Episode 1: Maggie Jones

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

Maggie Jones has been in public service for more than 14 years. She joined the Tarrant County, TX team in 2016 as Assistant Director of Community Development. In her current role, she works closely with local development organizations to increase the availability of quality, attainable housing, collaborates with local governments on economic development efforts, facilitates discussions around complex community challenges, assists in the oversight of federal grant programs, and promotes transportation and mobility innovation. She serves on the Board of Directors for Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) as well as the Parks and Recreation Board of Bedford, TX where she resides. Maggie completed our IPP program in December 2019 and was one of our first moderators of the IPP Community of Practice (CoP). To learn more about Maggie's IPP journey, read her BSC blog post, Finding Family through Process Improvement, as well as Practice Makes Purpose, which she wrote alongside her fellow CoP moderators. 

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 first 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 Maggie Jones, who has been in public service for more than 14 years. She joined the Tarrant County, Texas team in 2016 as Assistant Director of community development. In her current role, she works closely with local development organizations to increase the availability of quality, attainable housing, collaborate with local governments on economic development efforts, facilitates discussions around complex community challenges, assists in the oversight of federal grant programs, and promotes transportation and mobility innovation. She serves on the Board of Directors for Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL), as well as the Parks and Recreation Board of Bedford, Texas, where she resides. Maggie completed our IPP program in December 2019 and was one of our first moderators of the IPP community of practice. Welcome, Maggie. It's a real pleasure to have you on this podcast.

Maggie Jones Thanks so much, Salimah. It's exciting to be here.

Salimah Samji So let's get started, Maggie. It's been almost two years since you completed the IPP program. What do you still remember as being useful?

Maggie Jones Oh, gosh. First and foremost, I can't believe that it's been two years because it seems like it was yesterday that we were all sitting in a classroom and throwing airplanes at the front of the class and just really getting to connect with one another. And I think everything has been useful about this program, right? Especially everything from the community of practice, all the lessons learned. In all seriousness, though, the problem driven iterative adaptation process through PDIA, it's so practical and it applies to so much. So it's been very useful, both personally and professionally. I think breaking down the problems into little bits, embracing failure, finally being acceptable to ask why multiple times. I think all of that has just really, really been wonderful.

Salimah Samji Can you share some examples about how you have been using what you learned in the program?

Maggie Jones Yes. So there's this little shift that happens after IPP where you look at the world a little bit differently. So breaking down challenges, no matter how big or small, rather than trying to bite the whole thing at the same time. And so you shift your thinking to start thinking about the root causes of problems and what you're authorizing environment looks like rather than trying to say, "Oh, let's do this" and run off to do the next thing that you're thinking about. It's helped in parenting. It's helped in managing people, thinking about my own experience as a human being. You know, we started using some of this in our work, both in the office and then also with partners that we work with. So we have looked at some of our program performance to see what's working, what's not working so well, what we could be doing differently. It's also changed how we've been having conversations about problems in the office, which is really exciting, and I'll get to it a little bit. So it's been this whole culture shift, I think, in our work that we didn't have before. So before it was very rigid and we're going to follow these steps. But then when you start using some of the tools that you develop in Implementing Public Policy, it starts creating a much more flexible environment to do some good work.

Salimah Samji You know, this idea of sharing your learning with your colleagues at work -- I was wondering if you could share with our listeners how one goes about that process. Because there is only one of you that came to our training program, and you're the one who has been changed and transformed and now you're coming back to your system. They did not have the same experience that you did. How do you bring change? How do you share this learning with them?

