IPP Program Journey: Congo Calling Rebooted

Guest blog written by Bandi Mbubi

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.

With President Felix Tshisekedi at the School of Oriental and African Studies – University of London – December 2017

At the beginning of 2019, Harvard Kennedy School invited me to apply for its executive program in Implementing Public Policy. The letter was timely as it arrived when I was reflecting on my life and considering my next moves. The more I read about the course, the more I was convinced that it was meant for me. It promised to teach effective techniques of policy analysis and implementation, with a particular emphasis on policy solutions to wicked problems, which greatly appealed to me. I faced a dilemma though: which of the two projects, I am involved in, should I focus on, as part of my learning experience? From the outset, I was required to choose one policy challenge to work on for the whole duration of the course. 

Initially, I intended to work on policy solutions which would help reduce the rapidly increasing homelessness in the United Kingdom. This fitted well with my role as Director of the Manna Society, which runs a day centre for homeless people, in London Bridge, catering for 150 people, seven days a week, with approximately 1200 people, per year, receiving welfare and housing advice.

But then I changed my mind and chose to focus on another policy problem: conflict-minerals fueling armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, my home country. Although the DRC has enormous natural resources, with 1,100 minerals and precious metals and over 80 million hectares of arable land, it ranks among the poorest in the world at 176 out of 187 countries. And since 1996, a series of armed conflicts have resulted in over 6 million people dead and 4.5 million internally displaced.

In eastern DRC, where armed conflicts are prevalent, rebel groups and rogue elements of the national army use the illicit trade in minerals for personal gain and to finance their armed activities. These minerals are usually extracted artisanally and are referred to as conflict-minerals because of their use by armed groups. They consist of Tungsten, Coltan (from which Tantalum is extracted), Tin and Gold and are all important to the manufacturing of modern-day electronics.

‘Conflict-minerals’ was not a new policy challenge to me, at all, as I have worked on it since I launched Congo Calling, a UK-based NGO, in 2012 at TEDxExeter Congo Calling has three aims: (1) to stop mineral wealth from fuelling conflict, (2) to encourage responsible and environmentally sustainable exploitation of Congo’s natural resources, and (3) to use Congo’s vast natural resources to promote economic development for Congo’s people. I am proud of the fact that we have been able to work with fifteen universities across the UK to advocate that they adopt conflict-free technologies.  And five of these universities credit Congo Calling as the reason why they changed the way they procure their technology.  In addition, Congo Calling persuaded the City of Hull in the UK to change the way that they buy their technology. In 2016, the BBC interviewed me and named me as one of its Top 50 Outlook Inspirations.

Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Congo Calling Rebooted

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

Flexibility and Learning in Times of Global Uncertainty

Guest blog written by Nahuel Arenas-García

Nahuel and his team from Costa Rica successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in May 2017.

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Between January and May 2017, authorities and technical staff of the Costa Rican National Risk Prevention and Emergency Management Commission (CNE, for its acronym in Spanish) joined staff of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), Regional Office for the Americas & the Caribbean, to analyze gaps in disaster loss and damages data-collection system using the Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) approach under Harvard University’s Building State Capability (BSC) program. The goal was to analyze challenges in the national data-collection system as a basis for the design of a capacity-building strategy for the implementation and monitoring of the National Disaster Risk Management Strategy, developed in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, the global blueprint for addressing disaster risk. Counting with reliable information about the impact of disasters is fundamental to understand risk, and understanding risk is a pre-requisite to address it effectively.

Among the many challenges involved in the development of disaster loss and damages databases are the criteria for data-collection, the quality of the data collected, the capacity of data collectors and the definition of roles and responsibilities for those involved in the process, including defining the institution that will consolidate and report the information. The PDIA methodology enabled the identification of crucial bottlenecks in these different dimensions and stages of the process and enabled the formalization of a multi-sectorial data collection system. As it was revealed in the exercise, an effective and accurate disaster loss and damages data collection system needs to result from a multi-sectorial effort at all levels, in this case led by the disaster management authorities. The capacity of one institution of government to lead such a multi-sectorial effort faces multiple institutional challenges, even when the normative framework in place assigns that institution the necessary mandate.

