PDIA course has been an exciting journey for all of us. We began the course full of excitement and hope – with most of group members having not met before. We were one of four groups participating from Indonesia, all focused on the issue of education qualityOver the course of 15 weeks, we navigated the twists and turns of the PDIA process, putting key concepts to the test in the field of basic education in Indonesia.

Early on, once we had settled into our group dynamic, we settled on our problem statement:

Learning outcome quality in Indonesian primary schools is still low (low scores in international standardised student tests)

As we progressed, we gained several key insights and takeaways about our problem and the course. Through group discussion and debate, drawing on perspectives from working both within and outside the government system, we settled on the following six key sub-causes for low learning outcome quality in Indonesian primary schools:

  1. Measures of learning are weak (including the use of formative assessment, due to low teacher knowledge)
  2. Teaching/learning process is ineffective (with teachers lacking inadequate skills and knowledge of how to use learning media, to increase student engagement)
  3. Parents are already satisfied with the status quo (there is often low demand for changes to the system, as parents do not know what good teaching looks like)
  4. Lack of learning books for children (due to cumbersome book supply processes at the national level)
  5. Many teachers don’t use digital technology in classrooms (creating missed opportunity for enhanced learning)
  6. Policies that address education quality are not implemented well (and instead focus on physical infrastructure, or if they do exist, are not socialised well in a decentralised system)

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Agricultural Inefficiencies in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Guest blog written by Sakineh Roodsari, Son Truong Can (Kenny), Dinh Quoc Cong, Nguyen Uyen, Phuoc Hung Thach, and Long Ho.

This team is made up of an independent group composed of 6 individuals coming from both the public and private sector. They are a multidisciplinary team of professionals who have worked in the following positions: the head of agricultural cooperatives and farm division – Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), a former manager of an agriculture cooperative in Tan Thanh Tay, director of Cu Chi High Tech Agriculture Cooperative, former World Bank consultant, project finance specialist, and as a facilitator of ASEAN SMEs Academy. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in December 2018. This is their story.

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How do we solve our wicked hard problem of farmers’ lack of motivation to learn, follow safe standards, and new techniques with higher value added? Although our team only has three members with experience in the agriculture sector, we all understood the urgency of working on this problem. In particular, because food safety is one of the biggest concerns in Vietnam, and the lack of food safety is the number one cause of cancer. Due to the agriculture inefficiencies in the value chain, it is difficult to tackle this problem using conventional methods.

This course taught us a series of toolkits that required innovative and experimental approaches to development, through a process called Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA). During the first half of the course, we learned a lot of concepts. One particular term that really stuck was Isomorphic Mimicry. “Isomorphic mimicry is the tendency of governments to mimic other governments’ successes, replicating processes, systems, and even products of the “best practice” examples.” The governments appear capable, but in reality are not. So how do we step away from mimicry? 

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PDIA Course: Taking the classroom to the field and the field to the classroom

written by Salimah Samji

When we launched the first PDIA online course in November 2015, we had a burning question: Is it possible to teach PDIA in an online environment?  To answer this question, we essentially PDIA-ed our way forward by learning, iterating, and adapting our online course – and the answer is a resounding YES!

As of the end of last year, 804 development practitioners in 75 countries have successfully completed a version of our free PDIA online course.

PDIA online course poster Dec 2017

Continue reading PDIA Course: Taking the classroom to the field and the field to the classroom