Tackling gun violence in Birmingham, Alabama

Guest blog by Crystal Smitherman

Being a new and young politician, I knew I had a lot of learning to do in the political sector. I had a lot of energy and great initiatives, but I still need to learn how to revamp my message and craft good policy making habits. In the midst of a crime crisis, as our murder rates continued to rise significantly every week, I knew something had to change. I knew our policy approach towards dealing with crime needed to be reformed and improved. I came across the Implementing Public Policy course on the Harvard Kennedy School website. I knew my mindset Right then, would never be the same the moment I enrolled in the course.

I always knew I had the potential and capability to make a difference in my district and city by achieving attainable development goals and initiatives. Yet, I was still hitting a brick wall when it came to getting over the hump of pushing forward on certain initiatives. This is why I am forever grateful that I joined the 2020 IPP cohort.

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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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Strengthening Collaboration to Tackle Increasing Homicides in Charlotte, North Carolina

Guest blog written by Simone D’Abreu, Smriti Iyer, Sofia Salas, Hafou Toure, Annie White

PDIA can simultaneously hold the complexity of being exciting and frustrating; challenging and inspiring; harder and easier than you think. If we could choose one phrase to define PDIA, it would probably be iterative learning. In the next few lines, we want to share some of the main things we learnt in this process, both about doing PDIA and about working with a team.

Bring on the problems, not the solutions

We have been trained to jump to solutions and answers and not spend enough time diagnosing the problem. Through this process we learned that asking the right questions and defining the problem -over and over again- is often more productive than finding the “right” solution. This understanding and learning stems from the idea that often problems are complex in nature and understanding the levers within the problem we can operate in is more important that jumping to a solution immediately.

Problems have many explanations as they are people involved

Everyone has a different view of the problem and the factors driving it. It’s hard to explain how knowing more about a problem makes it even harder to articulate it in one sentence and honor the conflict and ambiguity that exists in its definition. Problems, as well as problem definitions are not static and evolve over time. Different people have different views and explanations that must be listened to. As such, we should constantly evaluate our definitions of the problem.

The problem we were trying to delve into was that of coordination between the city and the county in order to tackle the increasing rates of homicides better in the city of Charlotte. We went back and forth on what to define the problem as and in our initial discussions our fishbone analysis which looks at root causes resembled the diagram below.

As time progressed our problem definition continuously evolved and we found that each stakeholder we spoke to had a different perspective on what the problem was and what were the root causes that led to symptoms such as high homicide rates. We mapped the root causes against the three dimensions that PDIA framework provides us, that is; Authority, Acceptance and Ability of the authoriser of our work to affect change in the problem of lack of coordination between different agencies. On the basis of this framework, we narrowed the causes and the areas we could intervene in, to Competing Priorities and Trust Deficit. We chose these two because they rated highest on the parameters of acceptance, authority and ability and were not problems that we felt were necessarily structural in nature.

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Supporting lasting Peace in Colombia

Guest blog written by Catalina Riveros Gomez, Irina Cuesta Astroz, José Luis Bernal Mantilla, Juan Carlos Garzón-Vergara, Juan David Gelvez Ferreira.

This is a team from Colombia working for an independent think tank called Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP). They successfully completed the 15-week Practice of PDIA online course that ended in December 2018. This is their story.

In many cases, people use to think that public issues are so complex and it is necessary to re-structure the system to improve or to change a reality. On the other hand, many academics argue that the solution is already done in other part of the world, so we just have to implement what worked in other country/city and the problem is solved. However, the public affairs are complex, it changes and have different reactions depending the time and the territory. With that in mind, this course taught us many things:

  • First, we learned that it is possible to advance in the solution of complex problems, developing small and concrete actions. To do this, it is important to understand that there is no single solution, but we can have multiple alternatives, from which we learned and adapted our responses.
  • Second, we understood that we should not have a fixed plan, but a strategy opened to change based on what we have learned. A key tool for this is iteration to identify what adjustments do we need to do to move ahead.
  • Third, we learned how the iterative process works in practice, and why it is relevant not only to ask what we did, but also what we learned and what we will do to solve it.
  • Fourth, not everything that presents itself as a problem is actually a problem. As highlighted in one of the sessions, many times what exist are solutions disguised as problems. This is a key element, as it facilitates the formulation and dissection of the problem into small pieces that can then be addressed independently.
  • We also learned that time management and expectations regarding possible goals are very important. We had to adjust our expectations about the results we could achieve and set up realistic and doable actions.
  • Finally, we also learned that it is important to translate ideas into practice, because it is through actions that we can learn and adjust what we want to do. I understand better the “try, learn, adapt” method and how the iteration process works.

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