Episode 4: Kwabena Boakye

BSC Director Salimah Samji interviews Implementing Public Policy (IPP) alum, Kwabena Boakye, to hear more about how he is utilizing what he learned in the program as he works to resolve public problems.

Kwabena Boakye is the Director for M&E at the Monitoring and Evaluation Secretariat Office of the President in Ghana and past Chair of the Twende Mbele Management Committee. He served as an M&E specialist for the Public Financial Management Reform Project at the Ministry of Finance in Ghana and as an M&E expert at the African Capacity Building Foundation. He has also been an advisor to UNDP. 

For more information on Harvard Kennedy School's Implementing Public Policy (IPP) program, visit the website, read about the PDIA approach, and access the PDIA toolkit.


Salimah Samji  Hello and welcome to the fourth episode of the Practice of Resolving Public Problems podcast series. My name is Salimah Samji, and I am the director of Building State Capability at the Harvard Center for International Development. This new series on the practice of resolving public problems features interviews with alums of our Implementing Public Policy, IPP, executive program at the Harvard Kennedy School. The episodes will focus on how our alums are using the PDIA tools and approach in designing and implementing public policy. We hope you enjoy them. Today, I'm speaking with Kwabena Boakye, who is the director for M&E at the Monitoring and Evaluation Secretariat Office of the President in Ghana and past Chair of the Twende Mbele Management Committee. He served as an M&E specialist for the Public Financial Management Reform Project at the Ministry of Finance in Ghana and as an M&E expert at the African Capacity Building Foundation. He has also been an advisor to UNDP. Kwabena completed our IPP program in December 2019. Welcome, Kwabena. 

Kwabena Agyei Boakye Thank you very much for having me. 

Salimah Samji So why don't we get started? It's been almost two years since you've completed the IPP program. What do you still remember as being useful? 

Kwabena Agyei Boakye To be honest with you, the whole IPP generally has been quite inspiring. You see, the foundation of the course is trying to create a new perspective as to how development interventions should be looked at. For me, what has stayed with me, is this whole idea of constructing, deconstructing and sequence is critically important to have a clear understanding of the underpins of the problem. We usually say that it's the tip of the iceberg. Usually, when considered as a development problem, may not necessarily be the problem, the underlying or the root causes of the problem. So for me, what stays with me is this whole patient capital.  Where you need to wait, participatory and collaboratively to have a shared understanding of what the issues are so that you don't run for a quick fix but actually find the solutions that are really important. Thank you. 

Salimah Samji Great. Can you share some examples about how you've been using what you've learned in this program? 

Kwabena Agyei Boakye Thank you. In fact, my work as the head of an institution involves working across departments and agencies and motivating people to think through problems. What M&E is about is what matters to the people trying to focus on the impact. Therefore, I have applied the concept of bringing people together, trying to have a shared understanding. We now talk about Theory of Change. Theory of Change is primarily for everyone to understand where we are and where we want to be and what steps we get to. So I have applied the construction and deconstruction to allow people to clearly understand what they do. And also one thing that excites me so much is that you realize that what politicians or decision makers who may not always have interests along the value chain, therefore developing and sustaining authorization has been extremely useful and has come handy for me in my work. 

Salimah Samji Have you shared your learning with colleagues at work and how has that gone if you have? 

Kwabena Agyei Boakye I've done a lot. In fact, the moment I came back, the first thing I did was, my core team, which is about 50 people, the whole idea is that they need to understand this whole idea of how to construct and deconstruct. I did that through brown bag sessions, workshops and other engagement. In fact, we had opportunity of sharing with all the directors for M&E and a few corporations across the three ministries, which was quite exciting. What we did is that let's interrogate your interventions to see whether it actually answers to the underlying questions. So yes, internally and also externally, I've applied what I learned. 

Salimah Samji And how did they take it, these workshops that you had, etc.? 

Kwabena Agyei Boakye I would have wished you got them to ask. It's been fantastic because what I came to realize is that people actually want to focus on what matters. Sometimes we assume that people want a quick rush to the problem. But when we went through all these with them, you could see the joy on their faces and the desire to do more. So what I can say is that it has armed them with a new tool and a willingness to actually understand what matters to people. And therefore, at the end of the day when you are able to smile on somebody's face in terms of the impact of the intervention, then you get satisfaction for your work. 

Salimah Samji Wonderful. Are there any examples of impact that using this work that you could share with us? 

