Reducing plastic pollution into the oceans before it is too late

Guest blog written by Yiming Dong, Nada ElSehemy, Daiana F. Molero, Pedro Ossa, Ena Solorzano 

It was the beginning of the Spring semester. One Monday in late January was our first class of PDIA in action. That day we knew that for the next seven weeks we would be working on a completely unfamiliar topic: municipal solid waste management in China. Moreover, our team was unknown to us. We would have to learn a complex topic from scratch while forging a working bond with new colleagues in that short time.  

“Don’t worry, trust the process, don’t get ahead of yourself. Step by step, you’ll get there.” We heard that advice in class and read it on the feedback of deliverables. However, we had a hard time believing it was true. Finally -spoiler alert- the day of our final presentation arrived, and we could deliver. The process had worked. 

We learned about the circular economy, plastic polluting the ocean, and waste management strategies. But, most importantly, we experienced firsthand ways to make teamwork and solving complex problems easier.  

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Disaster Risk Management in Kenya

Guest blog by Sohee Hyung, Diana del Valle, Najwa Maqbool, Mercedes Sidders, Zeineb ben Yahmed

1. What were some key learnings from this course? (about the PDIA process through addressing your problem)

Over the 7-weeks sprint, our team worked on Kenyaʼ’s disaster risk management. We grouped our key takeaways and learning from the PDIA process into four areas: 1) defining the problem, 2) deconstructing the causes, 3) generating small actionable ideas and 4) working as a team.

Defining the problem

First, we learnt the importance of defining the problem. We are often in the habit of diving straight into the solution, rather than spending time to understand the problem. The PDIA process taught us the importance of developing a clear and concise problem, and breaking it down until it is manageable and actionable. This took us a few iterations as we advanced our discussions with our authorizer. This also taught us the importance of building trust-based partnership with the authorizer early on. After refining and redefining a few times, we arrived at our problem statement: How can the Kenyan government improve its ability to prepare, mitigate, and effectively respond to hazards and disasters in the immediate and the long-term?

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Increasing the dynamism of the implementation of French public policies

Guest blog written by Kanan Dubal, Jess Redmond, Ankita Panda, Arba Murati

No amount of information or research can and did prepare us for the intensity and unlearning that the Problem Driven Iterative Approach (PDIA) process demands. Theoretically, we knew what the PDIA process was, but the course facilitated an opportunity to learn, implement and receive constant feedback on the application of PDIA to a real policy case.

PDIA provides a blueprint to follow, but it’s not that straightforward. Each time we thought we had defined the problem and then deconstructed it, a new conversation or reading would spark a new idea, and new way of thinking about the problem leading to many versions of a problem definition. The deconstruction of the problem using the ‘fishbone’ approach helped us dive deeper into the problem whilst breaking a big issue down into smaller problems.

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Engaging youth in sustainable development in Barbados

Guest blog written by Arpita Tiwari, Diana Ly, Emma Catalfamo, Hina Musa, Katherina Hruskovec Gonzalez, Morgan Benson 

Early Days 

The first PDIA meeting for the KEYS to Success team focused on one goal: getting to know each other. Our team members came from different backgrounds, different programs within HKS, even different countries, and each of us was curious about what the team dynamic would look like. We built our team Constitution – a critical trust-building exercise for the PDIA process – which guaranteed enough psychological safety for each of us to freely participate and contribute. Over the next six weeks, each team member grew in our ability to think critically about our problem, propose creative solutions, and ensure that these ideas were most useful for our authorizer and ultimately for Barbados.  

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Examining Rising Teacher Shortages in the United States

Guest blog by Razan Alayed, Aleena Ali, Ryan S. Herman, Cecilia Liang, Krizia Lopez

There were many lessons to be extracted from this course and through applying the Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) approach to our concurrently ordinary and extraordinary problem. The issue of teacher shortage has existed for many years and is persisting in the United States, with the pandemic exacerbating and laying bare the public education system. Through iterative thinking and discussions, we as a team were able to narrow and focus our problem to what was relevant to our authorizer and her context, as well as surface the causes that continue to influence the issue at hand. Specifically, the PDIA process has taught us to dig deeper into root causes and distill them into comprehensive understandings; in fact, we discovered along the way that some sub-causes are shared among larger entry points, which was pivotal to defining our ideas and action steps. This process taught us that starting with small ideas and growing them is key to the iterative approach, since we were able to take frequent pauses, reflect, modify and then go back into the solution space. This also allowed us to experiment with our ideas and to obtain timely feedback through stakeholder interviews prior to investing time and resources on ideas that may not work in our context. Suffice to say that this experience has been fruitful for our professional journeys, and we will be taking these learnings as we move forward in our careers.

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Coupling Action Learning and International Development

Guest blog written by Artem Shaipov

After completing the Implementing Public Policy Program and joining the IPP Community of Practice, I was thrilled to receive an invitation to work with a group of master students taking a class at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) titled, “Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) in Action: Development through facilitated emergence” (MLD 103).

The course objectives were to (i) introduce the students to the PDIA methodology and (ii) give them an opportunity to immediately apply what they learned in class to a specific policy challenge that I had a privilege to nominate. Working on advancing legal education reform in Ukraine, I asked the group of five students to approach the following development problem:

“The supply side of Ukraine’s legal system is inadequate for fulfilling the role and responsibilities of the legal profession in a modern democratic society, contributing to the legal system’s self-perpetuating failure to ensure the rule of law and deliver justice in Ukrainian society.”

