written by Salimah Samji
Implementation is hard. It is often the weakest link in the success of a policy or program. Yet, public policy education remains focused on teaching students to design and analyze policies. As Francis Fukuyama aptly wrote, “most programs train students to become capable policy analysts, but with no understanding of how to implement those policies in the real world,” and “the world is littered with optimal policies that don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of being adopted.”
BSC Faculty Director, Matt Andrews, has been teaching Getting Things Done: Management in a Development Context, at the Harvard Kennedy School for over a decade. In this course, students learn how public policy implementation can be improved and made more effective. They learn how to identify the nature of the implementation problem they are working on and then how to match their challenge to the appropriate management approach: plan and control, adaptive methods, and facilitated emergence. They also learn about blended approaches and how a “blend” would work.
In the face of complex implementation challenges, we believe that practitioners should be using more facilitated emergence methods, where the focus is on problems (not solutions), follows a step-by-step process (not a rigid long-term plan), and allows for flexible learning and adaptation (instead of control-oriented implementation). While many practitioners agree that more flexible approaches are needed, they do not know “how” to use alternative methods to plan and control. Our experience with direct policy engagements and executive training for development practitioners 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.
In response to this, we developed a new course module in 2018: PDIA in Action: Development through Facilitated Emergence. Our objective was to allow students to apply a research-oriented version of PDIA – to learn how to incorporate facilitated emergence within a rapidly applied team-based research strategy.
A key component of this course has been providing the students with an opportunity to work on real-world problems with people who are familiar with the PDIA approach. In the previous years, students have worked with government teams with whom we have had direct policy engagements. This year, we asked the alumni of our Implementing Public Policy (IPP) executive education program if they were interested in providing real-world policy problems they were facing and whether they wanted to be the authorizer or client for our students.Continue reading Bringing the Field to the Classroom: Learning to do PDIA in Practice