The nature of risk in the world has changed and is increasingly systemic, with complex interactions between the human, political and economic systems (e.g. international finance system, urbanization, global supply chains) and the natural systems.[1] Thus, to avoid fragmented responses to systemic problems, reducing disaster risk can only be achieved through a multi-sectorial, multi-actor effort. In this vein, Costa Rica’s institutional response to the COVID-19 pandemic has become an example of the role that disaster management authorities can play to bring different stakeholders together in the face of risk.

The multi-sectorial data collection system, alongside a solid normative framework, were steps in the right direction for Costa Rica. The collaboration between UNDRR and CNE to build data-collection capabilities has evolved since the application of the PDIA. The leadership of the CNE coordinating the response to COVID-19 has enabled and strengthened the multi-sectorial approach to disaster risk (of natural, anthropogenic or biological nature). Costa Rica will be the first country in the world to pilot the UNDRR-led Global Risk Assessment Framework (GRAF), an initiative to analyze the complexity and interconnectedness of risk in a determined country and bring together global expertise to synchronize data, methods, models, insights, practical tools and incentives in open collaboration. In this context of systemic risk and complexity, approaches to implement solutions to problems in small steps and learn in quick feedback loops are crucial to deal with uncertainty. As the Global Risk Assessment Report puts it, “Our flexibility must be as dynamic as the change we hope to survive”.


[1] Global Risk Assessment Report 2019, UNDRR.

IPP Program Journey: Highlighting Experience and Learning

Guest blog written by Fatima Kakuri

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 to Harvard to do this course, my goal was to gain advanced thought and greater insight into public policy concepts, theories, elements, types and stages of policy making, I was caught up in a subliminal whirlwind of nervousness and feeling out of place before starting the course, as I felt I may be out of my wit coming from the context of a developing country. My experience however was completely unexpected. The course has allowed me to see beyond my initial belief that it there has to be a theory that guides all our policy actions. The course has given me the opportunity to discover my own policy and political beliefs and to see in much greater detail the benefits and disadvantages of the vast array of policy ideologies that are present in the world today. Being able to interact with my colleagues with similar challenges was a separate lesson entirely. I also found that the style of teaching in this course helped me express my views accurately and concisely which turned out extremely useful!

My journey on this course had an unexpected impact on my views and perspectives to governance and life in general.

Key Findings:

I, like presumably 60% of the population in Nigeria, viewed policy from a solution based perspective, typically from the lens that we cannot develop a project proposal unless we had the idea of the end result, the plan would follow the idea of the proposal and after consultation with authorisers or budget funders that plan is collectively adopted for further planning to develop the implementation plan which most likely comes from logical frameworks to guide the timelines for implementation of that project.

The greatest assumption for me was that we had identified the problem, and that we had devised the right solution that will fix it; without any evidence as there was rarely ever any proper research done to support these assumptions and that we are superior to the people whom we create these projects or policies for so we rarely require their input, needless to say, that was a flawed mindset.

I learnt through this course and found that most commonly the people who develop/draft policies are rarely involved in the implementation and control process which becomes a fundamentally flawed process from the outset with the policy makers not being part of execution of the plan. So, my biggest discovery is finding that the most popular theory of developing a public policy plan which is widely practiced especially in my part of the world is not the most effective system. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Highlighting Experience and Learning

Practice Makes Purpose

Guest blog written by Eleanor Sarpong, Maggie Jones, Marco Mastellari, Mohamed Hejres

This blog is written by the alumni of the Implementing Public Policy Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Alumni of this program become part of HKS’s Implementing Public Policy Community of Practice. These are the first set of Moderators of this Community. This is a reflection of their learning journey. 

When we graduated from IPP in December 2019 and began our journey together as a Community of Practice, 2020 was only a few weeks away. A new voyage. A fresh start. However, none of us could have predicted what the first six months of 2020 would bring. The world seemed to be on fire – and in some places, it was.

Wildfires.

Violence.

Pandemic.

Racism.

Protests.

It quickly became clear that our prospect for 2020 might be different than what we originally envisioned on our fresh, clean page of a new year. Our original challenges became more complex and in some cases they changed altogether. However, this is where the lessons of PDIA enter perfectly into play. PDIA is no stranger to the unknown and well-equipped our Community not only to enter the next phase of IPP, but to face new quandaries of an undecided future.

