Examining options for food and drug supply safety in the U.S. in response to pandemic restrictions

Guest blog by Laura Draski

When I first applied to be part of the Implementing Public Policy cohort, I expected to learn much about various techniques, tools and theories used in implementing policy. About the nuts and bolts of how to design and create policy that can be implemented. About how to manage a process of complex and intersecting implementation. I would graduate with a toolkit to pull out of my belt and a formula complete with a calculator to plug in my variables and expected outcomes of measured success. Indeed, the Harvard Kennedy School Playbook for Implementing Policy.

And I did learn tangible tools and some phenomenal ideologies and guiding principles. Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) is now part of how I see and respond to the world. I talk about teaming, snowflake models and trust triangles as if they’re a normal part of dinner conversation. I pride myself in being able to construct a mean and comprehensive Fishbone Diagram. And, truly, these are all helpful skills and knowledge to draw upon when considering complex policy problems.

But what I didn’t expect to learn in this course was about leadership and how much your own leadership skills can influence not only a successful policy outcome, but the leadership ability and success of others. About the importance of building relationships (and it’s all about the relationships), and about learning from and influencing others. I was struck by the model of multi-agent leadership where risk is shared and where true leaders acknowledge that complex problems can only be solved when you mobilize and provide opportunity for others to exert their leadership.

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Embracing flexibility to untangle longstanding policy issues in Nigeria

Guest blog by Tabia Princewill

As a Special Assistant to the Speaker of the House of Representatives in Nigeria, I have experience working in a large, complex bureaucracy and I decided to take this course to learn how to deliver results within a space where state capability has been weakened over the years and where competing political interests often negatively impact the organization’s capacity to produce positive outcomes. I came into the course with a number of assumptions about who holds authority within a structure and I was happy to learn how to challenge traditional notions about the usefulness of top down approaches as well as plan and control methods. My expectations were thus met and mostly surpassed: our supportive team of instructors made learning thought-provoking and fun drawing from global examples of building state capability.

This IPP journey was the unexpected deus ex machina which enabled me to remain productive and hopeful during the COVID 19 pandemic. Despite these unprecedented and incredible circumstances, I gained a real boost by absorbing new tools and perspectives. Some key learnings for me were the “4Ps” (perception, projection, people and process) because this helped me deeply connect with the core of what I needed to do: disappoint political elites at a rate they can absorb and enable a more inquisitive mindset in my work environment so that new stories, new viewpoints and narratives can be heard, instead of the usual practice of allowing ourselves to be locked into one fixed way of thinking.

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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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Time, Teams and Tenacity

Guest blog by Pamela Byrne

Reflecting back on my implementing public policy learning journey, three elements stand out. Implementing public policy takes time; it requires a highly functional team and; tenacity is essential for success. So let me explain these “T”s in some more detail.


When presented with a complex problem, your automatic reflex could be that you need to solve the problem quickly…. That was my tendency. But you need to resist that innate tendency to jump to the solution or to apply a solution that has worked in another place, for another purpose or under a different set of circumstances. Because to truly solve complex problems and achieve the right outcomes from public policy initiatives – outcomes that make a difference in people’s lives – you must take the time to construct and deconstruct the problem you are facing at the outset. So many times, policy initiatives have failed because we have not taken the time to really understand what the problem is or have not spent enough time gathering the information, the insight, the intelligence to bring us to a deep understanding of what the real issues are that need to be resolved.

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Reassessing what it means to problem-solve in Laos

Guest blog by Samantha Blake Rudick

When I was in middle school, I was part of a program called “Problem Solving.” The concept was one big problem would be presented and then, in a group, students would break this problem down into twenty smaller problems. They would then select one of these smaller issues and come up with 20 solutions to this smaller problem. They would analyze their solutions, pick the best one and present it in a creative way to the larger group, with the winners getting a prize.

The Implementing Public Policy course and taking us through Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) was similar to this idea, in some senses, except that in working with adults they can break the news to us: we can’t just stop at addressing one small issue.

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Countering Radicalization in France

Guest blog written by Mer Carattini, Sasha Mathew, Imara Salas, Kishan Shah, Katie Wesdyk

The PDIA process taught us how to turn a ‘wicked problem’—a highly complex tangle of many problems with high uncertainty—into manageable components that we can begin to address. We learned a strategy for how to deconstruct an abstract problem with the fishbone framework. Most importantly, we learned that complex problems in unfamiliar contexts can be addressed through a structured approach. We had the chance to put theory into practice by working on radicalization in France.

There was a lot to unpack for the problem of radicalization in France. We had the opportunity to work with our authorizer, Raphaël, whom currently serves as a cyber security expert to the BNP Paribas Bank and Board members of think tank “Les Jeunes IHEDN.” His initial problem statement was to detect, react to, and prevent radicalization within private companies. However, it is very difficult for private companies to play a constructive role in the radicalization debate because of how sensitive the issue is and because there is a lack of dialogue even at a community level. But before we could start a conversation, we had to zoom out on the big picture to grasp the full complexity of radicalization. 

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If on a Winter’s Afternoon Four Policy Students …

Guest blog written by Nathalie Gazzaneo, Tendai Mvuvu, Rodrigo Tejada, Matt Weber

On a winter’s afternoon in early February this year, a Mexican MPP1, a Brazilian MPP2, a Zimbabwean MC-MPA and an American MC-MPA randomly stepped up to the plate of abandoned projects in Nigeria. We, the four students and travelers, had never crossed our paths before (more accurately, we had never seen each other over Zoom). Additionally, none of us had ever worked in Nigeria. Before you think it could not get more chaotic, we had only 8 weeks to learn and experiment as much as we could on the assigned problem before coming up with novel and actionable ideas to expand its change space. Ready. Steady. Go! We weren’t ready, the journey wasn’t steady, but we definitely went on.

