Friendship, Energy, Innovation and Community: The Heart of the IPP Community and Fuel for Good

Guest blog written by Isabel Fontoura, Nadia Islam, Bandi Mbubi, Doran Moreland

What makes people not run away from but run towards challenges to get things done when facing complex policy problems? Although any sole answer is unlikely to cover all of the nuances of the question we pose to you at the start of our final post as your IPP Community of Practice (CoP) moderators, we do have a hint that is at the core of our community: seeing others move in the same direction. As a group, we believe that failing is ok and failing forward is even better; that taking risks is scary but can be truly rewarding; and, most importantly, that having a trust circle to share the successes and navigate the bumps of policy implementation, is what will ultimately enable innovation. It is also what will offer the extra boost one needs to do great things.

Such drive to deliver great work is especially needed in our world right now, as countries and communities battle the health and economic challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. But, if we are to build back better effectively and not only in rhetoric, this will have to be done by people. By you. That’s why the chance to read the blog posts of community members that were published during the semester and share information about them in our weekly announcements was a high point of this role for the four of us. It confirms that the IPP cohorts of 2019 and 2020 have come together as one, with a strong, collective voice and ready to fuel change in complex environments, inspiring others all around the globe to do so as well. 

This brings us to an African proverb we find an excellent fit for who we are as an IPP community: “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together”. As moderators, we found new friends in our personal development and continuous learning in the first semester of 2021, and we have had a chance to know more about colleagues that were new to us. We were also excited to facilitate monthly sessions in which our collective learning (about ourselves, others, and public policy tools) grew stronger, including sessions with Rob Wilkinson and Monica Higgins that allowed the community to be updated on their latest research in the field. Other sessions focused on the self-care of community members and discussions about the next steps in our PDIA journeys after the program.

In between moderator engagements to prepare these events and idea exchanges ahead of our announcements, we can assure you: being a CoP moderator was truly fun, and for that, we are also grateful. At the start, despite Salimah Samji and Anisha Poobalan´s kind words of wisdom, support, and superb planning skills, we were nowhere close to knowing exactly what we would do: we would brainstorm ideas about how to host events for days or have pretty herculean reflections on what size the announcements should be. But having a cultural and professional melting pot between us – nationals from the United States, Brazil, Congo, and Bangladesh with different career stories – confirmed that letting go of pre-ordered templates is a way to heaven and opens the door for authenticity and uniqueness. As moderators, we learned with each other and for each other. 

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Reflections on the Importance of Community: A Message from our IPP Moderators

Guest blog written by Doran Moreland

We live in complicated times occupied with strident partisanship, disinformation, social division, endless cyber distractions, and work and family interactions that are consigned to computer screens. Taking all these factors into account, the idea of forming and maintaining a community is in itself a radical act.  Nearly two years ago, I enrolled in the HKS Implementing Public Policy Program to learn new skills to advance my career.  Always eager to learn, my expectations were centered on professional development.  This was to be an academic pursuit, not a social one.  Although the course delivered academically, what I did not consider were the gifts of friendship, mentorship and candor I would receive from the 2019 IPP cohort.

With thousands of miles separating many of us, with myriad careers, roles and forms of government represented within our group, the word community seems an unlikely fit.  But that is precisely what I’ve found.  Connection, support, reinforcement, empowerment, these are the qualities of healthy communities that completely reflect the spirit of the hardworking and endlessly optimistic cohort that I am a part of.  Within my cohort in the past two years, I’ve witnessed job promotions, weddings, the loss of loved ones and needed voices of support during uncertain periods.

I too have experienced many changes by starting a new career and job during the global pandemic. I have yet to meet my co-workers in person, or see the office that I’ll work from someday.  Needless to say, the IPP community has been a constant for me, providing professional insights, laughs, and a sounding-board for wild ideas that turn out to be quite doable with the appropriate tools, attitude and support.  If I have learned anything over the past two years, it is that anything long-lasting should never be done alone.  Although each week presents new challenges, they are not insurmountable when you remember you are supported by many who are rooting for your success. 

Caring for a Community of Practice

written by Anisha Poobalan

All IPP Community of Practice Moderators (January 2020-June 2021)

Communities of Practice come in all shapes and sizes. But no matter how large, how diverse, how global, as the name suggests the key word here is community. The Implementing Public Policy Community of Practice (IPP CoP) was formed in December 2019. It surprises me every time I think about this; it does not feel like it has just been a little over a year. In fact, I feel like I have known this community forever. 

We have become a global family over the past year sharing exciting news like promotions, marriage, births, but we have also grieved together over lost family members, neighborhood attacks, job loss, and so much more. So why do we share these big moments with people we spent one week with (class of 2019) or have never even met in real life (class of 2020)?

