Honoring the memory of a lost child: A father’s inspirational pursuit of policy change

Guest blog by Anjan Chimaladinne

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.

On August 13, 2016, my 16-year-old son passed away unexpectedly and suddenly. My wife and I have established scholarships in his name at his high school and the college he was planning on attending. For the 4 past years we rendered help to several other social causes. In the United States, suicide was the second leading cause of death for persons aged 10–24 from 2000-2017 and mental health is leading contributor for suicides. This issue has been bothering us for the past 4 years and we wanted to help and did not know how to. The Covid-19 and work from home situation opened time and helped me find and enroll in the Implementing Public Policy course. My initial expectation of this course was, it would certainly help me do something in honor of my son, Anshul, and save at least few lives.

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Navigating innovations in emergency services with PDIA

Guest blog by Ken Bailey

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.

I have been privy to the legislative and public policy process for well over 10 years, mostly with an amateurish understanding and certainly lacking the tools to be consistently effective. Having muddled in this space for a number of years, I have been successful on many fronts, again more through tenacity than with clarity of purpose. I have authored and pushed through several pieces of legislation, most of which have become part law in my State. Additionally, I have played the politics at the regional level, attempting to shape policy positions, largely with mixed results. As to be expected, my overall results have more losses than wins. Though it was not this loss / win ratio that bothered me. What concerned me the most was the idea that there was a better way of doing things that I was not aware of, thus I looked in to the Implementing Public Policy course at the Kennedy School.

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Tackling workforce development in Tampa, FL using PDIA

Guest blog by Ocea Wynn

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.

When enrolling in the IPP Online, my initial thoughts were that this would be a course extensively focused on theory with very little practical application. I anticipated that if practical examples were presented, they would be so-far removed from the realism of local government work that this course would be another ‘check the box’ example of fulfilling a request by providing an input (class attendance) with an expected output (course completion) with no anticipated outcome.

My perception soon changed when we started our discussion on classifying a policy as complex or complicated. As an engineer, my education, training, and all my work experience have been in a complicated environment, of plan and control. So, when Matt started the discussion on defining complicated work, I thought ‘this course will be a piece of cake’. However, all of that soon changed as we began to delve into complexity of policy implementation. This expanded my mindset to a new way of looking at all problems, both professional and personal ones.

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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.

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Reimagining policing and passing reparations in Asheville, NC

Guest blog written by William Young

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.

There is nothing in the United States of America that policy does not dictate. In a world where politics touches nearly every aspect of our lives, we are surrounded by public policy. How do we get to that point? The point where policy is implemented into our daily lives, known or unknown. The position where policy regardless of difficulty moves from the humble beginnings of thought, to problem solving. What roadmap do we travel? To move from the smallest effect on your lives, to the largest detriment possibly if not done with the intelligence needed to implement these public policies. As an elected official and public policy expert one can always use some guided insight. So why not go to Harvard?

What comes to mind when you think of Harvard University? The word brilliance. A long storied history of excellence in thought and reasoning. Harvard is the place where some of the worlds greatest minds and leaders have come to study. Presidents, CEOs, and intellectual leaders alike, have added their names to the growing roster of Harvard alum. The credibility given to the university in all fields of human endeavor seems to be synonymous with the words excellence and reliability.

By understanding the weighted influence of the University’s reputation, one can ascertain an expectation of rigorous, thought-provoking, intellectual challenges that forces an individual to exceed one’s best efforts when applying reasoning and practical experience in the areas of public policy. The Harvard Kennedy School for Executive Education has created a program that delivers the blueprint to help you build the vehicle that propels you from policy inception to implementation. A sustainable method that can be duplicated time and time again. Creating reliable results by helping navigate the usual pitfalls of public policy.

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Implementing the Vision Zero plan in Lancaster, PA

Guest blog written by Cindy McCormick

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.

Before this course, as an engineer that’s spent most of my career in the private sector, and four years working in municipal government, I never really thought much about ‘public policy’ and wasn’t even sure what it meant.  My new boss of six months thought it would be a good course for me to take so I wasn’t sure what I was getting into.  I had recently started a Vision Zero plan and the idea of implementing what we were learning in a real project sounded interesting, as my old habits generally replace any new learning if it’s not practiced immediately. 

In this course I recognized immediately that I prefer the plan and control environment of policy. I want to be able execute a very specific solution, but I realized that problems are often more complex than originally thought and one specific solution is not going to solve the problem.  This leads me put on blinders to the criticisms and ways to make it better because once I’ve executed the plan, I’m ready to move on.  I also realized that this created a lack of ownership for developing a comprehensive solution for myself and others as the specific solution was often dictated by others.

