The survival of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) using PDIA

Guest blog by Tapasya Obhrai Nair

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.

The journey through the IPP course has been like the pilgrims’ progress. Every stop has given some insight and revelation and shown the path to the next stop or destination. I signed up for this course to learn from other practitioners of public policy about their experiences and the alternative ways of approaching problems. I felt that the course would equip me with new tools and methodologies to better understand issues and to find ways of addressing them. It has been more than a satisfying experience for me in this respect.

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Building a coordinated service delivery model using PDIA

Guest blog by Debra Porchia-Usher

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.

Initial Expectations

I entered IPP Online Course with excitement and with the expectation that guidance would be provided to simplify the proposed ‘public policy challenge’ facing myself and my colleagues. The timing was great, as my colleagues and I had recently committed to the design and execution of a coordinated service delivery model of human services. The authorizing team of 12-15 human service leaders, including myself, made a firm visionary statement (“if not now, when”), affirming the commitment to get this done. I was sure that a guidebook would assist the team to develop an outline that would lead to an immediate solution. Essentially, an opportunity made simple and I believed that we, as a diverse team of providers, had all the pieces in place were for immediate action: 1) strong partnerships, 2) a common vision and goal, 3) motivated supporters, 4) County Chief Executive Office support, 5) consultant resources, 6) diverse group of champions, 7) community commitment to pilot the model in four communities and 8) a project timeline. It became very clear in the first two week of lectures and the introduction of PDIA, that our team did not have a clear understanding of the complexity of our problem, nor did we have a concise problem statement reflective of the intended goal. Early on, it also became evident that PDIA offered the Fishbone Diagram as a tool to map out the known and unknown factors. The input of the technical support and from peers on the fishbone identified additional gaps in knowledge, potential missed entry point opportunities and critical stakeholders. In addition, the diagram generated input from the larger stakeholder group which subsequently led to further clarification on the resource gaps and small win opportunities. The use of the Fishbone Diagram promoted an expanded thought process, strategic thinking about the actual problem at hand and extensive consideration of cause and effect influence within both the planning and execution of response to a complex policy challenge. 

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Infusing fresh blood using PDIA in Nigeria’s Blood Services

Guest blog by Adaeze Oreh

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 the Harvard Kennedy School Implementing Public Policy programme, I thought I knew quite a bit about my policy challenge! I was applying to the programme basically to figure out new concepts and get new tools that would help me as Director of Planning for Nigeria’s Blood Services agency implement those ideas my organisation already had about solving Nigeria’s blood safety problem. You see, my country has a population of over 200 million people and for decades has been bedevilled by a frustrating lack of ready availability of safe blood to meet the country’s needs. This gap has contributed immensely to high maternal death rates, and the large number of children who die before the age of five. As an organisation, we had some ideas in our toolbox to address this, and I hoped IPP under Matt Andrews and the HKS faculty’s guidance would provide the magic bullet for implementation. I was not prepared for the level of insight that the course would provide.

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Debt Management Strategies in Kenya

Guest blog by Fredrick Oluoch Odhiambo

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.

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

When I expressed an interest in the Implementing Public Policy (IPP) at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Program, I was not sure I would get accepted, especially during these crises around the globe, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic that was ravaging the world indiscriminately. In terms of my expectations for the course, I thought it would be theoretical, book-oriented program with some interaction space and lots of academic work to do. To my surprise, the HKS program turned out to be an exciting experience that was not entirely theoretical, boring or book oriented. I really learned by engaging and participating through the groups and experiences of our professors.

My hope was that the IPP course would provide me with insight and new skills on how to navigate the political forum and how to be held in esteem with senior leaders to advance my initiative among the over one hundred other corporate priorities currently in-flight. I have never in my life been so captivated without getting distracted or weary from listening to a speaker. I was surprised to see a few key PDIA elements similar to the trainings I have received from other courses in my career. In particular, the cause and effect, or fishbone diagram approach to brainstorming true root causes of an issue which I have learned in the past 20 years in my education career. I finally learned from Matt Andrews the true nuances of why one couldn’t expect to apply the same approaches in the public sector with the same results.

