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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It’s about the P’s

Problem Construction, Perception, Process, People and Projection

Guest blog written by Cynthia Steinhauser

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.

Over the course of 12 months, I was pursuing my public policy executive certificate through HBS when I came across the IPP program designed by Professor Matt Andrews and his amazing cadre of peers. The timing couldn’t have been better as my organization was working on a new initiative to create a one-stop shop for innovation in development services from three previously “siloed” departments. Our team is focused on one major task – to rethink our development services program and create an integrated, efficient process that results in a positive experience for our customers. I saw this program as an opportunity to assist with this effort. 

As someone with over 25 years working in local government, I often assist in strategic planning efforts for new initiatives or to “reset” existing programs to help get them back on track. I was usually brought in because something wasn’t working and had reached some type of impasse.  It was often my belief that many failed for one primary reason, they did not have a clear path forward i.e. a solid strategic plan. All it would take was the right person to shepherd them through a process to develop a plan that had a clear vision, mission, goals, objectives, assigned tasks, identified resources and a well-defined timeline. Once a plan was in place to hold people accountable, all would be good. While I have many examples of success using this approach, there are also examples of failures. However, when you work in the public eye, you don’t like to talk about “failures” because on face value they seem just that – a failure that taught us nothing and did so at the expense of taxpayers.  However, as PDIA (Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation) has taught us, this could not be further from the truth. In fact, I believe that is exactly where PDIA can be most useful and have some of the greatest impact (but that is for another blog). This blog is about my entire IPP learning journey.

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Formin’ Normin’ and Stormin’ – My IPP Journey Through Pandemics and Hurricanes

Guest blog written by Liana Elliott

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 I began this executive education course – in the middle of a pandemic, while still recovering from a cyberattack – I was expecting to get some dry, Harvard-y lectures and maybe some good business-speak tools, and join the network of HKS practitioners around the world. 

I was NOT expecting to work my ass off for 6 months. I did NOT expect to try and tackle one of the most insidious problems of New Orleans’s economy – again in the middle of a pandemic, cyberattack, and now fiscal crisis – and I did NOT expect to actually get traction or buy-in from any of my non-wonky colleagues. 

I expected a refresher course to revisit the basics of public policy that I learned in graduate school, now fading from muscle memory as the pace of life quickens, the stakes rise, and the crises compound. What I received from this course was intellectually stimulating, thought provoking, and practical policy support – but I also received professional coaching, therapy, a support group, and a whole new vocabulary and perspective on how I approach my work. 

The work that I do is invisible, it doesn’t have a photo op or ribbon cutting at the end. Since no one really knows what I do, it feels like my efforts are inconsequential and unimportant. I was feeling frustrated at work – I was FULL of great ideas, processes, and policies but they always seemed to get stuck on paper, and I felt like I was failing to ever get anything launched that could survive beyond my own massive investment of time, energy, and focus. I felt my colleagues become similarly frustrated with yet another “good idea” they would get roped into, and nothing would come of it after a few weeks or months. Other colleagues seemed to breeze through projects, make things happen with the wave of some magic wand that I just didn’t have. I attributed this to my own deficits as a leader and policymaker, and I wanted to do better – for myself, but more importantly for the people of New Orleans. 

The Universe of Complexity

Within the first readings, the distinction was drawn between the complex and the complicated – a fundamental difference that is often confused, or too mind-boggling to face. This completely changed my perspective. I recognized that my universe is one of complexity and the vast universe of unknowns.

The colleagues that I was comparing myself to aren’t smarter or more effective than I am, they just work with things that are complicated. I don’t know how to build drainage infrastructure projects, administer billions of dollars in FEMA money, or set up an emergency shelter in 2 hours. I could probably figure it out, but that’s not what my job is. And I am incredibly grateful for my colleagues that keep those roads getting built and those dollars getting spent, because I don’t think I would be happy in that role. Instead, my universe is everything else that’s too nebulous or too massive for anyone to tackle. I don’t know where I am going or what I am doing, and that’s actually a strength – I’m comfortable wandering into the mist of a policy fog. If I knew where I was going, this would be just complicated and I would be bored and unfulfilled. I accepted that I don’t know what I’m doing – not succumbing to imposter syndrome – but taking ownership of the inherent vast lack of clarity or direction.

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Using the PDIA Toolkit to Help a Nonprofit in Philadelphia

Guest blog written by Jamison Hicks

The PDIA toolkit has yet again proven to be both useful and effective in providing organizations with the structural means to continually monitor and evaluate programmatic and organizational success. From a usage perspective, even though the toolkit was created in the US, the majority of PDIA blog posts on implementation seemed to be focused on out-of-country nations. With this simple observation, I thought it right to take advantage of the opportunity to implement the toolkit for a nonprofit organization in the US, namely, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Before I get too far ahead of myself, I think it is important to briefly note how I came to learn about PDIA since I am not a conventional student of the program. While interning at World Vision, the Executive Advisor on Fragile States and my personal mentor Jonathan Papoulidis, introduced me to the toolkit. By reading the free online textbook and watching many videos, I was able to gain a sufficient grasp of the concepts and in turn convert theory to an “empiric”.

One Day At A Time (ODAAT), the nonprofit organization where I implemented the toolkit focuses on substance addiction and homelessness in North Philadelphia. This region has some of the highest rates of opioid use and homelessness in the US. The first step taken was gathering all program or team supervisors into one room to diagnose problems using the Fishbone Diagram. One lesson learned; understanding the language of the organization was a necessity. Terms and questions used were not easily understood by the organization. This resulted in having to continuously adjust the approach.

For example, when trying to figure out the overarching problem the community faced, and the causes of those problems, I found it extremely helpful to use the power of stories. To explain the main problems and their causes, I offered the example of murder. Generally, individuals do not murder others without reason. The motive behind the individual’s actions could be childhood traumatic experiences, pain, loneliness, etc. This analogy helped the organization draw comparisons between the example and the initial question asked. Their main or overarching problem was equated to the hypothetical murder, and their related causes were the equivalents to the reasons behind “said” murder. Stories increased the fluidity and effectiveness of the Fishbone Diagram.

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