IPP Program Journey: A Bridge to Sustainable Development begins with Purpose

Guest blog written by Lorena Fabrega

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.

After 25-years-experience in the private sector, steering the course of a professional career towards public service is challenging.  Implementing Public Policy came to me at such a moment, when I knew I cared and was willing to take risks.  

Knowing I had the ability to make a difference was enough to seek serving my country to achieve sustainable development goals.  However, nothing had prepared me foray into the public arena, and the Executive Program at Harvard’s School of Government seemed the perfect starting point. Searching for purpose, guidance and legitimacy, I luckily joined the 2019 IPP cohort.

Being a lobbyist for sustainable development policies had been my dream job since the beginning. But building a team, when I was in between jobs, and pursuing a specific policy proved to be my biggest challenge: I did not find it. It chose me in the unlikeliest of moments: the pandemic.

To focus on the problem, not the solution

Less than a year before the pandemic (B.P.), in May 2019 professor Matt Andrews asked us to define Public Policy Implementation; our first assignment into the course, I was reluctant to focus the definition on the problem, and so I declared that it was the design and execution of a response to further the public’s best interest.

It took at least two days into the on-campus part of the program for me to accept the value of focusing on what, for many years, most managers ask their teams not to do: you may not present me with problems unless you come with at least two possible solutions!  I even gave them “the face” when they came up to me with an issue, and they quickly turned back on their steps to figure out a possible answer to complicated and even complex problems on their own. I asked that they jump into possible solutions, without examining the problem in depth…without deconstructing it.

The basic switch on focus, to examine the problem and not the solution, is the biggest and most impactful of the theory behind Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA). Constructing the problem, which is to make it visible to those that matter, or those that it should matter to, is easier when you have mapped out why the different authorizers care or should care about it in order to secure resources: abilities, authorization and acceptance.  This triple A combo sums up the capabilities on board, or the lack thereof, to achieve successful policies.

But the easiest thing, almost instinctive, is to jump towards a solution or solutions for problems we have not deconstructed, an exercise needed to understand actions or responses that will be tried out. When deconstructing a problem, we understand the impact of such a problem, its ramifications, and why it needs our intervention.

Solutions create new problems

Halfway through the on-campus part of the program, reading that complex problems are not solved but managed, and that our policies create new problems made me stop. I mean full stop.  I breathed deeply and wondered if it was all worth it… maybe I should stick to the private sector.  Policies are ongoing, never finished, evolving continually and indefinitely. 

Continue reading IPP Program Journey: A Bridge to Sustainable Development begins with Purpose

IPP Program Journey: The Origins, Gospel, Path and Light at the End of the Tunnel

Guest blog written by Luis Paredes

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.

My new IPP Family

When I decided to apply for the Program, I was not sure I would get accepted! With all the complicated crises around the globe, I thought my country’s problems were not that hard to solve or -even- that important. Happily, I was totally mistaken. Once I arrived in Boston and interacted with each of the amazing group of participants, I realized I was in the right place. I could not believe that we shared almost the same problems no matter where we live!

The gospel …

As for my expectations about the course, well I thought it would be a very theoretical, book-oriented program with some interaction spaces and lots of academic work to do!

Of course, I was not totally mistaken! At HKS we had lots of readings, study sessions, and classes with world-class faculty. But it was not entirely theoretical, boring or book oriented. We really learned by listening and participating through the debates and experiences of our professors…

Of course, we had some fun too! I really enjoyed the on-campus experience.

The airplane exercise in class

One of the key learnings from this course is that your work is never really done. PDIA is based on iterations, permanently trying to understand the problem in a better way to find comprehensive solutions for our citizens. These iterations are at the core of the whole process because they help to identify and manage the problem.

Continue reading IPP Program Journey: The Origins, Gospel, Path and Light at the End of the Tunnel

IPP Program Journey: Poor Tax Collection in Nigeria

Guest blog written by Fuad Kayode Laguda

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 must disclose that coming for this course was a product of careful decision-making and determination. It is not easy combining my job schedules with the academic tasks. The course structure, coupled with the quality of the administrators, lecturers and fellow colleagues, actually surpasses my expectations. It exposed me to improved patience, persistence, importance of building, having a team, diverse way of solving problems and formulating policy. This course has allowed me to understand and showcase the Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) to my authorisers and other decision makers.

The key learnings were too numerous to explain in details. However, I will not forget the “Fishbone” as well as the sequential techniques of problem solving. IPP has enriched my proficiency in critical thinking and programmatic application of various approaches to identifying and solving complex problems through strong network for consultation and collaboration as well as partnership for actions with different national or corporate decision makers.

