IPP Program Journey: Lost in Authorization

Guest blog written by Marcello Milanello

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 7-month blended learning course in December 2019. These are their learning journey stories.

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“The more you know who you are and what you want, the less you let things upset you”. Despite the advice from Bob Harris, a protagonist role played by a melancholic Bill Murray, in the movie ‘Lost in translation’, he remains pessimistic and bland for the entire journey of the movie. While in Japan, in a reality that seems so different, Bob is lost not because of language or time zone, but because of his meaningless life back in California.

My PDIA journey was mainly focused on key external actors – the Japanese piece of my job: technical partners, mayors, city office staffers, and co-investors. Since I had the backup of my organization – both in terms of legitimacy and resources – it was under my governance to establish a pathway to reach our intended goals.

Anticipating a bumpy road, as it is usually when dealing with complex problems and organizations such as city offices, I had to find support. That was the reason why I attended the Implementing Public Policy (IPP) course and got acquainted with the PDIA methodology: it was a way to deal with the unknown, a common ground in the Japanese step of my mission.

Preparing myself to Japan

I knew I would face uncertainty along the process of establishing a new role for Arapyaú Foundation to support local governments. I was hired in early December of 2018 with the mission to drive the experimentation during 2019 in establishing partnerships with municipal governments to increase their capacity through innovation. I had a great direct authorizer, resources to hire a small team and freedom to establish the pathway. The perfect setting for this journey.

Despite great conditions, I was still looking for ways to increase the internal knowledge of my organization to deal with public policy implementation. By far, the most valuable resource I could find was the IPP Program. My first and somehow unambitious move was to send the program brochure to my boss, the foundation director. She was not only convinced to support me but, most importantly, she decided to participate in it. Another great step in this journey: she would support me even more after understanding the complexity of implementing public policies. We were ready to roll.

As for myself, I was worried about the challenges of how to deal with different settings of four cities that would-be partners in our journey to increase their capabilities to solve complex problems. I was about to begin partnering with mayors in June and the timing was perfect for the program.

First sparks were amazing:

  1. Diagnosing the failure of policies: having worked for almost ten years in different governmental agencies, I got used to policy failure. How often it happens and possible reasons for that were major questions I had. Matt Andrew’s paper on Public Policy Failure: ‘How often’ and ‘What is failure, anyway?’ provided a warm feeling of not being alone in this.
  2. The duality between a plan & control approach and something else, bringing the waterfall vs. agile debate over tech projects to the public arena.
  3. The graph where functionality and legitimacy are expanded in synchrony, moving as a staircase from left-bottom to top-right started to demonstrate how long and careful the mission is – and above all, how important it is to take care about the process.

The week-long module in Massachusetts helped me move from the diagnosis to possible paths to act. There, I learned that:

  1. It is all about implementation – I should strategize to a certain point, but mainly being very disciplined in learning and delivering, in a cyclic manner.
  2. Even though I had legitimacy from mayors and support from local government department’ heads, I should incrementally look for more room to deliver.
  3. Since I would be running the program in each city, having this authorization placed in my team instead of me would be even better – and I would have to work even harder for it to happen.
  4. Doing something is better than doing nothing – even if it seemed a short step or even a wrong one: you learn from it.

After the week in Boston, being energized and focused on my journey, I had only one way to go: forward!

The expected unknown in Japan

The week after I arrived from Boston the projects were kicked off in the first two cities we partnered: Aracaju and Caruaru.

After a few weeks of building up the team, refining the strategy and selecting the subjects we would for those two cities, we kicked off in the other two: Cachoeiro and Blumenau (see photo above).

Since the beginning of the four partnerships, my team constantly used the PDIA approach to deal with the uncertainty that we faced in four different settings. The major takeaways we found during the implementation of the program were:

  1. Understanding how to disarm those who believe they have the solution ahead of problems – asking the right questions, bringing data and analysis and building up arguments so we could dig deeper into the problem.
  2. To lower the expectations of achieving impactful results in a short period of time when dealing with complex problems: it is very rare to have simple solutions for complex problems and we should acknowledge it from the beginning.
  3. Making the decision to invest time and people in the problem definition phase is key to accrue better results along the way.
  4. Spending time to deal with people that are neutral or not-enthusiastic to the project will eventually remove barriers that could have become insurmountable.

Being in four different parts of Japan – still insisting on the parallelism with the movie mentioned in the first paragraph – started to feel comfortable. I had learned a method on how to deal with uncertainty and I am sure that learning will be on my side in many journeys of my professional life.

Somehow, I feel that it was already part of me, but now I have a method to analyze and iterate with multiple actors. I felt more empowered to do so and my team completely bought it. We were understanding how hard it was and we were able to start moving things forward – with some variance across the four cities, of course.

…and then it is all about California

Everything was going well in Japan until something shakes in California.

