Agri inputs market reform in Liberia through the PDIA lens

Guest blog by Darkina Sie Cooper

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.

I was super excited signing up for the Implementing Public Policy (IPP) Online Program, especially haven completed the Leading Economic Growth (LEG) program and being introduced to the PDIA concept and meeting already Prof. Matt Andrews and seeing how amazing he is; I was also eager to dive deeper into the PDIA concept and was looking forward to approaching my problem differently. Given that the IPP is 6 months long, I was particularly looking forward to additional tools and a more dynamic approach in solving my policy challenge. Looking to develop the tools to pitch my ideas and gain buy-in from authorizers were among my many expectations. I was also extremely excited looking forward to meeting more amazing professors and drinking from their fountain of knowledge. Certainly, the course didn’t disappoint, all these were provided for in the long but insightful journey of learning on the go. But above all these, and most importantly, I remain ever thankful to the Kistofes Fellowship of the HKS for allowing me to join not only an amazing program but meeting an amazing group of people from all over the world, from diverse background, sharing their stories; all these couldn’t have been possible and could have only been one of those many exciting dreams if not for you. A million thanks, I am humble!

Continue reading Agri inputs market reform in Liberia through the PDIA lens

Economic Growth in Liberia: 10 Weeks to Remember

Guest blog written by Fred D. Koilor

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in July 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

What if this was a one-week journey? Well, many things about the Leading Economic Growth (Online) course probably would not have been the same. Firstly, I can certainly say that students would not have had ample time to digest the course materials and make adequate appreciation of knowledge acquired during the ten weeks. Secondly, the one week on campus would not have given us the opportunity to reach out to institutions and development stakeholders for vital pieces of information, which helped to shape our understanding of the lecture materials discussed during the course. During the ten-week period, I had the opportunity to meet with two departments within the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) for data and analysis on aspects of my growth strategy. Thirdly, the span of ten weeks provided enough time for the lecture materials to be sequenced into ten weekly modules. This approach enabled the students to navigate the course in a consecutive order of logic, chronologically sequenced from week one through week ten. More importantly, it made learning a lot easier than it would have been in only a week.

In spite of my economic background, this course offered some key insights, which are not only novel, but also shaped my understanding of economic growth, especially considering the growth challenges of my country, Liberia.

The Scrabble Theory of Economic Development provides a fundamental explanation for why some countries are rich and others are poor. With the help of the scrabble metaphor, the theory explains, in very simple terms, that the wealth of nations or prosperity of economies is determined by the level of societal knowhow, which is represented as letters used to produce products, represented as words. Knowhow, described as what the society knows how to do, is not measured by the depth of knowledge individuals in the society possess, but the diversity of knowledge spread across different individuals at the societal level. With a higher level of diverse knowhow, otherwise known as letters, more complex products, otherwise known as words can be produced, thus increasing the complexity of goods and services produced by a nation. The intuition of this theory explains, to a large extent, why Liberia is economically poor, even though it is enormously endowed with natural resources. Liberia has vast deposits of rubber, iron ore, timber, gold, and palm oil, but these resources are mostly exported to other countries in their raw or unprocessed forms because the population does not have diversified knowhow (letters) to produce products of more complexity (words) that could generate higher export earnings, reduce or cancel out our balance of payments deficit, generate more foreign exchange, increase employment opportunities, spur growth of industrial activities, and improve the macroeconomic outlook. Liberia needs more knowhow to manufacture more complex products from its natural endowments. Local manufacturing will generate more jobs locally, add value to our local products, increase their worth as exports, and positively impact many macroeconomic indicators, including balance of payments, net foreign capital inflow, international trade, etc.

Continue reading Economic Growth in Liberia: 10 Weeks to Remember

Public Leadership Through Crisis 14: Lessons on Crisis Communication from Liberia’s Ebola epidemic

written by Matt Andrews

The Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in the face of a crisis (like the COVID-19 pandemic).

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Peter Harrington is an alumni of the Harvard Kennedy School, and a former fellow with the Building State Capability program (BSC). In 2014, Peter worked with the  Africa Governance Initiative helping Liberia’s government deal with its Ebola epidemic. He assisted in an area called ‘Social Mobilization’; an area of the organizational response focused on engaging citizens—and  fostering behavioral  change in the citizenry—through communication.

In this podcast interview, Peter describes his experience and I summarize his thoughts  therafter.

Here are some key  takeaways from the interview.