To help the students get up to speed and hit the ground running, I provided them with a list of reading materials and other resources that gave them background information on their policy challenge and a list of stakeholders ranging from senior government officials, leaders of the bar to law deans, local experts, and student union leaders that the students could contact to learn more about the local context and better understand the problem they were about to start working on. This support was important to engage the students in problem solving from the start. One of the students reflected on this experience in the anonymous feedback: 

[Authorizer] was a great supporter of our work, and has provided excellent guidance in understanding the problem of legal education in Ukraine. He […] kept us highly engaged.

The course spanned seven weeks starting in January 2021. The  students met twice a week on Tuesdays for lectures delivered by Matt Andrews and Salimah Samji and Thursdays for check-ins with me as their authorizer. Each week, the students did research on the development problem, interviewed stakeholders, turned in individual and team assignments. Even after delivering their final presentation on March 11, 2021, the students willingly continued their action learning  to complete remaining interviews. When providing anonymous feedback, one of the team members even noted: 

“At first, I thought, this is kind of an abstract topic that I never really had any explicit interest in. But honestly, I really enjoyed using the PDIA process to explore this topic and learn more about Ukraine and the context in which challenges present themselves. [I]t was great to get into it as much as possible. I would be happy to support this USAID effort in the future.”

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Countering Radicalization in France

Guest blog written by Mer Carattini, Sasha Mathew, Imara Salas, Kishan Shah, Katie Wesdyk

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 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

The PDIA process taught us how to turn a ‘wicked problem’—a highly complex tangle of many problems with high uncertainty—into manageable components that we can begin to address. We learned a strategy for how to deconstruct an abstract problem with the fishbone framework. Most importantly, we learned that complex problems in unfamiliar contexts can be addressed through a structured approach. We had the chance to put theory into practice by working on radicalization in France.

There was a lot to unpack for the problem of radicalization in France. We had the opportunity to work with our authorizer, Raphaël, whom currently serves as a cyber security expert to the BNP Paribas Bank and Board members of think tank “Les Jeunes IHEDN.” His initial problem statement was to detect, react to, and prevent radicalization within private companies. However, it is very difficult for private companies to play a constructive role in the radicalization debate because of how sensitive the issue is and because there is a lack of dialogue even at a community level. But before we could start a conversation, we had to zoom out on the big picture to grasp the full complexity of radicalization. 

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If on a Winter’s Afternoon Four Policy Students …

Guest blog written by Nathalie Gazzaneo, Tendai Mvuvu, Rodrigo Tejada, Matt Weber

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 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

On a winter’s afternoon in early February this year, a Mexican MPP1, a Brazilian MPP2, a Zimbabwean MC-MPA and an American MC-MPA randomly stepped up to the plate of abandoned projects in Nigeria. We, the four students and travelers, had never crossed our paths before (more accurately, we had never seen each other over Zoom). Additionally, none of us had ever worked in Nigeria. Before you think it could not get more chaotic, we had only 8 weeks to learn and experiment as much as we could on the assigned problem before coming up with novel and actionable ideas to expand its change space. Ready. Steady. Go! We weren’t ready, the journey wasn’t steady, but we definitely went on.

Maybe one of our first and most powerful realizations in our PDIA journey was that there was no silver bullet fix to the problem of abandoned projects in Nigeria. It took us two entire weeks to look at the problem with more curious and deconstructive eyes until we managed to draft a set of plausible causes and sub-causes that could be at its roots. We had to remain patient and above all curious and collaborative to shift from our initial planners approach to the searchers perspective required by the PDIA process.

As we deconstructed the problem through interviews and research, the Ishikawa fish diagram and the “five whys” heuristics helped us organize our insights in a meaningful fashion. At this stage, we also started to become more wary of our language usage versus our authorizer’s language usage (more on that later). And as our inquiry and knowledge deepened, so grew our ability to ask smarter questions and to find viable entry points.

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From Pyrethrum Exports to the Knowledge Economy: Exploring Trade Between Kenya and Canada

Guest blog written by Bishal Belbase, John Diing, Mayra Hoyos, Stephanie Shalkoski

This is a blog series written by students at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard School of Public Health who completed “PDIA in Action: Development Through Facilitated Emergence” (MLD 103) in March 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

As a pedagogical procedure for learning Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation a group of four students from Mexico, Nepal, the United States, and South Sudan studied bilateral trade between Kenya and Canada with the help of an external authorizer: Dr. George Imbenzi, Honorary Consul General of Kenya to Canada. This global team, codenamed “Canadian Safari,” met with several Kenyan government officials, as well as, a Kenyan student studying in the US, a Canadian educator with non-profit experience in Africa, and an academic/practitioner of Kenyan-origin who leads a Harvard-based program, Building State Capability. 

Uncovering Unseen Challenges in Kenya-Canada Trade

Our first thought was that the lack of a trade agreement was the major cause for limited trade between Kenya and Canada. However, when we broke down the problem of fledgling trade between the two countries into subproblems, we ended up with some causes we didn’t expect. (see fishbone diagram in figure 3).

One cause we noticed was the lack of capacity of Kenyan diplomats – in terms of technical knowledge and negotiation skills. Also, due to the frequent turnover of Kenyan officials, there was limited institutional memory. 

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