PDIA Course: Alumni are already practicing what they learned

written by Salimah Samji

We offered 4 free PDIA online courses between November 2015 and June 2016. They were well received and 365 people, living in 56 countries, successfully completed the courses.


In January 2017, we surveyed the 365 PDIA course alumni to learn whether (and how) they are using PDIA in their day-to-day lives. 113 (31%) of them, living in 36 countries, responded to the survey. This includes people who work for donors, governments, consulting firms, private sector firms and NGOs.

Here’s what we found:

  • 96% of the respondents have used the key concepts, ideas, and tools.
  • 91% have shared the ideas, concepts, and tools with others. They have shared with co-workers, bosses, and friends; led study and discussion groups;  conducted workshops and trainings; and one organization used the content to train others at an annual retreat!
  • 85% have achieved something by doing PDIA. 

The findings and concrete examples that were shared in the survey have been awe inspiring. People learned the key ideas/concepts/tools we taught, are using them in their work, and are teaching others.

We plan to offer another round of free PDIA online courses soon – stay tuned!

Here are some of the things the course alumni had to say.

I think just appreciating a more building block approach to issues has offered more practical and realistic ways of working.  It has meant accepting that progress may be slower than desired but likely to be more sustainable, because you are starting at the root of the problem and you are working with the grain of political support. – DFID Governance Adviser, Nigeria

The PDIA helped transformed the way I see development administration and governance. I now use a systems thinking frame of mind to see problems and not just throw solutions at them. As professor Clayton Christensen will say, “WHAT IS THE JOB TO BE DONE?” No matter how elegant or beautiful an introduced solution is, if it does not solve people’s problem then it is useless. – Head of business development, Inteliworx Technologies, Nigeria

Before the course, I was approaching problems (ie. corruption) as a large problem to be solved with a complex approach. PDIA taught me to look at the complexities of the problem, the different interests and barriers and how to focus efforts on areas that might actually be amenable to incremental change.  I learned that any program must assess the environment and devote resources where they will be effective.  Analysis of the problem, players and barriers is key before expending resources. – Development Consultant based in Canada

The PDIA course offered some variation in how to think through and act on development problems. As I said in my summing up of the source it is an approach that can be either used in full or parts of it can be merged in with other approaches depending on the context in which one is working/consultingDevelopment Practitioner based in Australia

Registration for the first PDIA online course is closed

Would you like a how-to guide to make your organization more effective?

We are delighted to announce PDIA: Building Capability by Delivering Results, a free two-part experiential online course that will provide you with the necessary frameworks and tools that you need to do PDIA (Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation) in your context. Watch the course preview video below.

The first part will be offered from November 8-December 20, 2015 and will include video lectures, reading lists, assignments, reflection exercises as well as peer interaction. We estimate that the effort required will be between 3-5 hours a week. While this course is online, we hope that people in countries and organizations will take this course together as a team. We will issue certificates to those who complete the course. Only those who complete Part I will be eligible to take Part II of the course which will be offered in early 2016. Enrollment is limited. If you are interested, please register here.


In many developing countries the capability of the state to implement its policies and programs is a key constraint to improving human development. Many reform initiatives fail to achieve sustained improvements in performance because organizations pretend to reform by changing what policies and organizational structures look like rather than what they actually do. Donor countries provide scripts for ‘best practice’ and the recipient countries ‘act’ to comply, putting on the appearance of change without changing. Too often, they are asked to perform tasks that are too complex and too burdensome, thus hindering the emergence of domestic, organically evolved, functional organizations. These countries end up stuck in a capability trap.

To escape this trap, we propose an alternative approach—Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA)—as a way to build real state capability. The PDIA approach argues that we don’t need more “experts” selling “best practice” solutions in the name of efficiency and the adoption of global standards; what we need instead are organizations that generate, test and refine context-specific solutions in response to locally nominated and prioritized problems; we need systems that tolerate (even encourage) failure as the necessary price of success. PDIA is about building capability through the process of solving problems. PDIA emphasizes solving, not solutions.