The seemly solid foundation of my authorizers fell apart. While having a map of external authorizers and partners that would lead to the higher impact of the intervention I was involved with, I had lost sight of the risk of not having my internal authorizers backing me up anymore.

My direct authorizer left the organization and I started from scratch with the chairman of the board, inquiring me about the road we have taken. I had no idea how or if he was being informed about our program, while quickly learning he had little or no knowledge about it. I felt I didn’t have the correct narrative or that I could not understand his viewpoints: he was a major authorizer and I had never reached out to him before!

As usual, I kept asking myself if I should have acted differently and how to learn from this experience. Eventually, I have reached a few conclusions:

  1. I have used PDIA properly in a great number of situations, but I should have kept alert for changes in my own organization.
  2. Despite having built a great coalition of actors – my teams, partners, investors – I had missed sincere critics of my work. It would have made my narrative stronger and I could have more tools to deal with distrust and more structural questions.
  3. I felt that I had the correct internal environment, but I knew I was under the board radar. I felt it was something good for a while, so it would give me time to achieve results and built a narrative. Should I have acted differently, stating more and communication up often from the beginning? Still looking for that answer.

I have gone full PDIA oriented for the challenges faced at each municipality. I have hired people and contracted partners that were willing to take this bumpy road with me. Overall, I had a great team and great partners to move forward.

I will have results and transform a huge amount of lives by the end of 2020 – but there is a high risk that the program will be faced as a “failure experience”. I am still moving on to build this internal environment and I am sure I will have to go even deeper into the PDIA approach, especially with the new COVID-19 crisis.

In the end, I feel very distant from the ‘Suntory Time!’, as the ad played by Bob Harris in Japan during the movie.

To learn more about Implementing Public Policy (IPP) watch the course and testimonial video, listen to the podcast, and visit the course website.

 

IPP Program Journey: Changing the Way we do Business, through Data Sharing

Guest blog written by Rachel Cychosz

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 7-month blended learning course in December 2019. These are their learning journey stories.

Sharing. It’s the concept of “using, occupying, or enjoying something jointly with others” or “giving a portion of something to others”. It’s a concept that I’m confident most people learned as young children. It’s a simple concept, that’s why we learn it as children, because it’s something that can be understood without substantial explanation or justification, and as children it just makes sense. Why then, does sharing seem to be such a complex challenge for adults?

Working in government is a unique and interesting journey, always navigating to find a balance between meeting the demands of a political machine that yearns for immediate change to prove the success of their regime (often without understanding, advocating for, or appropriating the resources necessary to adequately address the request) and being able to spend sufficient time thinking through a given problem to find the best solution. Over the past seven years, I’ve worked in both policy development and more direct program management. I’ve struggled with different challenges, but ultimately found that much of it comes down to the same issues – how we choose to approach a problem.  Too often, the programs and policies that I’ve worked with approach problems with a direct to solution approach. More often than not, without much if any, consideration for the root cause of the problem, a “solution” is identified and pursued. There are any number of shortfalls that come out of this approach, but the most obvious is that it often only scratches the surface of the problem, resulting in (often another) failed attempt at a novel idea, which discourages program staff and disincentivizes innovation.

Going into this course, I was seeking a fresh perspective and a different way to think about and approach the problems I was facing in my program. Thinking back over the time since starting the course, PDIA was so appealing to me because it offered a mechanism to address exactly what I had been so frustrated about, but hadn’t been able to articulate a solution to addressing. The concept of not looking at something as one single problem, but diving into it more deeply to get to the root cause, find entry points, and apply an iterative approach to problem solving, was enlightening. It offered a different way of thinking, that so effectively changed the way we could approach new projects and program development.

Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Changing the Way we do Business, through Data Sharing

IPP Program Journey: PDIA is a Journey about How to Engage

Guest blog written by Eleanor Sarpong 

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 7-month blended learning course in December 2019. These are their learning journey stories.

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My first reaction when I was introduced to the course on IPP via email was hesitation- “Really how different will this course be to others on implementing public policy?” I asked. I was particularly anxious to know how to navigate the political minefield that often hamper public policy implementation. So, I applied for this course with high hopes to understand what new ideas I could adopt to help me with delayed policy implementation in my role as an external advisor to governments on ICT policies and strategies.

What I received in this course however, was eye opening and surpassed my expectations.  From the outset of the course, I was challenged to think differently with the concept of the Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) approach. The cherry on the cake was the wonderful classmates I met, all of whom are working on some remarkable but complex policies and projects such as establishing a Ministry of Peace in a country emerging from years of near autocracy and recent civil unrest, to fighting land grabbers in the Amazon, or getting politicians to understand the impact of Brexit on the financial industry in the UK to implementing an investor drive for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in a Middle Eastern country.

