The BSC team uses the Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) approach, which rests on four core principles:

local solutions for local problems
pushing problem driven positive deviance
try, learn iterate, adapt
scale through diffusion

What is PDIA?

Recent Publications

Enhancing Public Health Outcomes in Developing Countries: From Good Policies and Best Practices to Better Implementation

Woolcock, Michael. 2018. “Enhancing Public Health Outcomes in Developing Countries: From Good Policies and Best Practices to Better Implementation”.Abstract

In rich and poor countries alike, a core challenge is building the state’s capability for policy implementation. Delivering high-quality public health and health care – affordably, reliably, at scale, for all – exemplifies this challenge, since doing so requires deftly integrating refined technical skills (surgery), broad logistics management (supply chains, facilities maintenance), adaptive problem solving (curative care) and resolving ideological differences (who pays? who provides?), even as the prevailing health problems themselves only become more diverse, complex and expensive as countries become more prosperous.

The current state of state capability in developing countries, however, is demonstrably alarming, with the strains and demands only likely to intensify in the coming decades. Prevailing ‘best practice’ strategies for building implementation capability – copying and scaling putative successes from abroad – are too often part of the problem, while individual training (‘capacity building’) and technological upgrades (e.g., new management information systems) remain necessary but deeply insufficient. An alternative approach is outlined, one centered on building implementation capability by working iteratively to solve problems nominated and prioritized by local actors.

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Autonomous Reform vs Global Isomorphism: Explaining Iran’s Success in Reducing Fertility

Khandan, Masoomeh, and Lant Pritchett. 2018. “Autonomous Reform vs Global Isomorphism: Explaining Iran’s Success in Reducing Fertility”.Abstract
A long-standing literature in the sociology of organizations (e.g., DiMaggio and Powell 1983) suggests that, as change agents face uncertainty about actions and outcomes, they often seek legitimacy through isomorphism: adopting structures, policies and reforms similar (at least in appearance) to those deemed successful elsewhere. We examine history’s most rapid reduction of fertility—from 8.4 in 1985 to 2.4 in 2002, in rural Iran—as an example of successful autonomous reform. The Iranian state, which was self-consciously cut off from nearly all of the traditional vectors of global isomorphism, initiated a successful behavioral change in a domain (family planning) perhaps unexpected for an Islamic state. We describe and explain the Iranian approach, in particular the rural program, contrasting it with the global strategy of adopting universal "best practices."
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Learning to Improve the Investment Climate for Economic Diversification: PDIA in Action in Sri Lanka

Andrews, Matt, Duminda Ariyasinghe, Amara S. Beling, Peter Harrington, Tim McNaught, Fathima Nafla Niyas, Anisha Poobalan, et al. 2017. “Learning to Improve the Investment Climate for Economic Diversification: PDIA in Action in Sri Lanka”.Abstract
Many countries, like Sri Lanka, are trying to diversify their economies but often lack the
capabilities to lead diversification programs. One of these capabilities relates to preparing the investment climate in the country. Many governments tackle this issue by trying to improve their scores on ‘Doing Business Indicators’ which measure performance on general factors affecting business globally (like how long it takes to open a business or pay taxes). Beyond these common indicators, however, investors face context specific challenges when working in countries like Sri Lanka that are not addressed in global indicators. Governments often lack the capabilities to identify and resolve such issues. This paper narrates a recent initiative to establish these capabilities in Sri Lanka. The initiative adopted a Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) process, where a team of Sri Lankan officials worked with Harvard Center for International Development (CID) facilitators to build capabilities over a six-month period. The paper tells the story of this process, providing documented evidence of the progress over time (and describing thinking behind the PDIA process as well). The paper will be of interest to those thinking about the challenges associated with creating a climate that is investor or business friendly and to those interested in processes (like PDIA) focused on building state capability and fostering policy implementation.
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Learning to Engage New Investors for Economic Diversification: PDIA in Action in Sri Lanka

Andrews, Matt, Duminda Ariyasinghe, Krishantha Britto, Peter Harrington, Nelson Kumaratunga, M.K.D. Lawrance, Tim McNaught, et al. 2017. “Learning to Engage New Investors for Economic Diversification: PDIA in Action in Sri Lanka”.Abstract
Many countries, like Sri Lanka, are trying to diversify their economies but often lack the
capabilities to lead diversification programs. One of these capabilities relates to engaging new investors—in new sectors—to bring their FDI and know-how to a new country and kick-start new sources of activity. This paper narrates a recent (and ongoing) initiative to establish this kind of capability in Sri Lanka. The initiative adopted a Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) process, where a team of Sri Lankan officials worked with Harvard Center for International Development (CID) facilitators to build capabilities over a six-month period. The paper tells the story of this process, providing documented evidence of the progress over time (and describing thinking behind the PDIA process as well). It shows how an investment engagement approach can emerge in a reasonably limited period, when a committed team of public officials are effectively authorized and engaged. The paper will be of particular interest to those thinking about investor engagement challenges and to those interested in processes (like PDIA) focused on building state capability and fostering policy implementation in public contexts.
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Spotlight

Matt Andrews and Salimah Samji talk about how the Building State Capability program came about, explain the program’s core methodology and how it’s being applied by hundreds of practitioners worldwide.