As we reflect over our time together, it is important to tie all these learnings back to the PDIA process. We hope we will be able to provide valuable insights by reflecting on four key check-in questions that continue to guide our work.

What did you do?

Over the past six months as moderators, we posted weekly announcements, shared blogs and videos, told personal stories, and hosted several Zoom calls. We were able to help each other better understand our environments and constraints we were working in. Occasionally, we would nudge discussions in WhatsApp or send reminders in hopes of engaging the group. Thanks to several active members in our Community, these discussions were always welcome, often sparking new ideas and resources. These conversations continue to connect us, even though we are thousands of miles apart.

It is important to note that absolutely none of this would have been possible without the help of Anisha and Salimah. Under their leadership and guidance we never had to worry about what blogs or links to share, questions going unanswered, or whether or not an idea was a good one. The constant feedback and support we received – and continue to receive – is remarkable and we are so grateful for the opportunity to work with them. Continue reading Practice Makes Purpose

IPP Program Journey: IT Project for a Pay Transparency Initiative

Guest blog written by Judith Buchanan

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 Implementing Public Policy (IPP) journey began with enthusiasm (and was mostly sustained throughout). Having previously attended a Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education course – Strategic Management of Regulatory and Enforcement Agencies – I was keen to attend the course. I knew that, not only would the course be enriching, the learning from other participants would be a big part of the experience and I was so right! IPP also appealed to me due to the extended virtual learning and the opportunity to apply the material to a work-related initiative. What I didn’t know when I applied is that my job would soon change and that as the course began I also started a parallel learning journey in a new role with new problems to address.

I chose to advance the IT project for a legislative pay transparency initiative and to get the building of the new capabilities started (Building on an existing system.) Of course, there were numerous governance protocols to address and in September we were delayed from getting our Gate 3 approval by two weeks. Luckily there was confidence in the work my team had done that we were able to get unofficial approval to advance. At the time, this was especially concerning given our planned implementation timelines (mid-2020) and knowing that we would likely face project difficulties along the way. Now as we await decisions on timing due to having a new Minister (see below), we continue to advance the development work as far as we can with the resources on hand. Were there to be a later implementation date, adjustments would be needed and we have made contingencies that allow for this. (Hoping it is enough but not too worried. Once we will be in our later stages there will be good momentum to obtain authority to complete the work.)

At the same time, over the journey we advanced on regulatory work and received input from stakeholders after the public comment period on draft regulations. Some stakeholders are of the view that the changes are premature and that a broader examination of the legislative framework is required. The enabling legislation, The Employment Equity Act, is 30 years old and could use a bit of “sprucing up” through a Parliamentary review. Were this to occur, my team would support the policy review and any subsequent legislative initiative. In the meantime, the team has been working on analyzing the stakeholder feedback to assess whether adjustments to the regulations are needed.

In Canada, the election for the federal government was held in October and a new Cabinet announced in late November. As of this date, we have yet to fully brief the new Minister on the pay transparency initiative and expect to do this shortly. Key decisions on timing are needed and this will set the path forward for the completion of the regulations and development of various program elements (guidance and tools for users). If and when we get to a legislative review, I certainly intend to construct my problem and create a fishbone (probably be a whalebone or a school of fish) to map all the elements at play. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: IT Project for a Pay Transparency Initiative

The Big Stuck: Updated

written by Lant Pritchett

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The PDIA approach to building state capability grew out of a sense among practitioner/academics (or “pracademics”) that (a) organizational capability for implementation was key to success—as, if not more important the adoption of new policies or the creation of new programs and (b) that the existing models (both in the mainstream academy and in practice) for building capability in the public sector were not working and not up to the task.  Our shorthand name for the latter is “the big stuck”:  even when people acknowledge the importance of building state capability and are engaged in projects, programs, and policies to try and do so the facts on the ground are that state capability—at least on all of the standard measures—show little or no progress.

The idea for some new, even something pretty radically new as an approach, like PDIA, did not spring from a desire to create the latest new fad, but from a sense that the devil was not in the details of existing approaches.  Existing approaches to build capability were not working because of some minor flaw in the way these actions were themselves implemented, they were failing because key ideas about how to build capability—and even, really, what it was—were under-articulated and often just plain wrong.