I joined this course with preconceived notions about how public policy implementation should be – following the plan and control approach commonly used in projects. What I left with however, was a new way of looking at implementing policy through a problem driven iterative approach that was agile in its format.  The entire PDIA process has been really insightful from looking at problem identification differently, and unearthing the underlying causes of a problem which are often multi faceted. In reality I’ve learnt that the policy implementation process is not a logical process. One can go back and forth on each stage but the learning or iterations is what makes this approach more engaging. An interesting part of this programme was applying the knowledge of the 5whys to the develop a fishbone diagram which gave me visual representation of the underlying causes of my chosen policy problem of poor and inadequate broadband in many parts Ghana. The next stage was searching for entry points based on the Triple A framework – Ability Authority and Acceptance. I’ve learnt to navigate the fine balance needed between legitimacy (measure of how the public perceives or accepts the policy and often judges the policy’s effectiveness) and functionality (the measure of the “what and why” a policy intervention is being pursued and to what extent that policy intervention resolves the problem or objective identified) and I know that it is not a linear process but zigzag in reality. Another powerful takeaway I took from this course is knowing the power of negotiation and having humility to confront difficult decisions and biases. I still remember vividly the day we were taught how to confront the problem of discrimination and inherent biases that rear up in some policies and how to tackle these through tactful negotiation and smart concessions.

This programme challenged me to redefine my policy problem and to focus. I discovered something new about my policy challenge during the problem construction and deconstruction phase of the process when two representatives from the regulator (who were directly linked to my challenge) pinpointed trust issues as an underlying cause that needed to be addressed. Subsequently I have been working with them to tackle this problem. Our review of the Everest Case Study amplified team roles and responsibilities in a way I had not considered. It forced me to evaluate the team I had assembled for my policy challenge and reassign roles. The process has however not been easy. One of the hardest part of my policy implementation journey has been managing the stakeholder relationships and ensuring continuous motivation for those who are part of this process, to stay on course. One complaint I continue to receive is that this process is too involving and time consuming.  While I’m self-motivated, getting my internal team to continue to support this new way of approaching policy was a challenge. When my internal team started losing momentum as the process moved slowly I knew I had to step in. The modules on motivation, follow up group conversations and Anisha’s blog on motivation helped me realise this turn of events was nothing new. I’ve tried to build a safe space by encouraging individual members of my team to candidly share what is working in our process and what is not. One common thread was the lack of time to pursue the iterative learning with our external stakeholders because we worked remotely. E.g. attempting to have calls with key stakeholders in poor bandwidth areas was frustrating. After we listed all the problems we collectively tried to find solutions or new ideas to address this challenge. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: PDIA is a Journey about How to Engage

IPP Program Journey: PDIA Application in the Private Sector

Guest blog written by Mitchell Rusu

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 7-month blended learning course in December 2019. These are their learning journey stories.

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What an incredible journey this has been!

Coming into this course, I really didn’t know what to expect.  I was excited about attending classes at Harvard Kennedy School, but did not realise the tremendous learning opportunity that was awaiting me.

I’ve been working in the private sector my entire career (over twenty years) across many different industries, different countries, and multiple continents, and always for the best companies within their respective industries.  Along the way, I have encountered various methods of problem-solving, challenge-resolution, and workflow-mapping.  You could say that I thought I’d seen every leadership and management approach there was.

Yet, I have been pleasantly surprised to discover how useful this course would be to my development as a leader. While conceding that some aspects of the course were not entirely unfamiliar, the way they were brought together and packaged in such a powerful problem-solving approach that could be applied to any type of complex situation came as a great surprise and as a learning opportunity – a fresh way of looking at the tools in my cupboard.

Although the initial aim of this course was to teach us how to raise awareness of social problems and implement public policies that would ensure a sustainable long-term response, in my opinion, this course has taught us much more practical, hands-on skills.  In this course we have learned a problem-solving methodology that can be applied in various fields, industries, or even our personal lives, whenever and wherever we face complex situations.

I have learned how powerful and engaging we can become by knowing how to appropriately construct a problem and present it in a way that engages multiple stakeholders, how to create powerful teams without formal authority over the members of the team, how to acquire authority from authorisers, how to progress in solving a complex problem in a non-linear way, and how to overcome roadblocks such as bureaucratic organisational structures that can affect your efficiency and ability to engage stakeholders.

Case Study: How I applied My HKS skills to a Banking Industry problem:

At the beginning of the course we were asked to think about a challenge or a project that we could work on over the following months by approaching it in a different way; the “Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation” (PDIA) way. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: PDIA Application in the Private Sector

IPP Program Journey: Jumping the Wall

Guest blog written by Mohamed Hejres

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 7-month blended learning course in December 2019. These are their learning journey stories.

