A reflection on changing policy process to PDIA methodology

Guest blog by Ben Wehmeier

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.

  • What were your expectations of IPP Online when you signed up?

As I made the decision, there were two primary reasons I looked to sign up.  The first was the goal for professional development.  My main focus in my early career and formal education had really been on legal analysis and leadership/management, resulting in a more tactful to strategic level. As my career has evolved, I have developed a greater desire to be engaged in the high level strategic/policy issues and learn how to move this forward at different level of government.  My second desire was the specific goal of helping develop tools to coach my current organization through an entire process of policy development to implementation.

When I started my current role, the organization thought very highly of their planning process.  Although I appreciated many of the efforts, there were two significant criticisms of these efforts.  The first was the time it took to get through these processes, and that they lingered.  The second main critic was despite lots of planning, there was a lack of execution and implementation of said plans and policies.  In many cases, these were recurring themes through multiple processes that were never moved forward. Recognizing these past criticisms and concerns, the timing of this concern overlapped with the development of a significant policy update for my organization.  My goal was not to just do the plan to meet legal requirements and sit on the shelf, but to be the basis of future plan of work efforts that will help with resource alignment to accomplish needs of our communities.

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Slowing the rate of sprawl development in the U.S. using PDIA

Guest blog by Ryan Yetzer

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 signed up for this course, I really didn’t know what to expect. One minute I was offered this amazing opportunity by our Mayor, and the next minute I’m receiving e-mails and course materials from the Harvard Kennedy School. I was excited for the experience, but certainly nervous as well. Once the course started, I quickly realized how much I would learn over the next few months and was thrilled to be awarded this opportunity by our Mayor.  

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The Lack of Decentralization of Power: Delivery of Public Service in Liberia

Guest blog by W. Lawrence Yealue, II

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.

Firstly, my expectation was to learn strategies and approaches to Implementing Public Policies. My expectation was exceeded by this program. The manner in which the program was conducted, the peer learning approach and Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA). The logical pathways and the appreciation for contextualization the learning acquired strategically within this course is amazing.

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Urban Development in Argentina: How IPP helped me achieve my goal

Guest blog by Catalina Palacio

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.

This is the story of an inspiring journey.

Everybody is working hard around the world looking for increasing their wellbeing, which in turn affects the improvement of the quality of life of others. Everybody plays a determinant role to make lives better, even more, when people share the public policies sphere due to it is the core of the society’s balance. In this regard IPP journey has turned into the most significant experience which gives all the participants extraordinary tools to be better practitioners, better people and better leaders around the world.

My entire working experience has been with public sector in different countries where I have noticed such similar situations: unsolved problems, a lot of effort with unsatisfactory results from some practitioners, lack of ownership from some staff and so on, as a result, the social, economic, and environmental dimensions are increasingly unbalanced. In this context, I decided to course the IPP journey hoping to get meaningful technical tools to add value to my professional skills to make the difference when facing the less desirable public policy arena conditions. No matter how high my expectations were, definitely this course has exceeded them. Not only gave me valuable technical information regarding a better understand of the current situation and how to deal with to be more effective, but also taught me the importance of the human aspects, how to be aware of myself as a person facing complex problems and how to build teams, encourage and support its members as people as well as a practitioners.

Continue reading Urban Development in Argentina: How IPP helped me achieve my goal

Police reform in Bridgeport through PDIA: A radical approach to an old problem

Guest blog by Maria Viggiano

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.

As America faces a national reckoning over racial injustice and the over-policing of communities of color, the concept of “defunding the police” has become a hot topic in various cities including my hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut. As Connecticut’s largest city, Bridgeport is home to over 145,000 people, the majority of whom identify as Black, Latino, or Asian Americans. The Bridgeport Police Department has suffered from a series of scandals over the last several years.

In 2017, a Bridgeport police officer shot and killed an unarmed Latinx youth, 15-year-old Jayson Negron. In 2018, the top aide to the Bridgeport Police Chief was fired after the discovery of numerous racists texts directed at African-American police officers in the department. Earlier this fall, the police chief himself was arrested by the FBI and later indicted on federal corruption charges. The demands for reform reached fever pitch this summer with local activists calling for a defunding and dismantlement of the Bridgeport Police Department.

The concept of “defund the police” is a relatively new one within the realm of public policy. The movement in favor of this approach emerged almost entirely from the activist community in the wake of recent nationwide protests against police brutality, especially in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. There are few academic papers or studies available that evaluate the effectiveness of specific policies aimed at reallocating public funds away from law enforcement departments and toward social service departments like housing, health, and education. However, ample academic research does definitively point to the short- and long-term payoff of investing in these areas as a preventative strategy for minimizing societal ills such as poverty, homelessness, crime, and violence.

