Working on trade in Mexico from Sao Paulo

Guest blog written by Oscar Benitez

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.

We all experienced the turmoil caused by Covid-19 in 2020. We will spend years trying to describe how it became a huge setback for every activity and economic sector. In my case, I spent several months putting on hold most of the projects of the year, to eventually seeing them fall down one by one. By May, we were more than discouraged: half of our yearly planning was already cancelled, and the other half was on the way to suffering the same fate. To make things worse, the end of it was not on sight. From every angle, 2020 was a devastating year.

But it was the year I went to Harvard.

My work in the Mexican Foreign Service is to deliver solutions to any problem that falls in my hands. I have done that during the last five years I have served in the Mexican Consulate in Sao Paulo. My work doesn’t have the glamour of policy drafting or high politics, and is more about identifying opportunities on the field, matching counterparts with the same interests and taking care of the mountains of paperwork that come after that.

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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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Deconstructing policy challenges using the fishbone

Guest blog written by Yilma Melkamu Alazar

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 came across the “Implementing Public Policy” course by chance while scrolling through my social media links. Reading through the course objectives, I immediately thought it might help me to find a way to solve some of my struggles. However, I was a bit skeptical since my field of practice is somehow sensitive and often relegated to the bottom list of policy priorities as politicians don’t want to openly and directly address it despite it is a denominator for the success of most of their agendas. So I was not sure such a short course, a full course for that matter, would help me to make a dent.

Nevertheless, I went ahead and enrolled hoping that a quick and ‘gold standard’ remedy would be found.

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Exploring Legal Education Reform in Ukraine

Guest blog written by Ilhom Aliyev, Yousif Folathi Alkhoori, Manoj Kumar, Mike Ramirez, Frederick Tarantino

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.

MLD 103MA: Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) in Action: Development Through Facilitated Emergence is among the best classes at Harvard Kennedy School. This hidden infinity stone, 2-credit class challenges you to solve real-world, complex problems using the PDIA approach.

The tried-and-true PDIA process puts a learning structure in the way we look at complexity in local contexts from multiple perspectives. From a high-level, implementation includes a step-by-step approach of breaking down problems into its root cause, finding entry points, searching for possible solutions, taking actions, reflecting on what you learned, adapting, and repeating until the true solution is developed. 

This semester, we were divided into teams to tackle real-world solutions. Our team, MY FM Inspiration, were given the challenge of examining legal education reform in Ukraine. Our authorizer was Artem Shaipov, a legal specialist and task leader for the USAID New Justice Program in Ukraine. In the first week, our team realized this problem had many dimensions to it. 

There was an abundance of information to consume, and competing literature on what the problem actually was with legal education. To make the problem more difficult, many of us came from western legal education structures, but the Ukrainian legal education structure was very different, and in many ways still based off a Soviet Union era paradigm. Our team dived thickly into the topic with great humility and was focused on gathering as much information and learning as fast as possible. Our first fishbone diagram had nearly ~50 ribs and reflected the discoveries we obtained after the first two weeks.

It was hard to see a clear picture at the beginning. We found ourselves trying to dig past fake problems and problems that were just a lack of a specific solution. It was clear that PDIA was the correct method to use in this case because there was nothing linear about the challenges and potential solutions facing legal education in Ukraine. We had to fight the urge to try and find answers too quickly. The problem seemed to have a hundred gaps that each required individual keys and mastery.

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Tackling Access to Affordable and Quality Childcare in Burien, Washington

Guest blog written by Harman Bhullar, Sasinat Chindapol, Crystal Collier, Doreen King, Jingli Yan

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 the problem …

In the dark, feeling for this shapeless beast,

Even when you think you know, do not be deceived,

Its ever-changing nature will make you question every move,

Build it up, break it down, and you shall find the truth.

When the ‘problem’ came to us, it was really a solution in the guise of a problem, for the original task was to make childcare in Burien a portable benefit that families could take with them. Even as we transformed it into a problem statement of families in Burien not having access to affordable and quality childcare, our problem construction work did not end there – we had painstakingly asked ourselves over and over again why this mattered and why it was a problem, not just a condition. Replicating this thought process with our authorizer Councilmember Kevin Schilling, we found that naming the distinction between the two created a pause and an opportunity for a deeper contemplation to give shape to the initially undefined problem.

