Complexity is Simple with PDIA

Guest blog written by Ahmad Aljazaeri

After many years working in the for-profit private sector, I moved about two years ago into a government-owned company that was set up several year ago to be an execution arm for what used to be called the Ministry of Labor. This company grew to be a huge enabler for the transformation plans for that ministry and several other government entities and even some private companies. After being on the receiving end of public policy, I am now ever closer to influencing and even participating in drafting policies. Having been outside my comfort zone, I thought that nothing would be better than going back to school to learn how to better deal with the new challenges in front of me. I went through several options, but IPP grabbed my attention with its structure and scope. I thought this would be a good start for me to understand policy making and implementation and I honestly thought there would be a lot of theory. I didn’t mind that, but I was very interested in learning what it would take to succeed in the implementation of those policies. By that time, I have already worked on a couple of small policies that saw the light and were implemented successfully, but I wanted to tackle bigger problems and I needed to be well-equipped.


I had some concerns about the program being completely online, but I also knew that this could work although 20 weeks seemed a very long time for a training course. After the second week, I was completely convinced that this set up was going to be way better than a condensed 2-week course as it allows participant to fully digest the content and put what they have learned into real action. The course exceeded my expectations in every measure imagined and I would certainly like to see more of such courses in all disciplines.

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Adding depth and dimension to public policy projects

Guest blog written by Razan Farhan Alaqil

Joining the Implementing Public Policy course started as a “cool” yet very far idea during a ministerial meeting that I was attending. But then, I went back to my team, and we all truly thought “Why not?” Within a matter of weeks, I was registered for the course along with my work colleagues; Dr. Hiba Rajab and Alanoud Al Saud.

While we were submitting our applications during the Holy month of Ramadan, I reflected a lot before answering the question around my long-term career goals, and how this course would help me achieve them. After long thoughts, and while fasting, I wrote the following:

Growing up, I always said that I wanted to ‘change the world.’ Whether that was through my actions, work, or volunteering, I always had that urge to plan a career that would serve this purpose…. I started making that dream of mine a reality.  It was becoming clear because those policy amendments I was working on were influencing not only businesses, but also people’s lives, and each individual was changing their world in their own way.”

That’s how I applied to this course. Confident that the actions we make have a larger butterfly effect on the world, confident that my job was helping me change the world.

My colleagues and I developed our challenge statements together, and we were committed to bringing that knowledge we were about to gain to our wider team in the company, to our stakeholders in the private and public sectors, to individuals working and living while being influenced by the work we were advocating for in policies.

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An unexpected journey: ‘One fish in your hand is worth more than two in the river’

Guest blog by Raphaël Kenigsberg

Integrate the Millennial generation into strategic decision-making and implementation

During the Covid-19 crazy crisis, I had a dream, shared by many: what would the world look like after this unexpected pandemic? Our landmarks were missing, and adaptation became key. With the support of hundred engaged members of the think tank I am running, we designed a set of 32 ambitions imagining youth expectations for a better future. For two months, during the first general lockdown, daily and after work, we decided to gather and organize ideas with the hope of being heard by policymakers. We designed a 150-page report in French and in English. The main goal of this report was to convince policymakers that youth should be included into designing and implementing public policies. We organized an influence communication directed towards the French President, all members of government, National Assembly, Senate, embassies, European Commission and Parliament, international organizations, and media.

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Alleviating homelessness in Toronto

Guest blog by Rob Graham

My public policy implementation challenge is the alleviation of homelessness in Toronto. The problem is getting worse as evidenced by the increasing number of homeless, the frequency and severity of their comorbidities and the increasing demand for shelter services like housing support, mental health, addictions, other medical needs, clothing, beds for the night and battling food insecurity.

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Decentralization in Lebanon

Guest blog written by Pascale Dahrouj

When I first registered in this program, I never thought I could get that much insights on how to work out a complex problem by identifying entry points, root causes, possible solutions, authorizers and teams. I just thought it will be a learning journey filled with readings and videos that might help me with some ideas…But no…It was much more. 

The first part of the program was indeed an introduction of the entire concept of public policy and its implementation. But the most important part of the journey was the week course at Harvard where we spent intensive hours in learning about PDIA and doing our fishbone. A fishbone? I laughed at the idea first but when I ended up doing mine, I never felt more concerned and understanding of my problem. I am working on a public policy that will change the entire system of the Lebanese Republic. Decentralization… Moving from a central strong government control power to a decentralized functioning of the state. And guess what? My policy has not yet been ratified by the parliament. My work has a double shredded effort: getting the policy ratified and then implementing it. 