Continue reading Police reform in Bridgeport through PDIA: A radical approach to an old problem

Implementing the Vision Zero plan in Lancaster, PA

Guest blog written by Cindy McCormick

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.

Before this course, as an engineer that’s spent most of my career in the private sector, and four years working in municipal government, I never really thought much about ‘public policy’ and wasn’t even sure what it meant.  My new boss of six months thought it would be a good course for me to take so I wasn’t sure what I was getting into.  I had recently started a Vision Zero plan and the idea of implementing what we were learning in a real project sounded interesting, as my old habits generally replace any new learning if it’s not practiced immediately. 

In this course I recognized immediately that I prefer the plan and control environment of policy. I want to be able execute a very specific solution, but I realized that problems are often more complex than originally thought and one specific solution is not going to solve the problem.  This leads me put on blinders to the criticisms and ways to make it better because once I’ve executed the plan, I’m ready to move on.  I also realized that this created a lack of ownership for developing a comprehensive solution for myself and others as the specific solution was often dictated by others.

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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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Working with local governments to improve service delivery in Indonesia

Guest blog written by Karrie McLaughlin

Melayani project in Indonesia

When Indonesia decentralized just over 20 years ago, it did so partly on the promise that bringing services closer to citizens would help to improve them. However, at the same moment that responsibility for the provision of basic public services was shifting to local governments, the nature of those service delivery challenges was itself shifting from improving availability of services to improving access and quality. The logistical tasks of constructing clinic and school buildings and hiring nurses and teachers had largely been completed, and districts are now left looking toward the top of the tree at more difficult problems. This blog examines the MELAYANI – Untangling Problems in Improving Basic Services program to better understand the issues local governments face in dealing with more demanding service delivery challenges, and how they can better be supported in doing so.

Importantly, there is a common element to these more difficult problems—they are complex, context-specific and cannot be solved by one-size-fits-all prescriptions from the central government. The root causes of these problems are multi-faceted and frequently vary from one location to another. As such, they require district governments to play a more active role in identifying, understanding and responding to them.

MELAYANI addressed these challenges by working with local governments to solve service delivery problems of their choice, while testing scalable capacity development approaches and learning about locally-led change. Experiences in the three locations (Bojonegoro, East Java; Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan; and Belu, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT)) are presented in this video.

MELAYANI supported local governments to select the problems that they felt were most important, helping to ensure that they were locally salient. By anchoring analysis in a key issue, rather than a particular sector, it allowed both for more actors to be involved and for the identification and mobilization of new resources. In addition, by providing support to local governments to better understand citizen problems, it provided clearer arguments for policy stability and commitment.

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Lost in Authorization in Japan

Guest blog written by Marcello Milanello

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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“The more you know who you are and what you want, the less you let things upset you”. Despite the advice from Bob Harris, a protagonist role played by a melancholic Bill Murray, in the movie ‘Lost in translation’, he remains pessimistic and bland for the entire journey of the movie. While in Japan, in a reality that seems so different, Bob is lost not because of language or time zone, but because of his meaningless life back in California.

My PDIA journey was mainly focused on key external actors – the Japanese piece of my job: technical partners, mayors, city office staffers, and co-investors. Since I had the backup of my organization – both in terms of legitimacy and resources – it was under my governance to establish a pathway to reach our intended goals.

Anticipating a bumpy road, as it is usually when dealing with complex problems and organizations such as city offices, I had to find support. That was the reason why I attended the Implementing Public Policy (IPP) course and got acquainted with the PDIA methodology: it was a way to deal with the unknown, a common ground in the Japanese step of my mission.

Preparing myself to Japan

I knew I would face uncertainty along the process of establishing a new role for Arapyaú Foundation to support local governments. I was hired in early December of 2018 with the mission to drive the experimentation during 2019 in establishing partnerships with municipal governments to increase their capacity through innovation. I had a great direct authorizer, resources to hire a small team and freedom to establish the pathway. The perfect setting for this journey.

Despite great conditions, I was still looking for ways to increase the internal knowledge of my organization to deal with public policy implementation. By far, the most valuable resource I could find was the IPP Program. My first and somehow unambitious move was to send the program brochure to my boss, the foundation director. She was not only convinced to support me but, most importantly, she decided to participate in it. Another great step in this journey: she would support me even more after understanding the complexity of implementing public policies. We were ready to roll.

As for myself, I was worried about the challenges of how to deal with different settings of four cities that would-be partners in our journey to increase their capabilities to solve complex problems. I was about to begin partnering with mayors in June and the timing was perfect for the program.