Following the PDIA approach, we proceeded to problem deconstruction, which shed light on a number of insights, including underlying causes that did not seem to be obvious and inherent to the problem itself. Firstly, while stakeholders knew that affordable childcare was an issue, their understanding of its complexity was rather limited, contributing to insufficient motivation and urgency to take action. Secondly, the problem was not simply a lack of a solution, implying that no amount of expansion to Burien’s currently restricted budget will solve the childcare problem permanently. Our problem deconstruction pointed to much deeper societal issues that needed to be simultaneously or first addressed, including the need for a wider recognition that childcare is not an individual problem but in fact, one that weighs upon the community as a whole.

Fishbone Diagram

After we finally decided on three potential entry points to tackle first (awareness, lack of business support, and lack of city support), we began to fully appreciate the dynamicity of both the problem and the change space surrounding it. Through continually gathering information from a broad network of people and sources and updating our prior, we came face to face with the possibility that a change in one piece of information may trace back and require corrections to all of our past decisions. This realization, alongside the uncertainty that came with it, was difficult to embrace, and it also manifested in our AAA analysis. Kevin reminded us that authority, acceptance, and ability can change quickly, so does the feasibility of every solution that has been generated as a result of this analysis. It struck us that, perhaps we were too static in unpacking the problem and building the change space around the authorizer. Therefore, a dynamic mindset and an understanding of the problem as an evolving object, be it in the context of a six-week project or a five-year one, is an absolute necessity.

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Exploring Police and Community Relations in Lancaster, PA

Guest blog written by Anne Dietterich, Amreen Bashir, Awab Elmesbah, Giang Pham, Revanth Voothaluru, Seun Akinfolarin

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

We started MLD103M as six complete strangers scattered across three continents trying to learn better ways to tackle complex problems like those we expect to face in our careers. The class was different, though, from what we were used to. We were divided into teams, given real-life problems, and asked to learn in practice. Our project was on Community and Police relations in a city in the US. Over the seven weeks working on this, we experienced quite the journey!

The magnitude of the problem felt the biggest in the first week. When we had just learned about the topic and hadn’t started the process of learning about and understanding the problem, it was difficult for us to imagine what contributions we could make over seven weeks. We had a difficult time figuring out where to start. But it was also difficult not to understand the problem in simple terms: a mistrust between the police and the community that was the result of last summer events, including the police-involved shooting and killing of a resident in the city. At the beginning, the problem seemed as if it started last summer.

After receiving our brief and the initial set of meetings we buried our heads in desk research in the second week. We were trying to construct the problem is: what is the problem is, why does it matter, and how would it look if it were solved. We also had conversations with the authorizers on what they think the “solved problem” would look like. As one of them put it, “we want to build a bridge of communication back and forth with our community… it’s truly a concerted effort between community/police to improve our community”. The authorizers’ investment in solving the problem was a great motivation for the team.

During the third week, we were still relying on what we read from public documents and the media on what the problem is. We started deconstructing the problem and thinking about possible causes of the problem. We started developing a fishbone diagram for what we thought the causes and sub-causes might be. We were clear that these are hypotheses to test and that this was an early draft at breaking down the problem, but it was an important starting point. During this week we started reaching out to people and getting out of our team’s bubble.

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Tackling Blood Safety in Nigeria

Guest blog written by Allan Franklin, Dana Radojevic, Hesham Gaafar, Lauren Truong

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.

Over the past 8 weeks, we had the opportunity to work with the National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS) on the lack of safe blood in Nigeria. The lack of safe blood during emergencies such as car accidents or postpartum hemorrhages has led to high numbers of preventable deaths.

Upon learning about our project, we were afraid that our lack of knowledge and experience in public health would limit our progress, but the Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) process showed us how addressing major problems such the lack of safe blood in Nigeria requires learning on the fly, using the diverse perspectives and contributions of our teammates, and constantly reflecting and improving on our work.

Here are some of our key learnings:

Focus on the problem, not the solution.

