Public Leadership Through Crisis 10: Lessons from experience

written by Matt Andrews

The Public Leadership Through Crisis blog series offers ideas for leaders questioning how they can help and what kind of leadership is required in the face of a crisis (like the COVID-19 pandemic).

shutterstock_194811881-resized

As we ponder how you as a leader should consider organizing your organization(s) to respond to the crisis, let’s listen to some advice from someone who has led through various crises. Below is a podcast interview with Shruti Mehrotra, who  has advised various Heads of State on effective government and statebuilding and currently helps oversee George Soros’ Economic Development Fund and Economic Advancement Program. She has worked in a variety of leadership roles on crises in contexts like Sudan and Liberia and beyond.

https://harvardbsc.simplecast.com/episodes/applying-lessons-from-experience-to-covid-19

Here are some points from the  interview that relate to organizing yourself and your organization/team to lead through crisis.

1. Three lessons for leaders

Shruti notes that leading in these situations requires that you:

  • recognize there are no obvious, clear or easy decisions (or perfect decisions); what you need to do is get the best information you can to make  decisions (even though you know the information is imperfect),
  • need to have a process in place to discipline how you engage the information (access it, interpret it, debate it, etc.) and monitor the process (ideally from some kind of situation room), and
  • need trusted people (advisors) around you—including people with expertise in the subject matter (the technical dimensions)—to help make the decisions.

As she says: “there will  be debate, [but] as a decision maker and a decision making team, one has to go through that debate process and come up with a conclusion that is trusted and can be communicated to foster trust with the population about choices that were taken.”

An emergent idea, then: It is important to think about the information sources you  have, the process  you have for interrogating information, and the team you have doing this  work (“your trusted people” and the “technical experts”).

Continue reading Public Leadership Through Crisis 10: Lessons from experience

Seeing Pandemics as Complex Adaptive Problems

Guest blog written by Peter Harrington

As the world grapples with the first truly global pandemic, a crucial struggle is emerging between different ways of seeing the current coronavirus outbreak. On the one hand, it is a virus that medical science can tell us how to combat. On the other hand, it is a complex social challenge to which human behaviour and norms are the key. In truth it is both, but if we fail to understand this, and understand that it requires adaptive learning to overcome, far too many will die.

Five years ago, I worked alongside the late statistician and epidemiologist Hans Rosling in Liberia on the Ebola epidemic sweeping the country and its neighbours. I had gone back to Liberia having previously spent three years in the country with the Africa Governance Initiative, working in the office of President Sirleaf. Like many, including Rosling, I came out of a sense of duty. Looking back on that experience, it holds powerful lessons for how we respond to coronavirus today.

Rosling said something memorable in 2014, that ‘Ebola is both a biological and a social phenomenon’. In other words, beating it was as much about behaviour as beds, as much about trust as treatment. The huge spike of cases in Liberia – which at one point threatened to collapse the country – peaked around November 2014. Privately, many of the foreign epidemiological experts in Liberia admitted it is unlikely that the (belated) influx of beds, logistics, money and aid workers explains the decline in new cases around the country after that.

So what happened? It is actually really useful to look at what happened as an exercise in mass problem-driven iterative adaptation (PDIA). The headline problem was abundantly clear – an out of control epidemic with a mortality rate of over 50%. And the country lacked the capabilities to handle this epidemic. What followed was a mass learning process, encompassing many actors. Starting with the authorities: they had to learn how to set up an Incident Management System, the name for a completely new institution dedicated to the eradication of the outbreak, to avoid overloading the Health Ministry and other existing institutions. They had to learn to set up emergency response phone numbers, special burial teams, to build special Ebola treatment Units (ETUs), set up and run testing labs, mobilise mass logistics to distribute these resources, all without abandoning those in need of other healthcare.

At the same time, the stampede of outside organisations wishing to help had to learn too – to take their ‘expertise’ with public health, epidemics, logistics and communications and translate that to the local context. Some organisations – like the American CDC who came with ears and eyes open – proved very good at that. Others like the WHO proved very slow indeed. The difference was the willingness to learn. Continue reading Seeing Pandemics as Complex Adaptive Problems

Motivation Sustains Passion the PDIA way

Guest blog written by Upamanyu Basu

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 7-month blended learning course in December 2019. These are their learning journey stories.

I am a career bureaucrat from India and my job responsibilities have always revolved around implementing public policy – whether in my postings in my parent department i.e. Income tax Department or in my secondments to the Ministry of Human Resource Development and now in the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying. My job of administering the Government’s policy of ‘prevention, control and containment of animal diseases’ entails vaccination of all eligible animals (livestock and poultry) against diseases considered economically important for the humongous losses caused by them. My challenge includes managing limited public funds and its timely availability, large number of eligible animals with lack of animal identification, farmers with few livestock, scattered in difficult geographical terrains, multi-agency implementers, availability of quality vaccines and their efficacy, motivating vaccinators in the wake of shortage of supervisory veterinary staff, risk management at quarantine stations, animal movements across state borders, lack of last mile monitoring of service delivery. Stakeholders include Central and the State Governments and their Veterinary Services, vaccine and vaccination equipment industry, farmers (and their animals) and finally, the political authorizers.

Taking all the challenges into consideration and meandering through multiple roadblocks is the true test, in my opinion, of implementing public policy. Yet, I was drawn into the programme offered at HKS titled ‘Implementing public policy” simply wondering as to what is it that is going to be taught different than what our experiential learning could not teach. My curiosity was fuelled further by simply talking to my peers at the commencement of the course. Everybody appeared to try to solve their respective public policy in their own way. Yet, the binding thread appeared to be the selflessness and the honesty of approach that was clearly visible on their faces. The urge to passionately pursue their public problem appeared to be in everyone’s mind. It seemed as if everybody had a story to tell!

In the classes and thereafter, it was clear that while our experiences taught us a lot about implementing public policy to alleviate a public problem in a sustained manner, there were gaps that we did not realize. Our perceptions somewhere went awry and hence a single problem often tried to grow hydra-like tentacles. Iteration of a problem often helped in solving it, striking at the roots rather than trying to address it in a chalked-out path. Iteration of a problem followed by construction, deconstruction and reconstruction helps in understanding not only the source of the problem but whether the one that we are trying to solve is the actual problem or otherwise!

Continue reading Motivation Sustains Passion the PDIA way