Economic growth transformation in Azerbaijan using real world examples

Guest blog by Namig Naghdaliyev

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.

One of the common age-old questions we are thinking about is a positional competition between theory and practice. This question is of utmost importance and common in economic policymaking and implementation.

Before taking this course, I was familiar with the Harvard Kennedy School’s advancing role in building threshold points, not only theory but also practice. This course assured me and made me more than confident that HKS is one of the main engines of adding global public policy values.

Continue reading Economic growth transformation in Azerbaijan using real world examples

Improving Food Safety Standards in Ukraine

Guest blog by Kateryna Onul

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.

The COVID-19 crisis has coincided with reform within my organization and an urgent need to find new approaches to working with the public sector in different parts of the world. I was looking for tools that could help me continue working on improving policy and regulatory frameworks in the food safety sector despite the turbulence of the environment in all dimensions. 

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, it became clear that as economic ties changed and new political forces and scientific paradigms emerged, the need for new approaches to the development and implementation of public policies became acute. The COVID-19 crisis has become a catalyst that clearly shows areas where traditional approaches to implementing public policies are no longer efficient. I have read many times in various sources about the PDIA approach, which made it possible to find solutions to problems in the political dimension when there are many unknowns and uncertainties. I understood that completing the IPP Course would give me the opportunity to study PDIA both in theory and practice. Unfortunately, due to the intensive work schedule, I did not have the opportunity to leave for six months and immerse myself in student life. I took the opportunity to take the IPP Harvard Program Online as great luck that I did not miss.

Continue reading Improving Food Safety Standards in Ukraine

Independent Evaluation of PDIA Application in Africa

In April 2017, we began our engagement with the Collaborative Africa Budget Reform Initiative (CABRI), an intergovernmental organization based in South Africa, to design and launch the Building Public Financial Management Capabilities (BPFMC) Program using the PDIA approach. In this program, CABRI’s member countries could apply for a team of 5-7 members to work on their locally nominated PFM problem for the period of 7-months. The training included online modules, an in-person framing workshop, virtual progress updates, and an experience sharing workshop at the end of the program. Each team was paired with a coach from CABRI who held regular check-ins to motivate and support them.

Teams from Ghana, Liberia, Lesotho, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa and The Gambia, participated in the inaugural program from May to December 2017. At the end of the program, the teams made significant progress: they developed a deeper understanding of the root causes of their problems; developed capabilities and confidence; financial reporting rates went up; budgets were prepared faster; and virements and arrears decreased. 

In April 2018, we began a second iteration, this time offering the program in both English and French. Teams from the Central African Republic (CAR), Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Lesotho, Liberia, and Nigeria, participated in the program. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a funder of the program, commissioned an independent evaluation to assess the application of the PDIA approach in the African context.

The evaluation included desk research, baseline and midline surveys of participants, interviews and observations from the framing workshop and experience sharing workshop, field visits to CAR, Lesotho, and Liberia, and interviews and observations from a review seminar, five months after the conclusion of the coaching support from CABRI.

Continue reading Independent Evaluation of PDIA Application in Africa

Police reform in Bridgeport through PDIA: A radical approach to an old problem

Guest blog by Maria Viggiano

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.

As America faces a national reckoning over racial injustice and the over-policing of communities of color, the concept of “defunding the police” has become a hot topic in various cities including my hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut. As Connecticut’s largest city, Bridgeport is home to over 145,000 people, the majority of whom identify as Black, Latino, or Asian Americans. The Bridgeport Police Department has suffered from a series of scandals over the last several years.

In 2017, a Bridgeport police officer shot and killed an unarmed Latinx youth, 15-year-old Jayson Negron. In 2018, the top aide to the Bridgeport Police Chief was fired after the discovery of numerous racists texts directed at African-American police officers in the department. Earlier this fall, the police chief himself was arrested by the FBI and later indicted on federal corruption charges. The demands for reform reached fever pitch this summer with local activists calling for a defunding and dismantlement of the Bridgeport Police Department.

