PDIA in Practice 12: Thinking Big and Small

The Practice of PDIA: Building Capability by Delivering Results Podcast is a 12 part series that will walk you through the PDIA or Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation approach to solving complex development problems. 1,500 development practitioners in 90 countries have used the PDIA approach. Learn more about PDIA or download our free DIY Toolkit. Watch the Practice of PDIA videos.


[00:00:05] Welcome to Part Twelve of the Practice of PDIA Building Capability by Delivering Results podcast series. This twelve part series based on a video series used for a PDIA online course. We'll walk you through the PDIA or problem driven iterative adaptation approach to solving complex development problems. More than fifteen hundred development practitioners in 90 countries have used the PDIA approach. Many development challenges are complex, and yet there is pressure to scale up the solutions. In today's podcast, Professor Matt Andrews will discuss how we think about scale. 

[00:00:46] Matt, can you share with our listeners how you think about scale and sustainability in PDIA? 

Matt [00:00:52] So we speak about two interesting cases in some of my classes about internal audit reform. I know it's boring to some people, but internal audit is really an important function in most organizations where you have people who are advising on the risks of your operations and trying to ensure that you actually get where you want to get to. So simple definition. One of the cases is about Malaysia. And Malaysia in 1979, they adopted internal audits in government through a law and through a government wide instruction that said that everybody had to adopt internal audit. When we speak about things like scaling and sustainability, the beautiful thing about this example is that it went to scale very quickly through the law and that after 25 years they had a look at it and they said, well, the law still exists. We still have the notification that everybody has to do it. The problem was that something like 30 local governments out of 220 actually established an internal audit unit. So what you could say is it was scaled and it was sustainable, but it didn't work. Now we like to think about scaling and we like to think about sustainability in a very different way. It's not just about numbers and it's not just about being able to maintain the status quo or some kind of an equilibrium. We find that often the equilibrium that does get maintained is not something that you want to maintain. It's not something that you want to be sustainable. The reality for a country like Malaysia in that period of time also was that their success story was precisely about the things that are not the same as what they were in 1979, but are completely different now. So in PDI, we like to think about two things. One of scalability that is multidimensional and we speak about 4D scalability. Where are you thinking about scalability in terms of quantitative scale? More people are doing it. Yes, that does matter, but it's not the only thing. Functional scalability. Well, they learn how to do more things and they actually do them. They don't pretend it's really important. Another one is political scalability. The mandate has increased. They can do more things. They have more authorization now than they had in the past. And the final one is organizational scalability, which says they've worked out how to get more resources. They worked out how to expand their own personnel capacity. They have more abilities than they had before. Now, this is a different way of thinking about scale. It's also you require a different way of thinking about sustainability, because in PDIA, we talk about fostering an adaptive approach to doing things, an adaptive approach to governing where you don't want to be staying still. You don't want to go from one equilibrium to another equilibrium and then say, look, hooray. How well we did it. We saw that in Malaysia, the cases for 25 years, the equilibrium was one where they had a great law and nobody did anything. Well, it's sustained, but I don't want to be there. We speak about a different case when we teach about the kind of sustainability that we're interested in. It's a case of internal audit reform in Burkina Faso. And it's after 2007, the government was faced with a big corruption crisis. There were a lot of people that were on the streets and they were pushing for a lot of change in government. New prime minister came into place and the prime minister appointed an academic as the head of a corruption unit. The academic was an accountant, and he bought in a kind of a logic that was much more like internal audits about understanding where risk was in the government. The first thing that he did in his PDIA type approach was bring together the three agency that already existed to do this and have them write a report on what they did and what they plan to do in the future. It was a way in which he got them to talk to each other and engage with each other and made sure that it wasn't an acrimonious affair. That report was then presented to much fanfare, and the prime minister used it to build more legitimacy around the initiative. And they used that to bring a bunch of ministers together and to say to the ministers, now, can we take the ideas in the reports and actually do them in your ministry? And the pitch to the ministers was, what are your biggest problems? What are the things that keep you awake at night? Some of the ministers said, well, this, this and this. And they got to say, well, you know, the reason they keep you awake is because you know that there are risks there. You know that there are things that are compromising your ability to do things. Why don't we do a risk map for you know, risk map was not something that you read about in any internal audit, any manual anywhere. So very Burkina Faso internal audit regime, three or four of the ministers came in and said, we'll do it. And they did five pilots that had five pilots doing risk mapping in a few months, not in five years, and with consultants and government officials that were in Burkina Faso. And then what they did was they got results and they went back to the cabinet and they said, oh, look at these. Five areas where we've actually uncovered these risks and dealt with them. And lo and behold, more ministers wanted to be a part of it. And they did an expanded set of eleven pilots. After a few years, they sent their people to be trained to be internal auditors and even to do performance based internal audit reform. Burkina Faso then went through a revolution. There was a coup d'Etat. The president was ousted. The prime minister was ousted. The person who was head of the agency has since retired and moved on. The interesting thing is the agency is now the jewel in the crown of the new government. And the new government has actually expanded its anti-corruption mandate because that was the mandate that they came in on. Now, is this scale like you see in Malaysia, where they went to two hundred and twenty ministries, localities and their law? No, it really isn't. Is this sustainability like you see in Malaysia where they have a law and it sits there for 25 years? No, it isn't. What this is, is something dynamic. This is something that started small, got a little bit bigger, got a little bit bigger, got a little deeper. 