It is our nature as humans to be solution-oriented and not problem-focused. Is the lack of safe blood in Nigeria due to the low number of voluntary donors the problem? Or is it a combination of supply-sideand demand-side factors? Instead of assuming what the possible solutions could be, the PDIA process slowed us down and forced us to get uncomfortable and ask hard questions. This helped us identify the problem at hand and helped us construct our fishbone diagram.

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Implementing Reparations in Asheville, North Carolina

Guest blog written by Bethany Dill, Isabel Mejia Fontanot, Kent Shi, Kerianne DiBattista

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

MLD103, otherwise known as “PDIA in Action”, is a one-of-a-kind experience at HKS. On day one, we were randomly assigned teammates we would spend the next 7 weeks working with and given a problem to focus on. Quickly, we needed to get to know one another, build trust, and become experts in racial justice and how city governments operate.

Tasked with exploring viable funding mechanisms to enable the Asheville reparations process to progress, our team waded into a conceptualization of “the problem” that, we soon realized, was just a tributary flowing into a larger set of circumstances and hurdles. This early lesson served as a road sign reminding us to be ready to rethink at any time, framing our discoveries about policy and problem-solving along the way.

The Power of Iteration in Coping with Uncertainty

Approaching a task like implementing reparations for four centuries of harm inflicted on the Black community in the United States can be daunting to say the least. It’s instinctual to want to take it slow, refining all of the details of a comprehensive plan before it goes into action in order to ensure that it is done well and done correctly. At the same time, justice delayed is often justice denied. Advocates are justifiably trying to capitalize on the momentum of the moment given the unprecedented support for reparations. But there’s a reason reparations have never been implemented at such a scale before: we don’t know how. Never before has a society tried to repair numerous years and countless incidents of harm, but many of the disparities facing the Black community are centuries in the making, not the result of one isolated event.

Iteration gives us a way to cope with this very uncertainty. Accepting that we do not know the right answer can liberate us from the burden of needing to be right. We know that we’re not going to get it right immediately because the problem isn’t that simple. Rather, we have decomposed the problem and formulated small, incremental steps that we think could make a difference. If we’re wrong, that’s okay. We haven’t sunk years of time and energy into any one idea. After a week or two, we can stop, reflect, and refocus. As we try new things, we’ll learn more and more about what a solution could look like. Eventually, the uncertainty will disappear and a solution will be within our reach.

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Teaching an Experiential Problem-based Class Online during the Pandemic

written by Salimah Samji

MLD 103M Students and their authorizers at the final class presentations on March 11, 2021

BSC Faculty Director Matt Andrews and I have been co-teaching PDIA in Action: Development through Facilitated Emergence at the Harvard Kennedy School since 2018. This is a field-lab class where students learn a research-oriented version of PDIA by working on real-world public problems – they learn by doing. The students work together in teams with an authorizer/client who gives them a problem to work on.

This year we had to teach this class virtually with students, as well as authorizers, based all around the world. We converted a 3-hour class on Monday evenings into two 75-minute classes on Tuesday and Thursday. To accommodate the various time zones, we offered two sections of the class. One at 7:30am and one at 4:30pm. Each week, students were required to complete a self-study module as well as a related assignment before class on Tuesday. We would review the assignments and use them to provide feedback, clarify concepts and answer any burning questions on the content, in our class session. The student teams would then meet on Thursday to complete their group assignment. Essentially, they went through the weekly content three times – on their own, in class with us, and in their teams – allowing for deeper engagement and learning.   

Learning from our experience last year, we asked the alumni of our HKS Implementing Public Policy (IPP) Executive Education program, if they wanted to nominate problems and work with our students. Eight IPP alumni, William Keith Young, Adaeze Oreh, Milzy Carrasco, Kevin Schilling, Artem Shaipov, George Imbenzi, David Wuyep, and Raphael Kenigsberg, who had been trained on PDIA and implementation, signed up to work with our students. They assigned the following challenges to our students:

  • Implementing reparations in Asheville, North Carolina
  • Tackling blood safety in Nigeria
  • Exploring police and community relations in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
  • Access to affordable childcare in Burien, Washington
  • Legal education reform in the Ukraine
  • Exploring trade between Kenya and Canada
  • Abandoned projects in Nigeria
  • Radicalization in France
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