The concept of “defund the police” is a relatively new one within the realm of public policy. The movement in favor of this approach emerged almost entirely from the activist community in the wake of recent nationwide protests against police brutality, especially in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. There are few academic papers or studies available that evaluate the effectiveness of specific policies aimed at reallocating public funds away from law enforcement departments and toward social service departments like housing, health, and education. However, ample academic research does definitively point to the short- and long-term payoff of investing in these areas as a preventative strategy for minimizing societal ills such as poverty, homelessness, crime, and violence.

Continue reading Police reform in Bridgeport through PDIA: A radical approach to an old problem

Together for a better Business Climate in Morocco

Guest blog written by Thami El Maaroufi

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.

By attending the IPP course with Harvard Kennedy School, my main objective was to learn how to improve our approach in designing, developing, and implementing a public policy efficiently, using high standards, the best practices, and innovations. 

Attending this course with peers from all over the world was also for me a great opportunity to learn from them about their experiences, challenges, success stories and failures in implementing public policy. Learning from participants was an interesting part of this journey. 

As the general coordinator of the national Committee for business environment in Morocco, and given my role and functions within this Committee, it is important for me to continuously develop my skills and knowledge; to be up to date on how to motivate and keep on board authorizers and stakeholders, to identify pain points and most importantly issues to address. It is also equally important for me to continuously learn how to effectively lead multidisciplinary teams, oversee the implementation of reforms, and ensure proper monitoring and performance evaluation. In this regard, the IPP course has been very useful for me and has enabled me to develop astute skills in addressing more effectively the design and implementation of public policies.

Our national Committee, chaired by the Head of Government, has ten years of experience in public-private dialogue to identify, on a regular basis, the main constraints faced by entrepreneurs and foreign investors in the country. The Committee is also seen as a delivery unit for the implementation of cross-department’s reforms.

Due to the successful implementation of multiple reforms, Morocco has improved its ranking in the Doing Business report published by the World Bank Group, moving from the 128th position in 2010 to the 53rd position in 2020.

But beyond this international ranking, the Kingdom needs to create a more conducive environment with less constraints and difficulties for firms to enter markets, create wealth, grow and export.  

I was confident that this course would provide me with more skills, tools, and tactics to successfully contribute to one of the most important projects we are currently working on in our country, namely the design and implementation of the national strategy to improve the business environment. 

Continue reading Together for a better Business Climate in Morocco

Leading Economic Growth in Kazakhstan

Guest blog written by Baur Bektemirov

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in July 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

There is an old cliché that crisis is an opportunity. In my case, the Great Lockdown has certainly become an opportunity to learn and even re-think my work as the Chief Economist for a government organization, which just recently was tasked with an expanded role to help the government to attract more investment and contribute to the economic growth.

The Leading Economic Growth program has helped me to assess, once again, the main problems and obstacles for the economic development of Kazakhstan, look for the real roots of these problems (the binding constraints), analyze possible solutions to these barriers, and even formulate a draft for solving some of them.

It does not, however, gives you a ready recipe to address current problems, instead, the program teaches and provides methodology: how to assess the problem, look for solutions, take a problem-driven iterative approach, build authority, ability, and acceptance to solve the problem in the existing political circumstances.

For example, Kazakhstan is showing all the symptoms of classical Dutch decease problem. The pro-growth policies adopted in late ‘90s—early 2000s, have led to rapid growth of the GDP at the expense of economic diversity (economic complexity). This has led to all the standard problems: strengthening of the national currency, growth of mining and non-tradable sectors of the economy with little productivity growth at the expense of other tradable goods and services. As the result, the economic growth has been stagnating for about 6-7 years now, while investment into economy has contracted, mostly due to the stagnation of banking lending.

The current pandemic does not help solving this problem either. But now, in addition to the short-term economic stimulus, central authorities must decide on economic policies, which will ensure long-term sustainable development. It is imperative to review the current model based on old pro-growth policies, which do not yield the same results as they used to 10—15 years ago.

Continue reading Leading Economic Growth in Kazakhstan

Learning to Crawl: Can a Health Financing Reform Unshackle Ukraine’s Growth Potential?