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Complexities of multiple stakeholders in developing hydroelectricity in Pakistan

Guest blog by Masood Ul Mulk

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 lead a public service organization (nonprofit) working in the northwest border regions of Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan, known for its turbulence, delivering development and humanitarian aid. The government presence is thin on the ground and service delivery in the region remains poor. Government policies change rapidly, as individuals and personalities change in government. Institutional culture is weak in the area and policy and implementation revolve around networks and social relationships. Conflict, space allowed to public service organisations, turf issues between civilian and military authorities, conservative culture, tribal values, sectarian divides, all add up to the uncertainty and complexity of working in the region. As practitioners we face the conflicting challenge of, on one hand meeting the needs of the poor and vulnerable communities in an uncertain and complex environment; while on the other hand satisfying policy makers and donors, who because of their training and accountability requirements design policy solutions which are rigid and linear to address these problems with little success.  For us the challenge is explaining to them the complex situation on the ground and the need for an iterative, adaptive and learning approach to address the complexity.  Reading about PDIA, had convinced me that exposure to the course on implementing public policy at Harvard will help me better understand where the policy makers and donors are coming from, and how I should be convincing them to adopt a radically different solution to the intractable problems on the ground which was based on responsiveness, iteration and learning. I also know that if I, a practitioner on the border regions of Pakistan, say this it will carry very little weight, but if I have the Kennedy School to back me up it will be a different proposition altogether. In this sense the course was of immense help to me and to my organization. It clarified concepts and gave me the tools to address such issues in a better way.

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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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Improving Food Safety Standards in Ukraine

Guest blog by Kateryna Onul

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.

The COVID-19 crisis has coincided with reform within my organization and an urgent need to find new approaches to working with the public sector in different parts of the world. I was looking for tools that could help me continue working on improving policy and regulatory frameworks in the food safety sector despite the turbulence of the environment in all dimensions. 

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, it became clear that as economic ties changed and new political forces and scientific paradigms emerged, the need for new approaches to the development and implementation of public policies became acute. The COVID-19 crisis has become a catalyst that clearly shows areas where traditional approaches to implementing public policies are no longer efficient. I have read many times in various sources about the PDIA approach, which made it possible to find solutions to problems in the political dimension when there are many unknowns and uncertainties. I understood that completing the IPP Course would give me the opportunity to study PDIA both in theory and practice. Unfortunately, due to the intensive work schedule, I did not have the opportunity to leave for six months and immerse myself in student life. I took the opportunity to take the IPP Harvard Program Online as great luck that I did not miss.

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Flexibility and Learning in Times of Global Uncertainty

Guest blog written by Nahuel Arenas-García

Nahuel and his team from Costa Rica successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in May 2017.

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Between January and May 2017, authorities and technical staff of the Costa Rican National Risk Prevention and Emergency Management Commission (CNE, for its acronym in Spanish) joined staff of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), Regional Office for the Americas & the Caribbean, to analyze gaps in disaster loss and damages data-collection system using the Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) approach under Harvard University’s Building State Capability (BSC) program. The goal was to analyze challenges in the national data-collection system as a basis for the design of a capacity-building strategy for the implementation and monitoring of the National Disaster Risk Management Strategy, developed in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, the global blueprint for addressing disaster risk. Counting with reliable information about the impact of disasters is fundamental to understand risk, and understanding risk is a pre-requisite to address it effectively.

Among the many challenges involved in the development of disaster loss and damages databases are the criteria for data-collection, the quality of the data collected, the capacity of data collectors and the definition of roles and responsibilities for those involved in the process, including defining the institution that will consolidate and report the information. The PDIA methodology enabled the identification of crucial bottlenecks in these different dimensions and stages of the process and enabled the formalization of a multi-sectorial data collection system. As it was revealed in the exercise, an effective and accurate disaster loss and damages data collection system needs to result from a multi-sectorial effort at all levels, in this case led by the disaster management authorities. The capacity of one institution of government to lead such a multi-sectorial effort faces multiple institutional challenges, even when the normative framework in place assigns that institution the necessary mandate.