However, IPP has made me more confident, courageous in handling data and emphasis on the importance of mobilising and working with a team(s) to implement the data. 

This course has taught me to appreciate little successes and that every effort taken to solve challenges are not a waste. It builds me for connecting with authority and building legitimacy around my actions. It has allowed me look for opportunity in the problems I proposed to solve. 

The IPP networking system is highly remarkable to the extent that implementation of the instructions, ideas and policy innovations passed in the classes (on-site and off-site) becomes successfully feasible. PDIA is a remarkable learning for me because it opens my eyes to gaining the confidence of authorisers through the cultivation of informal engagement with them. PDIA taught me to manage constructively every shortfall and celebrate every slight achievement.    

Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Poor Tax Collection in Nigeria

IPP Program Journey: A Professional Watershed in a Land of Climate Change

Guest blog written by David Sperling

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 was optimistic: I knew the course would be useful and would help me understand better, at least in theory, how one might best go about implementing a public policy decision. Little did I realize what a profound impact the course was going to have on my professional work. I never imagined that something like PDIA existed, much less that it would be applicable in a highly practical way to my own policy challenge, working as I was, and am, with agricultural pastoralists in the dry region of Turkana County in northern Kenya. The progressive practical application of new ideas and concepts throughout the course was invaluably useful.  What I have learned far exceeded my expectations. 

My key learning moments during the course came about because of its: 1) comprehensive deep analysis of the dynamic context of public policy challenges; and 2) the accompanying creation of “implementation capability”. The definitional ideas/concepts especially useful to me were:

–  the core idea of deconstructing the “meta-problem” into its multiple dimensions and then pursuing a “problem-driven sequencing” solution;

– the ideas of “state capability”, “premature load bearing” and “isomorphic mimicry”;

– the distinction between “project completion and success” and “policy impact success”;

– the fact that there is an “authorizing environment”, not just authorizers, and that authorization needs to be maintained; it’s not self-sustaining or self-perpetuating;

– the difference between “functional success” and “legitimacy success”;

– the concept of “capability taxonomy” and the “organizational capability” needed to implement public policy;

– the “triple-A” factors of authority, acceptance and ability that characterize “change space”.

Other key learning moments came about because of the specific questions like: “What did you manage to do in these last few weeks? What questions do you have moving ahead? How have you managed up? What did you learn as you did this work? List the new people you have met and engaged with in the last three weeks”. These questions needed action-answers. No waffling! The Assignments were most helpful. They required me to be hard-nosed and specific in assessing progress and planning for the future, and more accountable to myself, constantly asking real-life and real-work questions about past progress, present initiatives and future planned action. I wasn’t used to asking myself such questions. The course has helped better define, and raise the standard of, my self-accountability.

Continue reading IPP Program Journey: A Professional Watershed in a Land of Climate Change

IPP Program Journey: Public Policy is Not only about Ticking the Checkboxes

Guest blog written by Oluwole Pratt

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.

In terms of the quality and content of learning, I received what I was expecting from a world class faculty. What I didn’t expect was the level of support I received throughout my policy implementation journey, which is phenomenal. 

I obtained a better perspective into the two main dimensions of public policy success (functionality and legitimacy) and that it is equally important to keep the two in view when implementing any public policy intervention. I also learned that obtaining and maintaining authorization in implementing public policy is key to success. Maintaining authorization is an iterative process that can only be reinforced through continual and effective communication with our authorizers. And finally, I learned that implementing public policy requires a lot of grit and determination to succeed; we would need to learn how to self-motivate while keeping our team members equally motivated. Overall, there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to public policy problems, and that we must adapt our solutions to the local context in which we implement public policy and adapt our strategy to the changing policy environment. 

I made progress by achieving some degree of functionality success, i.e. submitting my deliverables against agreed timelines. Most importantly, I discovered that authorization is not a constant and one should continually be checking the status of one’s authorization and recalibrate if one is to achieve legitimacy success.

As a consultant, I operate under a slightly different mindset; I have a contractual obligation to fulfill, which is largely within the functionality dimension of success. That notwithstanding, I have come to the realization that public policy is not just about ticking the checkboxes of my deliverables, it impacts the lives and destinies of real people. My overriding motivation is and therefore will continue to be, to make a sustainable impact in my public policy interventions rather being a mere ‘flash in the pan’.

Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Public Policy is Not only about Ticking the Checkboxes

IPP Program Journey: Adapt, Learn and Win

Guest blog written by Kanoo Hana

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.

After the last few months listening, observing and learning we finally come to the end of this very interesting programme. I feel that we are still engaged with all our classmates and faculty, deconstructing and reconstructing all our concepts.