Maggie Jones Oh, that was fun. So absolutely have shared all of these learnings, but the first time it was a total sneak attack. So coming back to the office, it was very much of a don't change anything, not that you've been gone for a week, but don't change anything. And it scared me to death. I'm like, OK, well, first of all, I'm going to be graded on whether or not I can actually make some movement, so I better figure out how to do it. And so, you know, at that point, it was sitting down with my authorizer at that time and saying, OK, this is what I learned and this is what I figured out, and this is how I think we might be able to tackle this a little bit differently. And so it was much more of a I just want to change this little tiny bit that I have authority over, so I have a good change space over, and she said, OK. Go forward and figure that out. And it was nice because I started with something small. We had also been starting to have some conversations around that anyway, and so the environment seemed right for that. But it was still sort of this, you know, what did she learn on the East Coast? And she's coming back to Texas and I don't know, why didn't you go figure this out at Tarrant County College or TCU? And so trying to figure that out, it's a very different environment here. And so it was definitely much more of a sneak attack. The second time around, I was much more bold about it and it was, hey, guys, by the way, there is the PDIA tool kit online and we're going to work through this process. And it was much more formal. And it was neat because we had sort of set the foundation during the sneak attack so that these were ideas that weren't necessarily new, but now they had a lot more structure the second time around when we were working through the tool kit. So I think what's been fun is we were able to tackle our programs in a little bit of a different way. Through the sneak attack, we were able to acknowledge that we had problems in the first place. And so I think that was really the first step was saying, hey, these are some things we're not doing so well. What can we do differently? And having that openness, I found, especially just being one person and coming back and saying, hey, I think this is a problem. We should do something about it and really being open about that. That I wasn't coming down on staff and saying, no, this isn't right, but really coming together as a community and saying, what can we do about this together as a cohesive unit? And I think having that acceptance of failure and then that push towards learning really opened up the gates for us to do some good work. So it's really been neat sort of that whole shift to that culture shift that's happened. We've had some significant changes in our office. We've had new staff, new leadership come in and it's been one of those things too that we've been able to carry that momentum. So what started off in one of our programs and hoping to take to another group in our same department building on the wonderful work that your graduate students have done to on homelessness, I'm really pumped about that, so, yeah, it's kind of one of those things that as we've been able to work on these problems and work on these challenges and taking these tools and continuing to do good work, and now we have that momentum right to keep pushing and then going, OK, well, let's try something else, and we're going to use this methodology again and again and again know it's not something that you do once and you stop being done. You can just keep going.

Salimah Samji It's really interesting the way you describe your approach, because what we have also found in our own work working with others is if you start off by telling people, oh, there's this new approach and start to explain them and give them like the whole spiel. You end up overwhelming people. So I think your approach of starting small, you know, sharing the toolkit as a second step as opposed to like, let's try something different. We've seen people have a lot more success with that strategy. So I love hearing how you thought about that. As you know, the IPP program, what makes it very different is you're not done when the program ends.

Maggie Jones That's the best part.

Salimah Samji The new thing is that you then join at the beginning of joining our community of practice where we have moderators for a period of six months and you were one of the first moderators for the community. And so having been a moderator of the community, I was wondering if you could just share a little bit about your own experience, about what the community of practice means to you both having been the moderator and being a member of the community of practice?

Maggie Jones Yeah. So the community of practice, I'm not kidding. It really is, you know, one of the best parts about IPP because then the learning keeps going and then you've made these amazing, incredible connections and then it doesn't stop. I mean, our WhatsApp group is still pretty active. I was looking earlier today, I think there were 14 messages in the span of about forty five minutes like, Oh man, I'm missing and missing all the action. But it's really exciting because people, it's not just talking about what's happening professionally, but then also about what's happening personally. So there have been weddings, and there have been babies, and there have been new jobs and new endeavors and books and all of this stuff. And I think it's really wonderful to see all of that and so we can celebrate all of that together. And then if somebody is going through something, you know, we can work through all of that together. Again, whether it's it's something at work or your career or if there's something personal going on. The other thing that was really wonderful was, and selfishly, I loved writing all of those different announcements, right? And thinking about how you can use PDIA. And it's been so wonderful to read all of the different announcements as they continue and they land in my inbox. It's like a little bit of joy. And to read about how people are using the PDIA process or the lessons they learned from IPP in their work. And then you go, oh my gosh, that's so neat. I haven't thought about that before, or I'm going to send that person a message to check on them and see how they're doing. So it really has become this, this family unit that I haven't seen that, right, with other groups. You just kind of like, great, cool, thanks, that was fun, and then you move on. But then with this group that just keeps it just keeps going and it's just so wonderful. There was one time I can't remember if it was a post or what and I talked a lot about, I think it was during quarantine and we've been watching way too many Disney movies and Lilo and Stitch, which is wonderful, and they have this great piece about Ohana and how Ohana means family and family means nobody gets left behind. And that's how I feel of our community of practice because we really have been able to help each other along the way through all of this. So the community of practice is the best part, I think.

Salimah Samji Great, I love that, Ohana, we should probably start using that word. Thanks for that. And now, Maggie, you know, we're starting this series with the rapid fire questions that we will ask all participants who come to this podcast. And so first, are you ready for the rapid fire? Great. The first question what are you currently reading?

Maggie Jones So I'm currently reading The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker. It was recommended to me by the amazing Kirsten Wyatt, who you and I both love and adore, and we're prepping for our 2021 ELGL virtual conference. And even though it's this virtual conference, we wanted to make sure that it was meaningful to the folks who were there. And this book is so beautiful because it provides an entirely new playbook for coming together in any situation, whether it's big, small, formal, casual or whatever. And it's really been wonderful. I have small kids, right? So it's hard to find time to read the book, but I'll find that I will start reading it, and I can't put it down. And then my kid will ask for something and I'll run over, and then run back to my book to keep reading. But it's neat because I've been thinking about all these lessons and even daily meetings, or how I'm getting people to prepare for a meeting all these different things. So it's incredibly applicable, not even just for a big conference, but for the small stuff too.