1.  Liberia’s organizational structure made a huge difference

You will hear Peter speak about the Incident Management System (the IMS) at the beginning of the podcast. This was the organization created to respond to the crisis. Peter notes that it was ‘hierarchical but also remarkably flat’ like the snowflake mechanism discussed in a prior blog post.

Peter describes the IMS as being composed of many ‘teams’. Some teams focused more on ‘hard’ aspects of the crisis response (like logistics) while others focused on ‘softer’ aspects of the response (like communications, psychosocial concerns, and others). Remember prior blog posts where we discussed the importance of having clear roles and keeping in your lane —  these teams were a way of ensuring both things happened at the same time (people knew what they were doing and did not interfere with what others did).

Peter notes that this structure was both flat and hierarchical. Each team had a leader and all the team leaders reported daily to Tolbert Nyenswah who was the ‘Tzar’ of the IMS. Member of the international community slotted into teams (so they too  played specific roles). Each and every team was led by a Liberian. Peter notes that  Tolbert Nyenswah and his close team at the center of the ‘snowflake’ was like a  ‘server’ – the connection hub where all parts of the response came together. Other teams analyzed the problems, came up with ideas, implemented, monitored, produced data, etc. The central team processed the knowledge, ensured it was shared, made decisions, followed up with decisions, and orchestrated the overall coordination. Read more about this  kind of structure in blog post 11. Continue reading Public Leadership Through Crisis 14: Lessons on Crisis Communication from Liberia’s Ebola epidemic

Public Leadership Through Crisis 13: Tolbert Nyenswah on leading through Liberia’s Ebola epidemic

written by Matt Andrews

The Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in the face of a crisis (like the COVID-19 pandemic).

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Tolbert Nyenswah is a Senior Research Associate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In 2014 he was the head of the Liberian Incident  Management  System (IMS), leading the operational aspects of the government’s response to the Ebola epidemic. Following this, he led the establishment of Liberia’s First National Public Health Institute and became its First Director General and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) 2017-2019.

This is a podcast of a conversation with Tolbert on his experience (interviewed by Peter Harrington and Matt Andrews). Brief summary thoughts follow, with questions for leaders facing crises today.

1.  This can be terrifying

Tolbert relates to the Covid-19 challenge facing many leaders, noting that he was asked to create the Incident Management System when the crisis had already begun  (not in preparation for it): “When you’re in a dire situation where people are in the streets, [you have] no best practice testing capacity … and you are setting up an incident management system at the same time … Before you really understand what the process is about, especially when information is weak …”

I  am sure may leaders feel like this in the face of crisis: unprepared and with much to do. In addition, Tolbert  notes, the country was in a politically fraught position: “The president was in a very, very uncomfortable position as a leader .. in fact political leadership were calling for the president’s resignation [arguing that] the government should step down.”

At 6:38 into the interview, Tolbert simply says, “It was terrifying.” If  you feel you are in the same boat … read on – terrifying things can be dealt with. Continue reading Public Leadership Through Crisis 13: Tolbert Nyenswah on leading through Liberia’s Ebola epidemic

Public Leadership Through Crisis 11: Reorganizing to address the crisis

written by Matt Andrews

The Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in the face of a crisis (like the COVID-19 pandemic).

I was on a call two days ago with a former student who is now deeply involved in his country’s Covid-19 crisis response. He said something like the following: “Our  government  is not set up to respond to this; there are multiple challenges coming at us all at once, requiring multiple new ideas from multiple places, fast. We just can’t mobilize people properly.”

This is a comment I am sure many leaders would echo right now. You look at your bureaucracy and wonder if and how it will be able to handle this crisis. It’s a little like reflecting on whether a ship built for good weather can really manage a storm.

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The truth is that it probably won’t.

Typical hierarchical control mechanisms seem like they give you the coordination you need in crisis (given that we often look to centralize control during such times) but we can’t control every part of the crisis through singular hierarchies, especially when crises require engagement beyond a single organization or geographic area. Also, no new crisis conforms to the pre-arranged organizational structures we have in our organizations. These structures are typically set up to deal with specific and discrete challenges—not compound problems like we face with threats like COVID-19 (where the initial threat of virus is extremely complex and has multiple knock-on effects).

This is precisely why those who have worked in crisis and disaster management suggest using new structural mechanisms to organize their response. Decentralized decision-making and coordination mechanisms are particularly advocated for use in this kind of situation (see Dutch Leonard’s video in blog post 8, the discussion of such structures in blog post 9, and the ‘part 4’ reference to such in the interview with Shruti Mehrotra in blog post 10).