Given the long lead time between research and publication the “big stuck” tables in our 2017 book were based on country data only through 2012, which now is 8 years ago.  So I went back and updated the book’s Table 1, the “big stuck” table with data from two sources:  the Quality of Government indicator (adapted from the International Country Risk Group) from the Quality of Government web-site and three of the state capability indices from the Worldwide Governance Indicators.  This brings the big stuck up to 2018 (latest available for these data) and, unfortunately the findings are roughly the same.

As Figure 1 shows the typical level of “quality of government” (measured as a combination of Rule of Law, Bureaucratic Effectiveness, and Control of Corruption) is slightly lower in 2018 than in 1996. Continue reading The Big Stuck: Updated

IPP Program Journey: Creating a Workplace Culture of Continuous Learners and Self-Starters

Guest blog written by Theresa Burnett

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 came to the program thinking I had a good idea about how to make things happen in the workplace. I had some idea of policy implementation and the challenges of government organizations. All that said, I learned that I did NOT have an organized, step-by-step approach to address the myriad of challenges of this work. From what I have learned from others in the program, the situation we face in a U.S. District Court of New Jersey is not unique. I thought I was probably going to embark on some major training program that could be imposed from on high to the masses.

Wow, was I wrong.

There are so many things I learned in the last six months that it is difficult to name them all. I had become frustrated in my position as it seemed as though I had a small sphere of influence to make changes in a workplace that I value so highly. I came to realize that I had more influence than I thought because of the success of a Succession Development Program implemented three years ago. My authorizers perceived it a success because we completed this two year program, not necessarily for any objective reason. I consider it a success because out of the last eight supervisors promoted, seven successfully competed that Program. We were on to something but we weren’t exactly sure what. I chose the IPP team from that group, asking them: what do we need to do to plan for the workforce of the future District Court? How do we create jobs that millennials want? How do we get employees to be proactive on the job, solving problems, suggesting improvements, taking work off of their supervisors, not merely doing what they are told? How do we support managers/ supervisors so we can stem the tide of early retirements, resignations and burn out without implementing a program every two years in a panic?

I began what the team jokingly refers to as “Theresa’s listening tour.” I finally stopped reading the literature (OK, not entirely) and started asking questions. I had the team work on the first fishbone exercise with me. I had them ask their staff: what is needed for employees to do their best work for the Court? I asked the same of the other supervisors who aren’t on the Team. And I was surprised at how they really opened up. They appreciated that I asked and listened. Then I implemented what I could quickly, and again, they showed an increased connection to the work and to what I was asking.

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Oh boy, maybe some of the problems related to how managers/supervisors feel about the work is in part my fault (and other senior managers’) who think because we have been around a long time, we have heard/seen it all. We assume that everyone understands the importance of the work. We assume that we know best since we have been caring about the Court for decades. No wonder millennials say “OK Boomer.” So, I would say a key learning has been to more freely admit that I don’t have the answers but show that I care enough to keep asking (why, why, why, why, why) and listening. I have seen a change in supervisors who see that we are trying some of their ideas, ie, quarterly video conference meetings for all staff at once in the different offices, training and individual coaching sessions for supervisors, more training opportunities for entry level staff, more communication about the budget situation (even when all I can tell them is that we won’t know until December 21st). The Team members reported some of the same: that just starting the conversation with staff has made a difference, and they in turn have become more aware of what staff need. It seems that just the act of asking and listening and trying is changing the workplace. 

Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Creating a Workplace Culture of Continuous Learners and Self-Starters

Register for our Implementing Public Policy (online) Program

Are you a public policymaker frustrated with the limited impact of your government’s policies? Do you see many policy ideas starting out with promise but ending up incomplete or ineffectively implemented? Are you trying to improve implementation? If so, you are not alone.

There is no more important time than now to convene policymakers and practitioners around the critical implementation challenges all cities, regions, and countries are facing. Join with peers from around the globe for a dynamic, highly engaging online-only version of Implementing Public Policy.

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Led by faculty chair Matt Andrews, participants will learn the skills to analyze policies as well as the field-tested tools and tactics to successfully implement them. In an action-learning environment, including robust peer engagement and application to your work with the support of faculty, participants will have time to work on their implementation challenge, apply their learning to their own context, reflect on their experiences, share and learn, and become part of a global community of practice. Continue reading Register for our Implementing Public Policy (online) Program