Salimah Samji I look forward to reading that myself. What's your favorite part of the PDIA process?

Maggie Jones It's hard to pick one, right? And I think what's neat about PDIA is you're always learning along the way, so there's always something new and exciting to get pumped up about. So I would say it either would be the deconstructing your problem or the managing or authorizing environment. And my reason for both is the same. And it kind of goes back to that learning piece because in both cases, I found that we have typically made incorrect assumptions at the beginning, whether that was what the root causes of the problem really were, whether or not we had the appropriate change space to move forward. It's really hard to get stuck in some spaces where we go, Oh, we don't have the authority to do that and then, oh yes, we do. When we started looking at it, we absolutely do have a lot more change space than we thought or I need to make a phone call and that will really make a difference. And then there'll be times where we thought, Oh yeah, we can change that. No, no, that's not where we need to start. We've got to do these smaller things first. And so I love thinking about that. The other part that I really, really, really love is the defining what success looks like. So in our work with a lot of federal grants, you know, the feds are telling us what success looks like to them. I mean, there are certain things that we have to put in our reports every year. Check these boxes, do these things. So I ask the question back to my team, what what does success look like for us? We can define that, too. And how do we rally around our work in that way? And so that was really fun, and I still remember writing all of those notes when we would meet on our weekly meetings because redefining success is sort of this rallying cry where people can get pumped up about the work because it's not just what HUD told you to do, it's what you want to do and where you find meaning in the work.

Salimah Samji And the final question, what advice do you have for people trying to work on public problems?

Maggie Jones So I have sticky notes on my computer that have all sorts of little bits of advice that are it's been through IPP or LEG or from Bridgerton or whatever. So I have first one is from Ricardo Hausmann that says "Society knows more, not because individuals know more, but because individuals know different", which honestly, there's this huge relief in that because I think there's a lot of pressure to be all knowing. And so to realize, no, it's just about convening the right folks and getting them together to work on the thing I think is so wonderful. And then Matt Andrews, of course, has this piece about success not being just about legitimacy. So the way that policies impact political support or functionality, so does the thing actually work. But to put those two things together, which I think is great. The other one comes from my six year old's first grade classroom, so he has this incredible first grade teacher, Mrs. Dean, who I don't know will ever listen to this podcast. But she's wonderful and amazing, and I give her all my love and she has this quote. Seriously, she's talking about servant leadership to first graders, and I think that's amazing. They used Human-Centered design for their mission statement. I digress. So she has this quote on her wall that says something like it isn't that we don't know, but that we don't know yet. And I think that's such a wonderful way

Salimah Samji That is so powerful.

Maggie Jones Isn't it great?

Salimah Samji Oh my god. The "yet" is really -- I heard that somewhere recently, and I also had the similar reaction that you did -- the "yet". And that changes everything, right? That really starts to create a growth mindset. It's not about I can't, it's I can't do it yet.

Maggie Jones Yeah.

Salimah Samji And that just creates the openness of maybe tomorrow, maybe another day, and not make it really closed of I can't do this, I can't ever do this.

Maggie Jones Yeah, it's the absolute best. And, you know, try a different way. If it doesn't work, try something else.

Salimah Samji And what I love about your story is that, imagine if they're teaching six year olds this way, right? In a way, it's wiring your brain to think that way so that the the big f word of failure here isn't something that you're carrying around for the rest of your life. It's always that I can try something else. It's not the end of the world.

Maggie Jones And it really inspires this whole sense of curiosity, which we tend to lose when we become adults somehow. And we're not asking why. And I think that's one thing that's so great about this PDIA process. It brings it all back to the curiosity. And it's something that I try and instill in my kids so that they can ask these questions. And so seeing these quotes in that classroom where they really are coming together about what's important to us. They've defined what success looks like for them. I'm sure there's the DEA requirements or whatever. But then there's all of this other stuff about, well, what do you want to learn and what are we going to do every day? And how do we tie that back to our mission? Telling you what y'all, Miss Dean, if she were in charge of all of these things, we'd be in a much better place.

Salimah Samji I love that. What a wonderful way to end. We will try to find a way to get Miss Dean to listen to this podcast. Well, thank you very much for joining us and for sharing your thoughts and experience with us. Maggie, it has really been a pleasure.

Maggie Jones Thank you so much. It's been a joy as always. Thanks for the opportunity.

Salimah Samji 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.