Here is what we learned about learning about PDIA (Part II)

Written by Arnaldo Pellini, Endah Purnawati, and Siti Ruhanawati

During the last couple of months we have gone through the six modules of the online PDIA course developed by Matt Andrews et al. We want to share here what we have learned about learning about Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA). You can find Part I blog with some of our early reflections here.

We work in a relatively large programme which aims, with its partners, at strengthening the capabilities and  systems of evidence-based policy making in Indonesia. It is a programme to which a PDIA approach seems particularly suited (See Knowledge Sector Initiative).

I (ie Arnaldo) have done the course a year or so ago and found it super-interesting. Ana and Endah did not take part at the time but really wanted to discover what PDIA is and how it can help their work.

When I took part in the original course, I saved the reading material and assignments into folders: a folder for each module. I also created playlists in YouTube which store the video lectures in the right sequence.

The six modules of the course are:

  • Capability for Policy Implementation
  • Techniques of Successful Failure
  • Building the Capability you Need
  • PDIA to Escape
  • Constructing Problems
  • Deconstructing Problems

We decided to meet every second week. I shared the reading material, assignment, and video playlist for the first module and two weeks later we met to discuss about it. For me this was also a good opportunity to go through the material again.

After the second module Ana and Endah realized that it was quite difficult for them to make time especially for the readings. Two weeks seemed a good amount of time for one module, but due to the workload in the programme, they found themselves having to rush the reading during the last couple of days before we would meet again. It did not work well.

At Module 3 we decided to try something different.

We watched the module’s videos together. This proved to be the best way to go about learning about PDIA and we continued in this way until Module 6.

Our key take away from learning about PDIA are:

  • Watching the videos together, pausing them at a particularly interesting point or rewinding them when something was not clear, gave us the opportunity, not only to learn about the principles and key concept underpinning PDIA, but also to discuss right away what those principles and key concepts mean for our programme and our work. Is PDIA feasible in our programme? What are the challenges? Which areas of our programme deal with wicked hard problems? Which ones with logistical problems? Do we come up with three possible solutions for each problem we identify? and so on.
  • The approach emphasized by PDIA which pushes us to get really to the roots of the problems, can help to assess whether we are dealing with real problems or just solutions presented as problems.
  • When we identify a real and concrete problem we can be confident that we can think and find some solutions.
  • PDIA requires acceptance and space to be applied in a programme. This requires programmes to have the flexibility to try out solutions and accept that these may not succeed.

We shared these takeaways to the programme in brown bag lunch at the office. The questions that the colleagues asked us resonate with the discussions which are taking place in the PDIA and DDD blogosphere about the next steps of PDIA:

  • When testing a solution how long do you go before you decide it is not working ?
  • How to reconcile annual plans and budgets, approvals from steering committees, regular reports to the funder with this way of working? Maybe by developing sufficiently general plans, get them approved, and allow for modifications within certain parameters?
  • How do you engage government partners in this way of working?
  • … and more

The learning about PDIA continues here in Jakarta.


P.S. In case you wonder what the photo at the beginning of the blog has to do with PDIA, the answer is: not much. Being a bicycle commuter in Jakarta, that is my personal campaign for bicycle lanes in the city. The absence of which, now that I think about it, can be seen as a wicked hard problem to solve.

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