Maybe one of our first and most powerful realizations in our PDIA journey was that there was no silver bullet fix to the problem of abandoned projects in Nigeria. It took us two entire weeks to look at the problem with more curious and deconstructive eyes until we managed to draft a set of plausible causes and sub-causes that could be at its roots. We had to remain patient and above all curious and collaborative to shift from our initial planners approach to the searchers perspective required by the PDIA process.

As we deconstructed the problem through interviews and research, the Ishikawa fish diagram and the “five whys” heuristics helped us organize our insights in a meaningful fashion. At this stage, we also started to become more wary of our language usage versus our authorizer’s language usage (more on that later). And as our inquiry and knowledge deepened, so grew our ability to ask smarter questions and to find viable entry points.

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Deconstructing policy challenges using the fishbone

Guest blog written by Yilma Melkamu Alazar

I came across the “Implementing Public Policy” course by chance while scrolling through my social media links. Reading through the course objectives, I immediately thought it might help me to find a way to solve some of my struggles. However, I was a bit skeptical since my field of practice is somehow sensitive and often relegated to the bottom list of policy priorities as politicians don’t want to openly and directly address it despite it is a denominator for the success of most of their agendas. So I was not sure such a short course, a full course for that matter, would help me to make a dent.

Nevertheless, I went ahead and enrolled hoping that a quick and ‘gold standard’ remedy would be found.

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Exploring Legal Education Reform in Ukraine

Guest blog written by Ilhom Aliyev, Yousif Folathi Alkhoori, Manoj Kumar, Mike Ramirez, Frederick Tarantino

MLD 103MA: Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) in Action: Development Through Facilitated Emergence is among the best classes at Harvard Kennedy School. This hidden infinity stone, 2-credit class challenges you to solve real-world, complex problems using the PDIA approach.

The tried-and-true PDIA process puts a learning structure in the way we look at complexity in local contexts from multiple perspectives. From a high-level, implementation includes a step-by-step approach of breaking down problems into its root cause, finding entry points, searching for possible solutions, taking actions, reflecting on what you learned, adapting, and repeating until the true solution is developed. 

This semester, we were divided into teams to tackle real-world solutions. Our team, MY FM Inspiration, were given the challenge of examining legal education reform in Ukraine. Our authorizer was Artem Shaipov, a legal specialist and task leader for the USAID New Justice Program in Ukraine. In the first week, our team realized this problem had many dimensions to it. 

There was an abundance of information to consume, and competing literature on what the problem actually was with legal education. To make the problem more difficult, many of us came from western legal education structures, but the Ukrainian legal education structure was very different, and in many ways still based off a Soviet Union era paradigm. Our team dived thickly into the topic with great humility and was focused on gathering as much information and learning as fast as possible. Our first fishbone diagram had nearly ~50 ribs and reflected the discoveries we obtained after the first two weeks.

It was hard to see a clear picture at the beginning. We found ourselves trying to dig past fake problems and problems that were just a lack of a specific solution. It was clear that PDIA was the correct method to use in this case because there was nothing linear about the challenges and potential solutions facing legal education in Ukraine. We had to fight the urge to try and find answers too quickly. The problem seemed to have a hundred gaps that each required individual keys and mastery.

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Tackling Access to Affordable and Quality Childcare in Burien, Washington

Guest blog written by Harman Bhullar, Sasinat Chindapol, Crystal Collier, Doreen King, Jingli Yan

On the problem …

In the dark, feeling for this shapeless beast,

Even when you think you know, do not be deceived,

Its ever-changing nature will make you question every move,

Build it up, break it down, and you shall find the truth.

When the ‘problem’ came to us, it was really a solution in the guise of a problem, for the original task was to make childcare in Burien a portable benefit that families could take with them. Even as we transformed it into a problem statement of families in Burien not having access to affordable and quality childcare, our problem construction work did not end there – we had painstakingly asked ourselves over and over again why this mattered and why it was a problem, not just a condition. Replicating this thought process with our authorizer Councilmember Kevin Schilling, we found that naming the distinction between the two created a pause and an opportunity for a deeper contemplation to give shape to the initially undefined problem.

Following the PDIA approach, we proceeded to problem deconstruction, which shed light on a number of insights, including underlying causes that did not seem to be obvious and inherent to the problem itself. Firstly, while stakeholders knew that affordable childcare was an issue, their understanding of its complexity was rather limited, contributing to insufficient motivation and urgency to take action. Secondly, the problem was not simply a lack of a solution, implying that no amount of expansion to Burien’s currently restricted budget will solve the childcare problem permanently. Our problem deconstruction pointed to much deeper societal issues that needed to be simultaneously or first addressed, including the need for a wider recognition that childcare is not an individual problem but in fact, one that weighs upon the community as a whole.

Fishbone Diagram

After we finally decided on three potential entry points to tackle first (awareness, lack of business support, and lack of city support), we began to fully appreciate the dynamicity of both the problem and the change space surrounding it. Through continually gathering information from a broad network of people and sources and updating our prior, we came face to face with the possibility that a change in one piece of information may trace back and require corrections to all of our past decisions. This realization, alongside the uncertainty that came with it, was difficult to embrace, and it also manifested in our AAA analysis. Kevin reminded us that authority, acceptance, and ability can change quickly, so does the feasibility of every solution that has been generated as a result of this analysis. It struck us that, perhaps we were too static in unpacking the problem and building the change space around the authorizer. Therefore, a dynamic mindset and an understanding of the problem as an evolving object, be it in the context of a six-week project or a five-year one, is an absolute necessity.

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