What matters is that these mechanisms allow you as the leader to identify where decisions need to be made, access information (as best as possible) and ideas to make those decisions, mobilize agents to act on and implement those decisions, and constantly monitor those actions to adapt the decisions as necessary.

In blog post 9 I emphasized that there are different kinds of such mechanisms. My  work on problem driven iterative adaptation (PDIA) has found Marshall Ganz’s snowflake structure as an accessible, organic mechanism to help countries think about organizing themselves to address major problems (often related to crises).

In this blog I want to reflect—very briefly, but with references for your additional reflection—on how Liberia adopted a new organizational mechanism that has elements of the snowflake (being relatively flat, fast, and flexible) to coordinate and empower decisions in response to the 2014 Ebola epidemic. I summarize the  story from Liberia as well as I can in this short blog, drawing particularly on two key  articles, from Princeton  University’s amazing Innovations for Successful Societies case series by Leon Schreiber and Jennifer Widner (or SW), and the Journal Health Systems Reform by  Tolbert Nyenswah, Cyrus Engineer and David Peters (or NEP). I  am not sharing this to suggest that the Liberian Incident Management System (IMS) is the best practice for you to copy or mimic. Rather, the story shows that, Continue reading Public Leadership Through Crisis 11: Reorganizing to address the crisis

Bridging the Capacity Gap in Burundi

written by Salimah Samji

The knee jerk reaction to building capacity is to organize more training workshops. These are taught by experts and held in fancy locations, with free-flowing food and refreshments. The attendees often do not include the front line workers who are ultimately responsible for implementation. In some cases attendees do learn new skills and are inspired to try them out, but they return to the same old organizations and systems – they are the only ones who changed. Then there is the case of technical advisors/assistants being parachuted into ministries to help build capacity. The reality however is that the job of these advisors is to perform functions and deliver results leaving no time to transfer skills or to build capability.

In a recent paper entitled, “Escaping the capability trap: turning “small” development into “big” development,” authors Campos, Randrianarivelo and Winning discuss the process used to build capacity in Burundi from 2006-2012. The World Bank Institute in collaboration with the government decided to launch a program whereby small initiatives would be launched to demonstrate quick and meaningful results that would in turn be showcased and used to generate political buy-in at cabinet retreats, ultimately expanding the program and sustaining a process of capacity building. They used Rapid Results Initiatives (RRIs) where small projects are created with measurable results in around 100 days. They began with a pilot of 2 RRIs in 2006 and had completed 246 RRIs by 2012. The authors consider Burundi’s experience as a “preliminary test” of the PDIA approach.

Initially the government was skeptical but agreed to conduct two small RRI pilots one in education and one in health. This process involved the entire chain of implementation actors and enabled these teams to learn what works and what does not. Team building and collaborative skills were necessary to ensure success.

  • Education: The problem was that it took one year to deliver textbooks to village schools. The goal of the RRI pilot was to reduce this delay in a province to within 100 days. They delivered 25,000 textbooks within 60 days.
  • Health: The problem was that there were few HIV/AIDS screenings of pregnant women in health care centers. The goal was to increase the number of screenings. They increased from an average of 71 per month to 482 in the first month, more than a six-fold increase.

The results of the pilots, as well as results from other African countries that had engaged in similar programs, were shared at a cabinet retreat. This helped create a shift in the mindset which allowed the methodology to be replicated in other ministries. In each retreat (4 in total) successful RRI experiences were shared, thus helping to build and sustain the authorizing environment. The results were impressive and include the suspension of payment to 728 ‘ghost’ individuals which saved the Ministry of Civil Service 60,000,000 Burundi Francs (US$ 470,000).

The authors quote the Ministry of Agriculture “leadership engagement from the top [the minister] right down to the base [even in decentralized provinces] encouraged a ‘spirit of results’ and mobilized people from all areas [the government administration as well as the local citizens] to work together to achieve what they wanted.” This is what Matt Andrews calls multi-agent leadership in his paper who really leads development?

Our recent untying development workshop had a session entitled new practice in action, which featured AGI’s work in Liberia, the Rapid Results Institute and the Innovations for Successful Societies at Princeton. You can watch the video here.

Bottom line: An RRI is one of many tools in the toolkit that espouses PDIA principles.

Happy Holidays!