Reflection is a key part of the PDIA iteration process and as I have done in previous years (2017 & 2018) here’s a look back at what we @HarvardBSC achieved in 2019.
Some highlights of the year include: training and engaging with 740 practitioners around the globe (incl. degree programs, executive education, online courses and direct policy engagements with governments); publishing 9 papers and 54 blog posts; activating our PDIA online course alumni community of practice; releasing a new 12-part podcast series on the Practice of PDIA; translating our content into Spanish and French; and last but not least … drum roll please … launching Harvard Kennedy School’s first blended learning Executive Education program Implementing Public Policy, designed to equip policymakers around the world with both the skills to analyze policies, as well as the field-tested tools and tactics to successfully implement them.
2020 promises to be another exciting year for us. Here’s a few things we have in store for you: releasing our PDIA Toolkit in French, Portuguese and Arabic; publishing blogs written by our Implementing Public Policy program alumni; launching our new long read podcast series; and sharing our experience on creating and sustaining communities of practice with you. To stay tuned, follow us on twitter, or subscribe to our blog and podcast.
There are many views on what constitutes success and failure in public policy implementation. I have been chewing on these a lot over the last couple of years as I try to make sense of the challenges of implementation and of knowing when implementation is going well or not.
Here are some approaches I find useful in this work.
First, a large literature on project success is relevant in this discussion—because many public policies are implemented through project-like processes (with some studies even referring to the ‘projectization‘ of various policy domains, especially in international development). The project management literature tends to emphasize different types of ‘success’ in the implementation process (if you want to read more detail, I advise this article on the topic by Paul Bannerman):
(i) Process or project management success: the immediate performance of a project against its main design parameters—schedule (time), budget (cost), scope, and quality.
(ii) Product success: the extent to which a project delivered promised ‘products’, and if those products were used and considered useful by intended users (or beneficiaries).
(iii) Business or Strategy (or impact) success: whether a project solved the particular problem that warranted it in the first place, and—even more expansively—if the project better positions the community affected to address future problems or take future opportunities and benefits.
Last week I blogged about the ‘public policy futility trap’ in which countries get stuck when a negative feedback loop institutionalizes itself in the public policy domain. Experiences of past policy failure erodes the confidence (of citizens and public officials) to deliver in future, which undermines the potential for positive future policy results, which in turn reinforces the view that government cannot ‘get things done’, and on and on and on.
I think many countries are stuck in this trap, where negative feedback loops frustrate effort after effort to improve government capabilities. Initiatives designed to help governments get things done tend to fail when no one (in the citizenry or government) actually believes government can get things done.
So, how do governments get unstuck?
This is the question we plan to address—in practice —through the forthcoming Implementing Public Policy executive education course (starting in May 2019). The answer we suggest is simple: challenge the existing negative feedback loop by promoting cases of implementation success that can become the basis of new positive feedback loops—that help citizens and officials believe that more is possible tomorrow than it was yesterday.