The nature of risk in the world has changed and is increasingly systemic, with complex interactions between the human, political and economic systems (e.g. international finance system, urbanization, global supply chains) and the natural systems.[1] Thus, to avoid fragmented responses to systemic problems, reducing disaster risk can only be achieved through a multi-sectorial, multi-actor effort. In this vein, Costa Rica’s institutional response to the COVID-19 pandemic has become an example of the role that disaster management authorities can play to bring different stakeholders together in the face of risk.

The multi-sectorial data collection system, alongside a solid normative framework, were steps in the right direction for Costa Rica. The collaboration between UNDRR and CNE to build data-collection capabilities has evolved since the application of the PDIA. The leadership of the CNE coordinating the response to COVID-19 has enabled and strengthened the multi-sectorial approach to disaster risk (of natural, anthropogenic or biological nature). Costa Rica will be the first country in the world to pilot the UNDRR-led Global Risk Assessment Framework (GRAF), an initiative to analyze the complexity and interconnectedness of risk in a determined country and bring together global expertise to synchronize data, methods, models, insights, practical tools and incentives in open collaboration. In this context of systemic risk and complexity, approaches to implement solutions to problems in small steps and learn in quick feedback loops are crucial to deal with uncertainty. As the Global Risk Assessment Report puts it, “Our flexibility must be as dynamic as the change we hope to survive”.


[1] Global Risk Assessment Report 2019, UNDRR.

PDIA Course Journey: Lagos Beats Plastic

Guest blog written by Emmanuel Adedeji Animashaun, Sedoten Agosa-Anikwe, Olumide Gregory Adeboye and Eriifeoluwa Fiyin Mofoluwawo

This is a team of development practitioners who work for the Lagos State Ministry of Environment and the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research. They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in May 2019. This is their story.

The 15-week long PDIA course has finally come to an end. And it has been a time of multiple discoveries and intensive learning for Team Lagos Beat’s Plastic.

Emmanuel had learned about the course from course alumni, who explained the many advantages the course holds for practitioners in the public sector. He discussed this information with other people and selected individuals who displayed interest in learning a new approach. Together we formed Team Lagos Beat’s Plastic. Selecting a team of like-minded individuals is partially responsible for the team’s success. And this is one of the important lessons we learnt in the earlier weeks of the course.

Our team consists of 4 individuals from different backgrounds, but who are directly involved with work related to the environment. Thus, agreeing on a problem to solve was quite easy because waste management, and especially indiscriminate plastic disposal in Lagos waterways, was an issue that already ‘stared us in the face’. Hence, we started the course with the mindset of learning what is different about the Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) approach, and what role it can play in solving the challenge we selected: plastic waste management in Lagos state, Nigeria. Plastic waste pollution/management is an issue that had not received the necessary attention from agents tasked with waste management. About 20% of total waste generated in Lagos is plastic, which suggests to us the (potential and) need for increased attention either for achieving a cleaner city or economic reasons (or both) if this problem is solved.

The Building State Capability book and other essential readings have been wonderful companions for our team. The first five weeks of the course involved individual work (assignments, reflections and graded discussions) in laying a foundation for the course and future teamwork. In those weeks, we all filled huge gaps in our knowledge of how change works. We also learnt about the big stuck faced by countries.

In those first few weeks, we learnt terms like administrative fact-fiction, isomorphic mimicry, transplantation, and premature load bearing. While these terminologies were new to us, their manifestations were not uncommon in our experience. And when we had completed the modules, we could easily identify these manifestations in various public sector interventions in our country, and outside (in literature). We also learnt that externally designed interventions cannot solve internal problems, where internal capabilities to implement and manage the solutions were low or absent. It was very surprising for us to discover that many of these (external) interventions were actually failing and the lesson for us was that throwing (only) money at a problem does not solve the problem (as we saw in the case of new country South Sudan which was a multi-billion dollar and multi-international agency intervention). And for our problem, we found an example of failed transplantation and isomorphic mimicry in existing waste management systems. Continue reading PDIA Course Journey: Lagos Beats Plastic

PDIA Course Journey: 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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