The programme lasted seven months with participants meeting in-person for only a week, but engaging via calls and online for weeks. I have taken a few executive educational programmes at Harvard Kennedy School and this programme was everything that I expected. The programme on campus was structured very well. This in my opinion is important so that participants can actually start learning and taking in information to develop the skills needed.

The key leanings from this programme included the following,

  • Understanding that there are constant issues and problems that need to be dealt with
  • That there are scenarios that need the use of various tools and skills that can be developed
  • We need to continuously grow authority
  • We need to continuously work on our legitimacy and ensure functionality
  • Develop a learning culture at work
  • Take small cumulative steps  
  • Maintain authorization
  • Maintain your teams, focus and navigate
  • Stay motivated

So, I feel that I learnt a lot about a process that is continuous and needs to be constantly worked on

Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Adapt, Learn and Win

IPP Program Journey: Public Policy Problems are both Inevitable and Approachable

Guest blog written by Doran Moreland

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 was extremely excited to begin the course, mainly because I was looking forward to the opportunity to approach my problem in new ways. I was also looking for new tools to help measure my progress and present my problem to others to gain outside buy-in. The course certainly provided each of these. However, I was most blown away by the incredibly diverse and deeply inspiring individuals in my IPP cohort. The value of their stories- small and big victories and set-backs, and the passion with which they approach their work is immeasurable. After going through the course, I now know that public policy problems are both inevitable and approachable. Before IPP, I was attempting to know the solutions to any problem presented. Today, I no longer aspire to achieve a state of all-knowingness, because it does not exist. Instead, I now have the confidence to state what I don’t know with practical ideas on getting started, with opportunities for continual learning to address the challenge at hand.

The sections on Psychological safety Comfort level speaking up, asking for help, admitting mistakes (Edmondson, 1999) and Felt Accountability Extent feel accountable, responsible (Abelson et al., 1999) led by Prof. Monica Higgins were particularly helpful for me. Both helped me to understand the multidimensional aspects of leadership. I’ve learned that leaders do not simply find and promote talented individuals. They must create and maintain an environment where individuals can thrive. Additionally, I took many key points from the section on fragmented and dysfunctional bureaucracy, led by Prof. Matt Andrews. This section helped me gain perspective about the environment in which I work, and to ask myself why information flows and decisions are made the way that they do. The internal challenge I’ve faced during this introspection is the need to balance the practical concessions needed to advance my work within my current environment, which often conflict with my desire to try to change the environment altogether.

My level of access was very high coming into the program. But I found that my access increased as I progressed in addressing my progress. I attribute two main factors to this development: 1) the clarity with which I’ve been able to explain the core problem, as well as the nuances around the problem. This increased clarity has come over time as I’ve continued PDIA and speaking with new stakeholders. 2) My association with Harvard Kennedy School has enhanced my credibility with my internal authorizers. Going through this process I have gained more practical expectations around working with problems. I’m no longer looking to hit home runs every time; I’m now happy with consistent doubles and triples.

Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Public Policy Problems are both Inevitable and Approachable

IPP Program Journey: Feeling Excited, then Misplaced, then Overwhelmed, then Inspired!

Guest blog written by Anna Doherty

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.

Rolling up on day one at the Kennedy School, alongside a global cohort of policymakers, I felt excited and then immediately overcome with imposter syndrome. As it turned out, my fellow students were establishing peace ministries, tackling the inter-generational impacts of racial segregation, advocating for better healthcare and medicine, and developing unprecedented national legislation! There were members of parliaments, heads of public service departments, there was even a banker with a Rolex. I was just from a State Government in Australia – what could I possibly contribute?

It wasn’t until our first coffee break that I realized that many of the class were feeling the same way. And despite our uncertainty, we soon found we weren’t just there to listen to public policy experts and return home with a head full of theories but no road-map for applying them. We were there to work through and commit to our challenges, and this meant bringing them into the classroom to be dissected, to plan our approach, subject our plan to the scrutiny of others, and then build a better one.

There was barely any time to let the realization of hard-work set in before we were asked to confront the complexity of this task via the Ishikawa fish-bone – everyone’s favorite tool for understanding just how vast and intractable our chosen policy challenges were, and then empowering us with entry points to make a start. My chosen challenge was “how to encourage policymakers to adopt empirical evidence”, and the fishbone helped me understand how many structural issues there were inhibiting progress. 

Lesson 1. Find those already committed to the problem – they are your allies

Despite mapping this vast problem alone, I soon realized I was not the first, only, nor last person to tackle this policy challenge. We were taught the importance of investing time in finding people who were already making progress, and were encouraged to look for “positive deviance” that is, ideas already being acted on in your specific context. On returning home, I found an existing network of public servants from across several Government Departments, who were already mapping, consolidating and measuring academic-government partnerships across the Sector.

Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Feeling Excited, then Misplaced, then Overwhelmed, then Inspired!

IPP Program Journey: Finding Leadership Confidence

Guest blog written by Crystal Nowlan

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.

When I was first invited by my municipality’s Mayor and CAO to register for the ‘Implementing Public Policy’ (IPP) course, I was incredibly honoured for the learning opportunity.  I also felt the responsibility to ensure the learning would have a return on investment for our organization and taxpayers. But my next though was, how would this course assist me? I am an accountant by trade, and I am not trained in policy like most of my course peers. I only switched from private industry to the public sector a short seven years ago. Since 2016 I have been leading a product management team in our municipality’s transformation into asset management practices: The practice of managing assets to minimize the total cost of owning and operating them while delivering the desired service levels.

The asset management program (EAM) team had completed implementing five technology applications and rolled out the overall EAM business system with significant changes which require new competencies and frankly, a new culture overall.  A corporate Asset Management Policy remains to be approved by senior leadership, the Chief Administrative Officer, and Regional Council to reinforce and provide the agreement between these parties on how infrastructure-related decisions will be made consistently and aligned to agreed-upon strategies.  The policy will then provide the authority to activate the remaining roadmap plans over the next ten-plus years.

My hope was that the Implementing Public Policy (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.

When I arrived in Cambridge, I knew the planets had aligned to bring me this opportunity when I saw the front cover of the notebook we were given. It couldn’t be any closer to the leader’s stake (how am I motivated as a leader?) I had formulated in an in-depth peer leadership course I just finished in 2018.

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What an overwhelming amount of learning came from that week on campus!  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 training 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 had learned almost 20 years ago in my Six Sigma Green Belt training.

With a primarily private sector career background, 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. I have struggled with this concept since 2012 when I joined municipal government and thought that the elected officials’ aspect was the main difference in governance. Thanks to Matt’s teaching I now recognize that I have been wrong to criticize some previous methodologies or perceived inactivity throughout the organization. Both empathy and humility are key in government leadership, as Matt taught us; I must remember the humility. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Finding Leadership Confidence

IPP Program Journey: Early Childhood Education in Brazil

Guest blog written by Beatriz Abuchaim

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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A big headache. It was what I felt in the introductory class at Kennedy School. It was not my first experience at Harvard. I had taken a course in 2018 at Center on the Developing Child, but it didn’t have the same pressure I was feeling as a Public Policy Implementation student. My company was paying for me to be there and Harvard gave me a partial scholarship. While I was listening to Matt introduce the course to us, my painful head did not stop with mixed thoughts: “I should give my best to show I deserve all this investment. I feel so special to represent my country in such a selected group of people. I am worried if I will be able to implement my project”.

When I am overwhelmed with so many feelings my body complains with a migraine. Then I have to stop. It is a way to tell myself: take it easy. Breathe. Calm down. After the first night in pain in Cambridge, I could slow things down. During the week, I felt motivated by the professors and engaged with colleagues. Always feeling exhausted with so many assignments and tasks, but fulfilled. I came back home feeling empowered and secure. And missing my PDIA folks already.

My problem in a few words

Early Childhood Education (ECE) in Brazil currently covers 34% of 0 to 3-year-old population and 93% of 4 to 6-year-old population. These percentages represent eight million children enrolled in ECE.  The public sector is responsible for 70% of enrollments. In the past 10 years,  we have had a significant increase in the number of enrollments, but with budget limitations, so the quality of services may vary quite substantially nationwide. The municipalities, which are responsible for implementing  ECE, are struggling to improve service quality.

Although Early Childhood Education in Brazil has many problems regarding the quality of services, we still do not have a national assessment that could provide data about children’s development and learning environment. Without data, policy managers struggle to plan, improve and make decisions about ECE.

My problem is “lack of systematized information about ECE quality”. Working with PDIA and presenting my fishbone to as many people as I possibly could ended up with 12 causes and 16 subcauses for the problem.

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Here I will present three that were my entry points during this year, in other words, the causes I selected to try to address first:

  1.  The education area has criticisms and resistances about ECE assessment, mainly because the teachers are afraid that the results are used in a negative way: to punish them or stigmatize the children with low results.
  2. Municipal ECE managers are not used to working with data. They do not have access to systematized data, so they did not develop the skills to analyze results and use those to inform policies.
  3. There are no instruments adapted for the Brazilian context. Until now the assessments implemented in the country used translated instruments, which were not totally suitable for ECE in Brazil.

Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Early Childhood Education in Brazil