Guest blog written by Dzhygyr Yuriy

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in July 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

Through past two decades, Ukraine has been steadily descending the Atlas economic complexity ranking list, going down from #30 in 2001 to #50 in 2016. At the lowest border of the second highest quintile, it is a relatively advanced economy and was assessed by Ricardo Hausmann’s international complexity simulations as having a significant potential to “move in all directions”. However, it currently remains invariably focused on agriculture and metals, exporting mainly to the immediate neighbors (Russian Federation and Poland), and has been gradually retreating from the more complex markets such as for vehicles, industrial machinery, optical and medical equipment. 

The 2013-2014 social, political and economic crisis – which inspired the Revolution of Dignity, a change of government and a reversal of the geopolitical orientation – has created a hope for a new development strategy. However, five years down the road, many of the post-Maidan reforms are losing traction, calling for an audit of what went wrong.

In the hindsight, the problems targeted by the post-Maidan policies strike as remarkably astute. Most of these policies tried to address the low quality of public services – one of the core issues which enraged taxpayers and illustrated the state’s failure in 2013. But these reforms were not only in popular demand; they also happened to intuitively react to strong price signals of an extreme growth constraints. 

The most striking example was the system of government-funded healthcare. By 2013, 92% of Ukrainians reported being terrified of catastrophic out-of-pocket costs if they get ill. Although the bulk of medical services in the country were tax-funded and provided by public facilities, de facto more than a half of costs were paid out of pocket through an entirely unregulated black market. Given the extreme information asymmetries, lack of competition and conflicts of interest, actual prices for healthcare in Ukraine have skyrocketed, exceeding the EU countries. Furthermore, while the state was failing to ensure quality control and continuous professional development of medical workers (reflected in the rapidly deteriorating health outcomes in the general population), selected categories of doctors were able to enjoy unusually high informal incomes despite the uncertain quality and safety of their services. The overpriced and unreliable healthcare was not only diverting private resources from productive investment, but also failed to provide the sense of economic security, social cohesion, and a robust state, ultimately depressing “animal spirit” throughout the society. This system of healthcare funding was also intrinsically obstructive to labor mobility within the country since access to services strictly dependent on the place of official residence. 

Continue reading Learning to Crawl: Can a Health Financing Reform Unshackle Ukraine’s Growth Potential?

Why do we persist so long with a reform approach that does not solve problems?

written by Kate Bridges and Michael Woolcock

In Malawi, efforts at institutional reform have been numerous, earnest and longstanding. Since 1966, there have been more than three times as many World Bank projects with ‘institutional reform’ content  as there have been in any other thematic or sectoral category.

In a recent paper, we argue that these efforts have largely failed. Public scandals such as “Cashgate” – in which about US$ 32 million in government funds was misappropriated between April and September 2013 – are the tip of the iceberg: high profile cases reflecting a logic of corruption that remains unchallenged by reform efforts. Continue reading Why do we persist so long with a reform approach that does not solve problems?

Doing Problem Driven Work, great new guide for governance reformers and activists

By Duncan Green

One of the criticisms of the big picture discussion on governance  that’s been going on in networks such as Doing Development Differently and Thinking and Working Politically is that it’s all very helicopter-ish. ‘What do I do differently on Monday morning?’, comes the frustrated cry of the practitioner. Now some really useful answers are starting to come onstream, and I’ll review a few of them.

First up is ‘Doing Problem Driven Work’, a paper by Matt Andrews, Lant Pritchett and Michael Woolcock. It turns previous work on PDIA – ‘problem-driven iterative adaptation’ – into a toolkit, aimed primarily at those involved in reforming governance from the inside, whether government reformers, or big bilateral and World Bank donors with access to the corridors of power. However, there are clear parallels with and lessons for the work of more ‘outsider’ NGOs and campaigners.

It starts by noting that while many reform projects have failed in the past, those that succeeded often involved a ‘problem focus’. Problems ‘force policymakers and would-be reformers to ask questions about the incumbent ways of doing things’ and ‘provide a rallying point for coordinating distributed agents who might otherwise clash in the change process’. ‘Good’ problems are urgent and can be easily addressed by those in the room. They often spring from crises or other ‘critical junctures’.

