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

IPP Program Journey: Remember the Sherpas!

Guest blog written by Marco Mastellari

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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When I came in to the course, I thought to myself that what I really wanted to learn was a predesigned structure or framework, if you will, that would allow me and my colleagues down in Panama to approach policy problems in an organized way, or pre-structured format. This is exactly what I found in PDIA, but with a huge difference in focus. My focus was a solution driven approach, I knew what the problem was, or at least I thought I did; I knew what the solution was to that problem, I thought I had identified it adequately; and what I thought I needed was a pre-established path to implement that solution. Oh, was I wrong! I was approaching policy implementing in a self-absorbed manner. Complex problems, surrounded by uncertainties and plagued with what ifs, just cannot have a preconceived solutions, we have to work, iterate, get things wrong, re-think, do the leg work, to then put all the pieces together and then maybe, just maybe, we may find ourselves in the right path towards solving the problem. IPP taught me a very humbling lesson as well. That while our human nature moves us towards approaching problems with a preconceived solution, this manner of acting, more often than not, results in failed policies. And we see this approach daily from authorizers; it is so common to hear a Minister or Director, asking public servants “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions!”. IPP and PDIA has opened up for me a completely new way of attacking policy problems, of thinking about public policy, and most importantly it has shown me, and consequently my colleagues in my country, that problems are better approached from within, utilizing the intellect and experience of our own people, people that know the stakeholders, that can reach genuinely the grassroots; instead of using prepackaged solutions flown in from abroad.

Some of the key learnings I got from this course are humbleness, optimism, and pride of purpose. I came into the course with a problem “Chronic Illnesses Patients don’t have access to Medicinal Cannabis” and a solution, “We need to pass a bill in Congress to legalize Medicinal Cannabis”. At approaching the problem with PDIA we found out that even though passing a Law was a part towards a solution, it was only one variable, only one, in our problem deconstruction diagram. There were many other iterations to be made before even thinking about talking to congressmen about passing a Law. However, as humbling the experience may be, it creates an environment of optimism. The process of constructing and deconstructing our problem, showed us the incredible amount of work that we needed to do, before getting to a Bill, and this outline of work to do allowed us to organize responsibilities and breakdown the problem into smaller tasks, with the opportunity of showing quick wins along the way, which in turn creates the environment of optimism needed to keep attacking our challenge through PDIA. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Remember the Sherpas!

IPP Program Journey: Engage with the People in the Place

Guest blog written by Julia Martin

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.

PDIA is about engaging with the people in the place.” If I think back to the last few months, this line from Matt’s blog strikes a chord. Coming into the course, I really had a serious case of the “not enoughs” – not enough experience, not enough expertise, not enough authority, not enough intelligence, not enough importance. I scanned the resumes of my classmates and hoped they wouldn’t look me up on LinkedIn and see my short, much less accomplished resume. When I arrived on campus, I realized I didn’t have to have as much experience or be as smart as everyone else, I just had to be curious. As a general society, we try to dissuade curiosity because it can slow down a process, because people are threatened by change, and/or because it creates more work. For whoever needs to hear this: you don’t need to be the smartest, loudest, or best at data analysis, you just have to have to have an unrelenting, genuine curiosity for whatever you are working on. To me, the core of PDIA is being curious in every forum you are in. You have to examine a problem and take the time to think about a) who impacts (or is impacted by) the problem b) where do you find these people c) how do you have them be an active participant in creating a solution. Being curious in every forum means meeting, listening, talking, sharing coffee, or doing a walk-through with the people in the place.

My problem centers on decades of purposeful, legal, and systemic racism in Charlotte, North Carolina. Within that almost incomprehensively difficult problem, I carved out a space to specifically look at increasing the availability of Accessory Dwelling Units or ADUs. These are small, separate dwellings that can be placed on a lot with an existing single-family home. They add gentle density to a neighborhood, can provide a space for aging parents to move in, or can be rented for extra income. ADUs also provide access to neighborhoods that were previously only accessible to wealthy homeowners. So many outcomes are linked to where you live – educational attainment, health outcomes, lifetime earnings. To me, in Charlotte, how we can start to break down decades of racially punitive policy is to create neighborhoods that are accessible to all our residents regardless of income (and race, because in America those are so closely linked).

An ongoing part of our project has been to, painstakingly, read through Homeowner’s Association (HOA) Deeds and Covenants. HOAs are property associations that often have additional restrictions, above city and state regulations, to create neighborhood standards around things like home height or size. After reading almost 100 HOA Deeds and Covenants, an overwhelming majority prohibit the use of ADUs. Similarly, our team is in the process of mapping HOA-owned land to get a better understanding of what percentage of Charlotte’s single-family zoned land is restricted under HOA regulations.