First sparks were amazing:

  1. Diagnosing the failure of policies: having worked for almost ten years in different governmental agencies, I got used to policy failure. How often it happens and possible reasons for that were major questions I had. Matt Andrew’s paper on Public Policy Failure: ‘How often’ and ‘What is failure, anyway?’ provided a warm feeling of not being alone in this.
  2. The duality between a plan & control approach and something else, bringing the waterfall vs. agile debate over tech projects to the public arena.
  3. The graph where functionality and legitimacy are expanded in synchrony, moving as a staircase from left-bottom to top-right started to demonstrate how long and careful the mission is – and above all, how important it is to take care about the process.

The week-long module in Massachusetts helped me move from the diagnosis to possible paths to act. There, I learned that:

  1. It is all about implementation – I should strategize to a certain point, but mainly being very disciplined in learning and delivering, in a cyclic manner.
  2. Even though I had legitimacy from mayors and support from local government department’ heads, I should incrementally look for more room to deliver.
  3. Since I would be running the program in each city, having this authorization placed in my team instead of me would be even better – and I would have to work even harder for it to happen.
  4. Doing something is better than doing nothing – even if it seemed a short step or even a wrong one: you learn from it.

After the week in Boston, being energized and focused on my journey, I had only one way to go: forward!

The expected unknown in Japan

The week after I arrived from Boston the projects were kicked off in the first two cities we partnered: Aracaju and Caruaru.

After a few weeks of building up the team, refining the strategy and selecting the subjects we would for those two cities, we kicked off in the other two: Cachoeiro and Blumenau (see photo above).

Since the beginning of the four partnerships, my team constantly used the PDIA approach to deal with the uncertainty that we faced in four different settings. The major takeaways we found during the implementation of the program were:

  1. Understanding how to disarm those who believe they have the solution ahead of problems – asking the right questions, bringing data and analysis and building up arguments so we could dig deeper into the problem.
  2. To lower the expectations of achieving impactful results in a short period of time when dealing with complex problems: it is very rare to have simple solutions for complex problems and we should acknowledge it from the beginning.
  3. Making the decision to invest time and people in the problem definition phase is key to accrue better results along the way.
  4. Spending time to deal with people that are neutral or not-enthusiastic to the project will eventually remove barriers that could have become insurmountable.

Being in four different parts of Japan – still insisting on the parallelism with the movie mentioned in the first paragraph – started to feel comfortable. I had learned a method on how to deal with uncertainty and I am sure that learning will be on my side in many journeys of my professional life.

Somehow, I feel that it was already part of me, but now I have a method to analyze and iterate with multiple actors. I felt more empowered to do so and my team completely bought it. We were understanding how hard it was and we were able to start moving things forward – with some variance across the four cities, of course.

…and then it is all about California

Everything was going well in Japan until something shakes in California.

The seemly solid foundation of my authorizers fell apart. While having a map of external authorizers and partners that would lead to the higher impact of the intervention I was involved with, I had lost sight of the risk of not having my internal authorizers backing me up anymore.

My direct authorizer left the organization and I started from scratch with the chairman of the board, inquiring me about the road we have taken. I had no idea how or if he was being informed about our program, while quickly learning he had little or no knowledge about it. I felt I didn’t have the correct narrative or that I could not understand his viewpoints: he was a major authorizer and I had never reached out to him before!

As usual, I kept asking myself if I should have acted differently and how to learn from this experience. Eventually, I have reached a few conclusions:

  1. I have used PDIA properly in a great number of situations, but I should have kept alert for changes in my own organization.
  2. Despite having built a great coalition of actors – my teams, partners, investors – I had missed sincere critics of my work. It would have made my narrative stronger and I could have more tools to deal with distrust and more structural questions.
  3. I felt that I had the correct internal environment, but I knew I was under the board radar. I felt it was something good for a while, so it would give me time to achieve results and built a narrative. Should I have acted differently, stating more and communication up often from the beginning? Still looking for that answer.

I have gone full PDIA oriented for the challenges faced at each municipality. I have hired people and contracted partners that were willing to take this bumpy road with me. Overall, I had a great team and great partners to move forward.

I will have results and transform a huge amount of lives by the end of 2020 – but there is a high risk that the program will be faced as a “failure experience”. I am still moving on to build this internal environment and I am sure I will have to go even deeper into the PDIA approach, especially with the new COVID-19 crisis.

In the end, I feel very distant from the ‘Suntory Time!’, as the ad played by Bob Harris in Japan during the movie.

To learn more about Implementing Public Policy (IPP) watch the course and testimonial video, listen to the podcast, and visit the course website.