Kwabena Agyei Boakye Let me tell you an interesting story. For the first time, we realized well look, development is about bringing actors together, so I'm talking state and not state actors. It had never happened before. So we said, ok, look, how do we bring these people together to discuss what matters to them? We call it a resource fair. Initially, the concept was not properly understood by the people, but through the idea of developing and sustaining authorization, I managed to get my team and the minister to buy into the idea. And we were able to bring about 8000 people. It was exciting that the president, the vice president, the chief of staff, everybody was part. In fact, you check on the website, you see the results where you see the excitement and academia, media, everybody came together. And it showed me that it is possible when we apply these PDIA tools to be able to get all the actors galvanizing around a common agenda. At the end of the day, the impact is that everybody accepted that yes, we can work together. And the ministers were able to share how they are using the resources that they've got from government openly to the people, and the people were also able to ask questions. So for us, one of the impact is that we build trust. We bridged the gap between the state and non state so that mistrust at least we reduce it to a significant level. That's what I can say. 

Salimah Samji I really like that trust. I'm finding that in the world, we have much less and less of trust. 

Kwabena Agyei Boakye Oh yes. 

Salimah Samji And things that you can do to build trust are really valuable. What does the IPP community mean to you? 

Kwabena Agyei Boakye For me, it's a store of knowledge and a sustainable platform that allows a more evidence based or evidence informed discussion. We have colleagues with diverse background and capabilities and lived experiences coming together. It allows us to bring that theory and practice together so that you can leverage on each other's experiences and therefore leapfrog some of the challenges that we suffer. So at least you can move forward. So for me, it's a store of knowledge and a bridge of learning. 

Salimah Samji I like that, a bridge for learning and the store for knowledge. At the end of this podcast series, I'm doing a series of rapid fire questions, so I'm going to ask you those. What are you currently reading if you could share with our readers, our listeners? 

Kwabena Agyei Boakye Currently, my focus is on what has been the impact of COVID on the vulnerable, especially in my country. And I've been part of this global advocacy or global coalition on COVID evaluation with the OECD. What is coming out increasingly is that, although we say COVID has had an effect, the effects are not uniform. How are women suffering? What has been the effect on woman? Effect on children, especially those on the streets? So that has been the focus, trying to understand and possibly go ahead to evaluate and to be able to guide decision makers to have more targeted approach. You see, one size does not fit all. We cannot treat COVID as having equal effect. So that has been what I'm reading around. And also I'm still going back to the list that I got from Harvard, for instance, issues about why policies are failing. How can policy help with implementation? What are the issues that are there? So for me and also is basically because of my domain, the whole idea is that, look, policies and programs must be aimed at meeting the needs of the people. So that has been my area of interest and focus now. 

Salimah Samji What's your favorite part of the PDIA process? 

Kwabena Agyei Boakye My favorite part. Problems and deconstructed, constructed take time to deconstruct and sequencing. Sequencing for me is important, and we come back to the five whys. It's so exciting to reflect on the whys. Though you may think that in fact, you've got it from the fishbone straight away, but when you begin to ask the why the why the why? And then you come back to the other aspect, which is about the Triple A, very, very important. And after that, you move on to the next issue for me. And as I said earlier, one thing that has also been quite strategic for me is how to develop and sustain authorization because in the political space, one cannot guarantee continuous interest. Politicians have diverse interests and a lot of voices coming to them. How do I get them to listen to me all the time and pay attention to what I do and give me the support that I need and the resources? For me it has been extremely important and very useful. 

Salimah Samji Yeah, authorization, we often take it as a given. But it really is a variable. It's something that needs to be built and it needs to be maintained on a very regular basis. Kwabena, what advice would you give people who are trying to work on public problems? 

Kwabena Agyei Boakye My advice is that scratch where is itching. You see, don't assume you know. Don't use a reductionist approach or technocratic approach where because of your leaning, you think that by looking at the surface, you understand the problems. It is deeper than you can see. So it is important to spend time to look at it. And it's also about the diverse opinion, diverse perspective to the issue. So we talk about how you bring other actors together to look at the different sides of the problem. If you get it right from the beginning, certainly, you get the answer right, is more of, say, garbage in, garbage out. Because if you rush through the problem, you spend money, you waste people's time, by the end of the day, you say, and so what then is the point. So for me, it's important to spend time to construct, deconstruct, and actually sequence and move the process systematically. So that end of the day you come back and learn from it. We all know that in design, a lot of underlying assumptions and risks that we face. It's important to build all these tools. So at a time of learning you try to see, which assumptions will not hold and how you move forward in the process. Thank you. 

Salimah Samji Thank you so much, Kwabena, for joining us and for sharing your thoughts and experience with us today. 

Kwabena Agyei Boakye Well, you're most welcome. I very much appreciate the course, and I've been telling colleagues that, look, it's the place to be. You must try to get yourself in that space and be able to share ideas with colleagues and learn from other aspects to see how you can add value to the development process. I am very pleased and I really appreciate the opportunity to have contributed. And I will always, I will always recommend colleagues. Thank you. 

Salimah Samji Thank you very much, Kwabena. Thank you for listening to our podcast today. If you liked it, please check out our website BSC Dot CID Dot Harvard Dot EDU. Or follow us on social media at Harvard BSC. You can also find links and other information under the description of this podcast.