The first step for a would-be reformer is ‘problem construction’, which ‘involves gathering key change agents to answer four questions: ‘What is the problem?’, ‘Why does it matter?’, ‘To whom does it matter?’, ‘Who needs to care more?’ and ‘How do we get them to give it more attention?’’ Defining the problem is key: it’s no good having a woffly ‘corruption is a problem’ type statement – you need ‘a real performance deficiency that cannot be ignored’, like ‘we can’t get education and health care to these communities, because the municipal officials keep nicking the money’.

Once you have a problem, you can get started, with your doughty band of reformers:

What is the problem? (and how would we measure it or tell stories about it?)

Why does it matter? (and how do we measure this or tell stories about it?) Ask this question until you are at the point where you can effectively answer the question below, with more names than just your own.

To whom does it matter? (In other words, ‘who cares? other than me?) Who needs to care more? How do we get them to give it more attention? What will the problem look like when it is solved? Can we think of what progress might look like in a year, or 6 months?

The authors stress the importance of ‘authority’. For insider reformers like them, the key is to get political backing for the reform, preferably from the president or similar, which opens doors and aligns incentives.

Authority forms part of a ‘triple A change space analysis’, together with ‘acceptance’ and ‘ability’:

We can do better.....

Authority to engage

Who has the authority to engage: Legal? Procedural? Informal? Which of the authorizer(s) might support engagement now? Which probably would not support engagement now? Overall, how much acceptance do you think you have to engage, and where are the gaps?


Which agents (person/organization) has interest in this work?

  • For each agent, on a scale of 1-10, think about how much they are likely to support engagement?
  • On a scale of 1-10, think about how much influence each agent has over potential engagement?
  • What proportion of ‘strong acceptance’ agents do you have (with above 5 on both estimates)?
  • What proportion of ‘low acceptance’ agents do you have (with below 5 on both estimates)?

Overall, how much acceptance do you think you have to engage, and where are the gaps?


What is your personnel ability?

  • Who are the key (smallest group of) agents you need to ‘work’ on any opening engagement?
  • How much time would you need from these agents? What is your resource ability?
  • How much money would you need to engage?
  • What other resources do you need to engage? Overall, how much ability do you think you have to engage, and where are the gaps?

The questions also highlight some of the weaknesses of PDIA – there’s no power analysis here, for example, whether some people who are currently not involved in decision-making could become so, and what might enable them to do so; who are the blockers, and do they operate through the exercise of visible or hidden power? A good power analysis would definitely lead to more refined tactics. There’s also a lack of a real systems approach, for example looking for positive deviants that are already working, or emergent hybrid institutions that combine new and traditional approaches. It all feels quite top down and traditional.

On the other hand, I like the bottom-up construction of problem and solution, and the authors have been out there, doing this kind of work for years, so the paper is full of practical examples.

I’d be interested in what people think.

This blog was posted on the oxfam blog.

Why many development initiatives have achievement gaps…and what to do about this

written by Matt Andrews

Yesterday I blogged about Hirschman’s Hiding Hand. As I interpret it, a central part of his idea is that many development projects:

  • focus on solving complex problems, and
  • only once they have started does a ‘hiding hand’ lift to show how hard the problem is to solve,
  • but because policy-makers and reformers are already en route to solving the problem they don’t turn away from the challenges, and
  • so they start getting creative and finding ways to really solve the problem. Initial plans and designs are shelved in favor of experiments with new ideas, and after much muddling the problem is solved (albeit with unforeseen or hybrid end products).

I like the argument. But why do I see so many development projects that don’t look like this?

I see projects where solutions or projects are introduced and don’t have much impact, but then they are tried again and again–with processes that don’t allow one to recognize the unforeseen challenges, and rigid designs that don’t allow one to change or experiment or pivot around constraints and limits. Instead of adjusting when the going gets tough, many development projects carry on with the proposed solution and produce whatever limited form is possible.