There are a number of barriers to building ADUs outside of HOA restrictions. In no particular order: stringent zoning requirements, confusing process, lack of contractors and builders, and lack of financial resources. Our team put out a survey to local builders and homeowners who built ADUs to better understand their concerns. After hearing from them, we developed a mock-up “How to Build an ADU in Charlotte” guidebook that succinctly described what an ADU was and how to understand if a property is eligible. We invited the builders and homeowners to follow-up session and observed them as they read through the guidebook to see what was confusing, what was clear, what can we improve on etc. Within the guidebook, we created a link to a mock-up 3-D sketch in GoogleEarth that enabled a potential builder to visualize what a detached ADU would look like on a property.

What motivated me throughout the work was every time we asked a builder, homeowner, member of the planning team to share their experience with us and be an activate participant in improving a process, they were so incredibly grateful that we wanted to hear their opinion. My teammates in this work, Rachel, Andrew, and Providence were also a constant well of encouragement and support. We were all balancing additional jobs, but held each other accountable to complete the work we committed to. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Engage with the People in the Place

Public Leadership Through Crisis 9: Pursue flat, fast, and flexible organizing structures

written by Matt Andrews

The Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in the face of a crisis (like the COVID-19 pandemic).

In my last post, I argued that you should prepare to work differently. In this blog  I will offer ideas on doing that. I am informed by my BSC team’s work with countries employing PDIA (problem driven iterative adaptation) in the face of problems (some crises) and the work of people like Dutch Leonard (whose video was included in the last post).

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Let me start with an observation of the organizing structures typical to public organizations (school systems, local governments, national departments, and more). Most of these organizations tend to be bureaucratic hierarchies; with a defined mission determined (or managed) by the people at the top, and pursued through formal processes by people in highly specified jobs. Using words from the last blog, the authorization mechanisms, acceptance requirements, ability needs, and mobilization mechanisms are all set in place. My guess is your organization looks a little like this?

But there are variations of such structure:

  • Some bureaucracies are stand-alone structures like the Figure 1 below. A single school might be an example of this. The  principal sits at the top and everything is led by her/him.
  • Other organizations are bigger hierarchies with multiple embedded hierarchies, as in Figure 2 below. A school district might be an example. The District commissioner leads a system in which other people lead schools B, C, and D. The leadership and coordination tasks are now split across a group.
  • Other organizations are distributed hierarchies (as in diagram 3 below). A state or national government is an example. One hierarchy (A) is the education department. Another (B) is the health, another (C) is the public works department, etc. In these systems, leadership again is about a group.

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Continue reading Public Leadership Through Crisis 9: Pursue flat, fast, and flexible organizing structures

Seeing Pandemics as Complex Adaptive Problems

Guest blog written by Peter Harrington

As the world grapples with the first truly global pandemic, a crucial struggle is emerging between different ways of seeing the current coronavirus outbreak. On the one hand, it is a virus that medical science can tell us how to combat. On the other hand, it is a complex social challenge to which human behaviour and norms are the key. In truth it is both, but if we fail to understand this, and understand that it requires adaptive learning to overcome, far too many will die.

Five years ago, I worked alongside the late statistician and epidemiologist Hans Rosling in Liberia on the Ebola epidemic sweeping the country and its neighbours. I had gone back to Liberia having previously spent three years in the country with the Africa Governance Initiative, working in the office of President Sirleaf. Like many, including Rosling, I came out of a sense of duty. Looking back on that experience, it holds powerful lessons for how we respond to coronavirus today.

Rosling said something memorable in 2014, that ‘Ebola is both a biological and a social phenomenon’. In other words, beating it was as much about behaviour as beds, as much about trust as treatment. The huge spike of cases in Liberia – which at one point threatened to collapse the country – peaked around November 2014. Privately, many of the foreign epidemiological experts in Liberia admitted it is unlikely that the (belated) influx of beds, logistics, money and aid workers explains the decline in new cases around the country after that.