PDIA is a new concept for me as I had never heard of it before that week in June. Now, it has become part of my daily thinking. It is a guiding dynamic tool: it gives you all the necessary to help you think outside the box and do things yourself. You are the center of this entire approach. You have to know well the problem, deconstruct it and then construct the points, identify the authorizers and whom to approach, and mostly build your team so that your policy can get to a realistic end result. 

During this course, I enjoyed so much learning from other students and getting to know their problems and how they envision to solve it. The group sessions that we did also made me realize how vague my problems were …. I kept on narrowing them down… I kept on redoing and changing my fishbone based on feedback from my group… That learning process was the best part of it. You think that you grasp the context, but you come and hear the comments from your group or class, and then you have to do it all over again. Oh and not to mention the professors and directors of the program; They all added to me in different ways. The Pascale that went in June to Harvard is not longer the same Pascale… It is a different version equipped with hopes, prospects and determination. 

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Reforming Kenya’s IP regime

Guest blog by Rachel Osendo

What were your expectations of IPP Online when you signed up?

Covid-19 pandemic had just hit. Everyone had gone into a panic. We were scared. We were afraid of the unknown. The Government was also confused. The different Cabinet Secretaries, Attorney General and Parliamentarians moved with speed to develop legislation to manage the crisis we were in.

My CEO appointed me to head the team to undertake pre-publication scrutiny on the proposed legislation that had been developed by the Cabinet Secretaries, Attorney General and Parliament. I developed imposter syndrome. I didn’t know what to look out for. I didn’t know what standards I needed to look out for. My stomach was knotting.

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Falling in love with the problem, not the solution

Guest blog by Kyle Novak

“Fall in love with the problem, not your solution.”  It’s a maxim that I first heard spoken a few years ago by USAID’s former Chief Innovation Officer Ann Mei Chang. I’ve found myself frequently reflecting on those words as I’ve been thinking about the challenges of implementing public policy. I spent the past year on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. working as a legislative fellow, funded through a grant to bring scientists to improve evidence-based policymaking within the federal government. I spent much of the year trying to better understand how legislation and oversight work together in context of policy and politics. To learn what makes good public policy, I wanted to understand how to better implement it. Needless to say, I took a course in Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA), a framework to manage risk in complex policy challenges by embracing experimentation and “learning through doing.”

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Food security in Burien, WA during COVID-19 pandemic

Guest blog by Kevin Schilling

COVID spread within three months of my first term on Burien City Council.  When I ran for the office a few months prior to that, my expectations for policies to implement focused primarily on improving coordination between our city’s robust social service providers and the city’s administrative capabilities.  However, these priorities quickly changed with the financial and logistical impacts of COVID on our city operations, business operations, and educational offerings.  I knew I needed to turn to an opportunity to expand my implementation skills to harness the power of municipal government to fill the gaps of service provided by non-profits and churches.  Municipal governance no longer only required a perpetuation and continuation of budget changes and code adjustments, we now needed to recognize and adapt our priorities to an ever-changing global environment reacting to a public health crisis intersecting a racial justice crisis as well as economic recessions.  Through the Harvard Kennedy School’s Executive Education program in implementing public policy, I expected the opportunity to learn and grow my skills in understanding how to do just that. 

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Impact of COVID-19 on Benin Republic’s Economy

Guest blog by Aadam Soulebon

My expectations:

When I was offered to sign up for the online version of this program, at first glance, I had concerns. This was my very first HKS course. Indeed, I was afraid that the resulting interaction would not add a substantial value to me besides the class materials. I was looking for something to solidify my competence in the field of public policies as a practitioner but also the HARVARD experience, the interaction with teachers but also the richness of exchanges with classmates.

Guess what: I’ve had a lot more than I can put into words …

Working as Special Assistant to the Senior Minister of Planning and Development of Benin Republic, the highest-ranking Minister, public policies are in our core business. We oversee the implementation of all public policies launched by the government. In most cases, we conceive, we mobilize resources and we monitor while the sectoral ministries are in charge of implementation. As we are reaching the end of this course, I am going back to my normal  life with technical tools, experience sharing,  and a network to rely on through the years. I am more confident in my job and am able to come up with options and solutions instead of questions while dealing with public policies.

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