I think this is because many reforms are not focused on solving problems; they are rather focused on gaining short-run legitimacy (money and support) which comes through simple promises of quick solutions. This is the most rank form of isomorphism one can imagine; where one mimics purely for show… so you get a ‘fake’ that lacks the functionality of the real thing…

Let me use Public Financial Management (PFM) reforms as an example.

What problems do these reforms try to solve? Quite a few, potentially. They could try to solve problems of governments overspending, or problems of governments not using money in the most efficient and effective manner (and ensuring services are delivered), or of governments using money in ways that erode trust between the state and citizens (and more).

Now, let me ask how many reforms actually examine whether they solve these problems? Very few, actually. Mostly, reforms ask about whether a government has introduced a new multi-year budget or an integrated financial management system. Or a new law on fiscal rules, or a new procurement system.

Sometimes the reforms will ask questions about whether fiscal discipline is improved (largely because this is something outsiders like the IMF focus on) but I seldom see any reforms–or any PFM assessments (like PEFA or even the assessments of transparency) asking if services are better delivered after reforms, or if reforms enhance trust between citizens and the state. I don’t even see efforts to systematically capture information about intermediate products that might lead to these ‘solved problems’. For instance:

  • Do we have evidence that goods are procured and delivered more efficiently (time and money-wise) after reform?
  • Do we have any systematic data to show that our new human resource management systems are helping ensure that civil servants are present and working well, and that our new payment systems pay them on time (and do a better job of limiting payments to ghost workers)?
  • Do we have any consistent evidence to show that suppliers are paid more promptly after reforms?
  • Is there any effort to see if IT systems are used as we assume they will be used, after reforms?
  • Does anyone look to see if infrastructure projects are more likely to start on time and reach completion after costly project management interventions?
  • Do we have records to show that infrastructure receives proper maintenance after reform?
  • Is there any effort to see if taxpayers trust government more with their money?

This is a long list of questions (but there are many more), and I am sure that some reforms do try to capture data on some of them (if you’ve measured these in a reform, please comment as such…it would be interesting and important to know). Most reforms I have observed don’t try to do it at all, however, which was the focus of a recent discussion on the role of PFM and service delivery Time to Care About Service Delivery? Specialists from around the world were asked whether PFM reforms improve service delivery and the answer was “we think so…we expect so…we hope so…BUT WE CAN’T TELL YOU BECAUSE WE DON’T ACTUALLY ASK EXPLICIT QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS.”

My concern with this is manifold: (i) Does the failure to ask if we are solving the problems suggest that we as a community of reformers don’t really care about the problems in the first place? (ii) Does it mean that we will not be sensitive to the situations Hirschman speaks about when he discusses unforeseen challenges that undermine our ability to address problems (simply because we don’t focus on the problems)?  (iii) Does this also mean that we will not have any moments where we explore alternatives and experiment with real solutions that help to overcome hurdles en route to solving problems?

Unfortunately, I think the observations of gaps after reforms speak to all of these interpretations. And this is why many reforms and interventions do not end up solving problems. In these cases, we get the half-baked versions of the pre-planned solution…with no adjustment and no ‘solved problem’. PFM systems look better but still don’t function–so payments remain late, wages are unpaid to some and overpaid to many, services are not delivered better, and trust actually declines. Most worrying: we have spent years doing the reforms, and now need to pretend they work..and have no learning about why the problems still fester.

The solution (maybe): In my mind this can be rectified–and we can move towards producing more projects like those Hirschman observed–by

  • focusing reforms on problems, explicitly, aggressively, from the start;
  • measuring progress by looking at indicators of ‘problem solved’ (like improved levels of trust after PFM reforms) and intermediate indicators we think will get us there (better payment of contracts, more efficient procurement, etc;
  • regularly monitoring this progress;
  • being on the lookout for expected unexpecteds (things that we didn’t know about that make our initial solutions less impactful); and
  • being willing to adjust what we started with to ensure we produce real solutions to real problems–functional improvements and not just changes in form.

For more, read This is PFM which advocates a functional approach to thinking about and doing PFM reform.