I applied for this course as I was seeking clarity on best practice and innovation that would support my organization. The issue that I had identified was the methods that the Bahrain government adopted towards addressing, designing, advocating and implementing public policy initiatives. I was seeking ways that my organization, the Bahrain Economic Development Board (BEDB), could be an effective part of the government process.

The Bahrain Economic Development Board became an advisory body (exclusive to the government), to support policy advocacy and policy implementation. This came after a major restructuring of the government. However, I found that our role could be more efficient.

I felt that we, BEDB, require adding value, as I saw a standard approach towards any policy. This is done through a single project manager, where he/she would request for a benchmarking activity with issue in hand. No innovation nor engagement processes, which is commonly used internationally.

I saw an opportunity in this course. Little did I know that this was going to be a life changing experience. I felt excited once I was accepted into the program. The excitement had no limit, but I was concerned about whether this course would really benefit my hunger to bring some more effective methods to how we, in Bahrain government, deal with policy development and/or policy change.

The method of which the course started had enabled me to start with enthusiasm, especially the course material and videos which we had before the start of the course in Boston.

Also, it will be unfair to limit learnings of this course to few. I would start with the main word that attracted me to this experience, “iterative adaptation”. I have been practicing policy development and change, where I had understood some part of the Iterative Adaptation; however, this has enabled me to have a clear path towards employing it and involving teams in such an approach. My colleagues in this course were amazing, they shared all their views and many success, and many times, failures as well. This was an amazing experience and learning curve for me. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Jumping the Wall

IPP Program Journey: Don’t be Afraid to Change

Guest blog written by Joshua Higginbotham

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 7-month blended learning course in December 2019. These are their learning journey stories.

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Coming into the course, I felt overconfident in my own policy-making abilities. Now, I realize that I don’t know as much as I thought I did, and that’s a good thing! My assumptions about the course were that it would be like any other professional development experience, the cliché “trust fall” exercises included. However, it was far more interactive and policy oriented than I imagined, and the best part was that we discussed systems changes.

Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) was the most useful method we learned. In my government’s structure, we meet very often to discuss and contemplate ideas, we travel and work year-round to get ideas from constituents and key stakeholders. However, we only have a very brief, couple month window at the beginning of every year to actually change the law. This drives away innovation and stifles the learning process. This course has inspired me to change that by introducing a Constitutional Amendment allowing for shorter, more often sessions throughout the year so we can learn and adapt every few months rather than once per year.

My problem became many problems throughout this learning process. The fishbone method in particular taught me to break down the problem to truly identify where West Virginia’s shortcomings are. For example, before my Harvard experience, I believed that only job-creation and economic development could change our state; while that is still true, I learned that it takes a myriad of changes to fully transform the state. We have health and wellness attainability standards to meet, infrastructure to rebuild, as well as education and workforce development innovations that must be made. Companies are certainly attracted to our state because of our pro-business reforms but bringing up our own people to unleash their inner entrepreneurship will not occur like we want it to until we attack those other problems mentioned above.

Every legislative session, I would normally only be the lead sponsor on two or three big bills that did overarching changes or improvements, yet the impact would be minimal or gaining support would be difficult. Now, my focus is on the smaller problems. This coming year, I will have around 50 bills for consideration, each making small but meaningful changes that can get more buy-in from stakeholders and are easier pills to swallow than sweeping reforms. This course—the PDIA method in particular—is the reason I am making this change.

Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Don’t be Afraid to Change

IPP Learning Journey: PDIA Helped Me Find My Way and My Voice

Guest blog written by Yasmine Robinson

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 7-month blended learning course in December 2019. These are their learning journey stories.

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At first I was not sure how PDIA would be applicable to what I do as an urban planner, but as I listened to Matt’s first lecture about why policies fail, lightning struck. Over the years I had witnessed the adoption of many policies that were not successful for a variety of reasons, and often as one of the people responsible for implementing those policies, I felt that I was set up to fail. I knew that a flawed policy could not be implemented to achieve its original function but I didn’t have the tools or vocabulary to communicate this to those who mattered.

The key takeaways from the course felt so obvious after the fact – why wasn’t everyone already doing this?

  • Define what success looks like
  • The problem might not really be the problem
  • Consider the user
  • Engage your authorizers

Through this course I was able to understand a few important things about my challenge of plan implementation:

  1. My problem wasn’t really the problem – deconstructing and reconstructing showed me that there were several problem areas that needed to be addressed. Simply organizing myself in this way set a clear path forward which felt empowering and alleviated a lot of the frustration I had been dealing with.
  2. Change needed to happen at every step of the planning process – especially public outreach.
  3. Bringing authorizers together helped to break down the various silos of government so that decisions could be reached as a group and nobody was “out of the loop”.
  4. I can’t do it all alone – creating a team that allowed others to grow and learn moved the process along faster and kept up momentum even during slower times.

Continue reading IPP Learning Journey: PDIA Helped Me Find My Way and My Voice