So what happened? It is actually really useful to look at what happened as an exercise in mass problem-driven iterative adaptation (PDIA). The headline problem was abundantly clear – an out of control epidemic with a mortality rate of over 50%. And the country lacked the capabilities to handle this epidemic. What followed was a mass learning process, encompassing many actors. Starting with the authorities: they had to learn how to set up an Incident Management System, the name for a completely new institution dedicated to the eradication of the outbreak, to avoid overloading the Health Ministry and other existing institutions. They had to learn to set up emergency response phone numbers, special burial teams, to build special Ebola treatment Units (ETUs), set up and run testing labs, mobilise mass logistics to distribute these resources, all without abandoning those in need of other healthcare.

At the same time, the stampede of outside organisations wishing to help had to learn too – to take their ‘expertise’ with public health, epidemics, logistics and communications and translate that to the local context. Some organisations – like the American CDC who came with ears and eyes open – proved very good at that. Others like the WHO proved very slow indeed. The difference was the willingness to learn. Continue reading Seeing Pandemics as Complex Adaptive Problems

IPP Program Journey: Enhancing the employability of young people in Guinea

Guest blog written by Thierno lliassa Balde

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 Guinean tertiary education and Technical Education and Professional Training (TVET) system is dominated by programs that do not meet the needs of the labor market. Inappropriate orientation of training is a major cause of programs’ lack of relevance to business requirements. The system lacks scientific, technical, and professional training opportunities. Graduates rarely develop entrepreneurial skills, as most aspire to enter the public service. Challenges include overstaffing, poor linkages between training institutions and businesses, an over abundance of theoretical courses, dilapidated laboratories, and a lack of practical activities. The result is a very high unemployment rate among young graduates, despite many years of study.

Unemployment is highest among Technical Education and Professional Training (TVET) – 40% and Higher Education graduates -60%. With the exception of large-scale mining companies, the economy is dominated by informal enterprises and low productivity jobs and a skills mismatch between graduates and those demanded by employers.[i]

This problem is politically sensitive (the population of Guinea is young) and it affects the country’s growth as well as its prosperity. Once this problem is solved, it will put an end to the paradox of seeing employers complaining about the lack of skilled labor on the ground to fill the available positions.

Moreover, including entrepreneurial programs in the skill-training will also save most unemployed graduates complaining about the lack of jobs/employment; they can instead use their initiative to create their own enterprise with some kind of support both financially and morally.

For all these reasons, the Government of Guinea and its partner the World Bank, have set up a project to address this problem which will aim to boost the employability and employment outcomes of Guinean youth in targeted skills programs. More specifically, it aims to improve the effectiveness of training programs in universities and vocational institutions, and provide professional opportunities to young, job-seeking graduates by strengthening their skills through training, internships, jobs, or personalized support for business setup.

The project is based on public-private partnership. Its success in terms of impact and sustainability depend on the ability to use standard project management tools, the commitment of the various stakeholders and the quality of the partnership. For all these reasons, these points have been identified as critical and are essential for the sustainability and effectiveness of the project. Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Enhancing the employability of young people in Guinea

IPP Program Journey: Finding Family through Process Improvement

Guest blog written by Maggie Jones

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.

Trey’s words hung in the air. Would you like to go to Harvard? A million thoughts ran through my head as I watched the unsuspecting traffic pass outside my office. Of course I wanted to go. I had to go. As soon as “yes” stumbled out of my mouth and I hung up the phone, my hand gripped the handset for a moment before I stared blankly at my computer screen. 

How am I going to do this?

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There’s something magical that happens when you walk into an HKS classroom with 48 students and staff from around the world with challenges and backgrounds as diverse as the names on the tent cards. We may have not known it then, but we would become more than HKS’ first Implementing Public Policy cohort, staff included; we would become family. Family with similar struggles in authorization, acceptance, and ability, but also filled with passion, strength, and determination that only comes with a love and respect for this work and for each other.

Over the past seven months, I’ve learned more than I have in a decade of public service; it feels like someone opened a window, fresh air pouring in. Although all of the learnings would certainly take up more than these words, there are a few key takeaways:

  • Failure is always an option. While the private sector may embrace failure, we are rarely given the grace to fall in government. The stakes are framed too high; however, what we seem to have forgotten is what the consequences will be if we continue our current course. If we are failing to meet the needs of those we’ve committed to serve, then we have only lost. We owe it to them – and to ourselves – to be better. We simply must be better.
  • Projects have completion dates; problems evolve. It is important to think about who owns the problem on a constant, iterative basis. As the problem changes, your toolbox needs to change, too.
  • You do not have to go at this alone; you need to find people to share it with. Period.

In my particular challenge (i.e. addressing performance of a federally-funded home repair program), we have finally begun to see a little bit of movement: Continue reading IPP Program Journey: Finding Family through Process Improvement