A family member recently said something that stuck with me: “It is not about the carrot or the stick, but rather about the heart”. This describes the IPP Community of Practice in a nutshell. We have repeatedly brainstormed and discussed ways to engage members or incentivize them to join sessions, but ultimately, those who genuinely care for others in this community show up.

Now that you have a sense of what type of Community of Practice we are creating, here are a few of my reflections after managing this group for the past year.

  • Adapt through every season

From the moderators to current affairs to the age of the CoP, there are many factors that affect the season of a CoP’s life. The IPP CoP was founded in December 2019. Four moderators from four different regions were appointed to lead and care for this budding community. It was an exciting time of experimenting, learning, and adapting. We were all relatively new to this and were determined to build a strong foundation. In July 2020, it was time to transition over to the next group of moderators. By this time COVID had taken the world by storm and life seemed to be this uncomfortable combination of change, anxiety, isolation, and impending loss. I felt it, the moderators felt it, the community at large felt it. Zoom fatigue was a concept we became familiar with very quickly, so engaging a Community of Practice that operates purely online was challenging to say the least. However, amidst their own personal and professional struggles, our set of moderators took on the challenge and were determined to serve their community by creating a space of positivity, comfort, and encouragement for everyone else.

Last December, we had a group of 140 alumni from the Implementing Public Policy program join the community. It has been a learning process for our moderators as they work together to merge the two groups while also maintaining the tight-knit relationships that exist within each cohort. We have had to rely more on supportive members to take the lead on community events and initiatives. This is a work in progress and will continue to be so with each new phase the CoP enters. The ability to adapt, be flexible, and support each other through every stage is so important for our moderators and community members alike.

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Building a Movement of Public Problem Solvers

written by Salimah Samji

Solving public problems is a hard and thankless job. One that is undertaken with a shortage of time as well as resources, and often under pressure to deliver results. A common approach used to solve public problems is to develop a plan, sometimes with experts, and then to assume that implementation will happen on autopilot. To quote Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.” The question is, what do you do after you get punched? Continue with your existing plan? Or do you learn from the punch? 

In the face of complex and interconnected public problems, approaches like plan and control often fail to provide results. We believe that flexible approaches which focus on problems, follow an iterative process, and allow for learning and adaptation are better suited. While public problem solvers agree, they often lack the know-how and tools to use alternative methods to plan and control. In addition to these capabilities, public problem solvers also find themselves feeling lonely and isolated. As Kirsten Wyatt, co-founder of Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) said in a recent podcast, “everyone is not lucky enough to be married to a bureaucrat.”

Our experience in training development practitioners and working directly with governments around the world, has taught us that action learning is crucial for building the muscle memory of solving complex problems: the only way to learn is by doing. We have learned that you cannot solve these problems alone – you need a team. However, working collaboratively is neither obvious nor innate. It is yet another muscle that needs to be built. You also need to engage with diverse stakeholders and constantly navigate difficult conversations which requires particular skills.  

Putting our learning into practice

Drawing from our experience, BSC designed Harvard Kennedy School’s first blended learning Executive Education Program Implementing Public Policy (IPP), in 2019. The objective of this 7-month program was to equip public problem solvers around the world, with the skills, tools, and strategies needed to successfully implement policies and programs. Participants were required to identify an implementation problem that they could work on resolving over the period of the program. The program was divided into four phases:

Phase 1: Online preparatory work. (May 2019). In this phase, participants completed two online modules that helped them reflect on their problem and to think about public policy success and failure. 

Phase 2: Learning the theory in the classroom. (June 2019). In this phase, participants explored the conditions under which different implementation methods like plan and control, adaptive management or agile, and facilitated emergence or PDIA, should be used. They also learned how to work collaboratively in teams, how to engage in difficult conversations, as well as, leadership, and management skills. The faculty included: Matt Andrews, David Eaves, Monica Higgins, Salimah Samji and Rob Wilkinson. We also invited Ganga Palakatiya and Alieu Nyei, whom we had worked with in Sri Lanka and Liberia, to share their experience trying to operationalize PDIA in their governments. Anisha Poobalan, who had worked with us in Sri Lanka as a PDIA coach, and had led our efforts to help build a community with the alumni of our PDIA online course, joined us to support the program participants in the action learning phase. 

Phase 3: Action learning in practice. (July – November 2019). In this phase, participants returned to their countries to apply the new tools and strategies they had learned to their implementation problems. They built teams, worked on self-study online modules, completed assignments and attended virtual peer learning group meetings every month.

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