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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

This is a blog series written by students at the Harvard Kennedy School who completed “PDIA in Action: Development Through Facilitated Emergence” (MLD 103) in March 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

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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Exploring Police and Community Relations in Lancaster, PA

Guest blog written by Anne Dietterich, Amreen Bashir, Awab Elmesbah, Giang Pham, Revanth Voothaluru, Seun Akinfolarin

This is a blog series written by students at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education who completed “PDIA in Action: Development Through Facilitated Emergence” (MLD 103) in March 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

We started MLD103M as six complete strangers scattered across three continents trying to learn better ways to tackle complex problems like those we expect to face in our careers. The class was different, though, from what we were used to. We were divided into teams, given real-life problems, and asked to learn in practice. Our project was on Community and Police relations in a city in the US. Over the seven weeks working on this, we experienced quite the journey!

The magnitude of the problem felt the biggest in the first week. When we had just learned about the topic and hadn’t started the process of learning about and understanding the problem, it was difficult for us to imagine what contributions we could make over seven weeks. We had a difficult time figuring out where to start. But it was also difficult not to understand the problem in simple terms: a mistrust between the police and the community that was the result of last summer events, including the police-involved shooting and killing of a resident in the city. At the beginning, the problem seemed as if it started last summer.

After receiving our brief and the initial set of meetings we buried our heads in desk research in the second week. We were trying to construct the problem is: what is the problem is, why does it matter, and how would it look if it were solved. We also had conversations with the authorizers on what they think the “solved problem” would look like. As one of them put it, “we want to build a bridge of communication back and forth with our community… it’s truly a concerted effort between community/police to improve our community”. The authorizers’ investment in solving the problem was a great motivation for the team.

During the third week, we were still relying on what we read from public documents and the media on what the problem is. We started deconstructing the problem and thinking about possible causes of the problem. We started developing a fishbone diagram for what we thought the causes and sub-causes might be. We were clear that these are hypotheses to test and that this was an early draft at breaking down the problem, but it was an important starting point. During this week we started reaching out to people and getting out of our team’s bubble.

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Rolling out COVID relief programs in Reno using the PDIA approach

Guest blog written by Calli Wilsey

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.

During one of our first sessions, I remember Professor Andrews speaking about complex problems and the need to address these issues with a new approach typically not used by public policy professionals and government agencies. As he described the problems he has witnessed with the traditional “plan and control” implementation method, I thought, “Oh no. If there is anything I’m good at, it’s planning. And I’m a control freak.” [Insert wide-eyed emoji and head-exploding emoji here].

Professor Andrews and the team invited us into the PDIA world and encouraged us to give it a try with open minds. Boy, am I glad I did.

As the course started, I was working with an internal team to implement a financial assistance program for small businesses that had been economically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the many uncertainties involved with the virus and the response to the public health emergency, I decided to use this situation as my implementation challenge.

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Implementing Reparations in Asheville, North Carolina

Guest blog written by Bethany Dill, Isabel Mejia Fontanot, Kent Shi, Kerianne DiBattista

This is a blog series written by students at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education who completed “PDIA in Action: Development Through Facilitated Emergence” (MLD 103) in March 2021. These are their learning journey stories.

MLD103, otherwise known as “PDIA in Action”, is a one-of-a-kind experience at HKS. On day one, we were randomly assigned teammates we would spend the next 7 weeks working with and given a problem to focus on. Quickly, we needed to get to know one another, build trust, and become experts in racial justice and how city governments operate.

Tasked with exploring viable funding mechanisms to enable the Asheville reparations process to progress, our team waded into a conceptualization of “the problem” that, we soon realized, was just a tributary flowing into a larger set of circumstances and hurdles. This early lesson served as a road sign reminding us to be ready to rethink at any time, framing our discoveries about policy and problem-solving along the way.

The Power of Iteration in Coping with Uncertainty

Approaching a task like implementing reparations for four centuries of harm inflicted on the Black community in the United States can be daunting to say the least. It’s instinctual to want to take it slow, refining all of the details of a comprehensive plan before it goes into action in order to ensure that it is done well and done correctly. At the same time, justice delayed is often justice denied. Advocates are justifiably trying to capitalize on the momentum of the moment given the unprecedented support for reparations. But there’s a reason reparations have never been implemented at such a scale before: we don’t know how. Never before has a society tried to repair numerous years and countless incidents of harm, but many of the disparities facing the Black community are centuries in the making, not the result of one isolated event.

Iteration gives us a way to cope with this very uncertainty. Accepting that we do not know the right answer can liberate us from the burden of needing to be right. We know that we’re not going to get it right immediately because the problem isn’t that simple. Rather, we have decomposed the problem and formulated small, incremental steps that we think could make a difference. If we’re wrong, that’s okay. We haven’t sunk years of time and energy into any one idea. After a week or two, we can stop, reflect, and refocus. As we try new things, we’ll learn more and more about what a solution could look like. Eventually, the uncertainty will disappear and a solution will be within our reach.

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