Addressing Atoyac river pollution in Mexico

Guest blog by Santiago Creuheras

When I signed up for this course I was eager to learn from Matt Andrews and his team about implementing public policies. I was hoping to meet a group of high caliber students from all over the world willing to share their experiences. My expectations were high, and I am extremely pleased with this course’s outcome and results. The personal, professional, and academic quality of my virtual classmates was unique and impressive. Their experiences have built on my own. I am thankful for their support to redefine my challenge. Peer group exchanges have been one of the highlights of the program. Having an informal team of supporters and performing regular check-ins with each other has been very useful. It has kept us motivated and might be something we should continue doing going forward.

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Tackling gun violence in Birmingham, Alabama

Guest blog by Crystal Smitherman

Being a new and young politician, I knew I had a lot of learning to do in the political sector. I had a lot of energy and great initiatives, but I still need to learn how to revamp my message and craft good policy making habits. In the midst of a crime crisis, as our murder rates continued to rise significantly every week, I knew something had to change. I knew our policy approach towards dealing with crime needed to be reformed and improved. I came across the Implementing Public Policy course on the Harvard Kennedy School website. I knew my mindset Right then, would never be the same the moment I enrolled in the course.

I always knew I had the potential and capability to make a difference in my district and city by achieving attainable development goals and initiatives. Yet, I was still hitting a brick wall when it came to getting over the hump of pushing forward on certain initiatives. This is why I am forever grateful that I joined the 2020 IPP cohort.

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HIV: Patient Safety and Infection Prevention in India

Guest blog by Vijay Yeldandi 

Why IPP? Honestly because I needed a navigator! After 25 years of doing public health work in India focusing on HIV Infection Prevention, I realized that not everything I did was a resounding success. While some projects were gratifying, in retrospect there were many hard lessons to learn and much heartburn to endure. Many of my friends and colleagues would remark “Oh there goes Vijay again….. where angels fear to tread…. Yes, it is true I have always been an unapologetically optimistic (hopelessly romantic) Gandhian revolutionary going about trying to make the whole world a better place. My anthem is John Lennon’s IMAGINE https://youtu.be/SfGuTigICo8

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‘Don’t be so invested in the solution that you’re unwilling to change course’

Guest blog by Alexandra Bhatti

What an exciting, challenging, eye-opening learning and growing experience this has been for me. When I first explored the course, I was skeptical about the ratio of theoretical learning versus practice-based learning I would experience as I have spent many years studying “policy” and related fields. Listening to alumni feedback encouraged me to pursue the course, nevertheless.  Immediately I realized this was going to be a fantastic course and it began challenging my biases and the way I approached policy development and implementation – beginning with the “challenge” I identified.

Let’s start there.  My initial policy challenge was trying to operationalize non-traditional vaccine delivery sites and provider types. I soon realized that this was not the actual challenge I was trying to address and had to continue to diagnose the actual problem I was trying to solve for with vaccine delivery systems – and that was that adult vaccine uptake remains low in comparison to children and pediatrics, and further we see disparities in particular population types.

While I think the entire course has proven to be such an incredible learning and growing experience for me, there are few areas I wanted to highlight.

First understanding the pitfalls of problem and construction and deconstruction has stuck with me.  Not only am I more self-aware of those pitfalls, like solution bias, I am also listening for this with my colleagues. I think this is such a critical concept to understand and implement to optimize your chance of success in policy implementation.

Second, is understanding your stakeholders and the different roles needed in policy implementation (e.g. idea people, authorizers, etc.) This helps us not only better understand and profile our stakeholders but also helps us identify gaps. It also is a great first step in understanding the priorities of the stakeholders.

Third, is the supreme importance of a compelling and succinct problem narrative that resonates with the individuals you are trying to mobilize and gain buy-in from. As a scientist and attorney, I often want to create a memo supported by evidence describing how important this policy issue is – and because I am so invested in; however, the decision-makers, whom I am engaging with 1) are not as invested – yet; 2) I have a good 5 minutes max to make my pitch and have to maximize the time I have.

Lastly, being in public health, specifically in the vaccine space, during a global pandemic has been supremely challenging. I felt the sections around time management, organizational norms and burn out, and leadership were so timely and critical for me.  Not only was I trying to implement certain behavior changes (not always successfully), but I also have been sharing these concepts with my colleagues – particularly that of changing organizational norms.

Regarding progress toward my policy challenge, its been exciting that I have been able to rally leadership support around the entry points I am focusing on.  What I have realized is that these different entry points are so different and complex that perhaps in the future, I would narrow my scope further.  Regardless, I have a number of sub-projects underway, focused on addressing the blue boxes in the fishbone diagram here.

Already, I have integrated PDIA into my team’s workstream.  Below you will see a MURAL board that I supported my team in developed and brainstorming through. As I mentioned before, having a narrower scope was one of my lessons learned moving forward. I worked with my team on discussing a policy challenge a few of my colleagues were experiencing at the state level. 

We soon realized that there were two distinct challenges and each needed to have a separate root cause analyses completed. I encouraged the team to go through the 5-why, develop a fishbone, and use the triple A approach to begin to identify potential entry points. Because we went through this process, we realized there were many unknowns still and we were better positioned to identify what those were and begin to plan next steps for addressing the unknowns.

Above all, this course further underscored the importance of perseverance, grit, and flexibility when working to solve policy challenges. We are passionate about our work and often get deeply invested in it, as a result when we are faced with setbacks and delays, it can be disappointing and hard to rally, so to speak.  I did not have immediate success with address my policy challenge but iterating and adapting are the heart of PDIA. My advice is to not let your personal investment in the policy challenge cloud good judgment and inhibit pivoting and changing course as needed.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of this course was the team work. Our Health Group was incredible and inspiring.  We supported and encouraged each other when challenges arose and celebrated each other’s successes as well.  Thank you, HKS, for this amazing and memorable experience.

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 6-month online learning course in December 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

Learn more about the Implementing Public Policy (IPP) Community of Practice and visit the course website to apply.