[00:06:46] Has it been sustained? No, it's been adaptive. It's actually better than it was. And the idea is that it might be better than this in five years time, too. That is what we're after, dynamic sustainability. Build on something, make it better. Build on something, make it better. Don't just sit in an equilibrium. If you're Burkina Faso, you don't have time to sit in equilibrium. You've got so much ground to make it. 

[00:07:10] Thanks, Matt. This is the final episode of this podcast series, and I was wondering if you wanted to share some final thoughts about PDIA. 

Matt [00:07:19] This is worthwhile, but it's hard and it's costly. It takes a lot of time. The team who works with me in the field and we do PDIA generally always comments on how emotionally, demanding it is and how demanding it is on time. How demanding it is on relationships. How even when we not in the field, we are spending an incredible amounts of our time trying to think about the space we have to maneuver, whether or not the authorizing structures or as we understand them, to be thinking about how the iterations are going and whether people are working and whether they aren't working. We think that this commitment of emotion, this commitment of time, this commitment of energy is actually more than what you would find in most job situations. It's more than what is required in standard management approaches and standard project approaches in development where you fly in and you fly out and you use tools that allow you to engage in an arm's length and to keep your heart with yourself and not in the place where you're working. I'd like to say upfront, PDIA is not about that. PDIA is about engagement. PDIA is about working hard, whether you are outside or whether you're about the insider of engaging with the people in the place, engaging with the problems that are to be solved, iterating again and again and again in your own mind and your own team with the people around you around the hardest things that we have to deal with. Learning lessons that are hard to learn, because I'm sure that every single person out there had some assumption at some point broken or proved incorrect or adjusted once they iterated or once they pressed a little bit into their context. 

[00:09:03] It takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of energy, it takes grip, it's a word we used about authorizing environment and the importance of authorizers with grit, you need to have grit too. Some people have said, can we have a light version of PDIA something that's a little less demanding? I don't think so. I don't think so. And maybe that's a drawback that means that some organizations won't do this. Maybe that means that it will never become the big consulting model that people wanted it to be or that some people would like it to be. 

[00:09:36] I think that this is the grit required to deal with the complex things that we're dealing with. That's been interesting because while some have said can we have an easier model? Other people have said this is the first thing that we've seen that helps us deal with this type of problem. We haven't seen anything like this. And the grit is required because the problems we dealing with all that big, that complex and that important. So I want to encourage you as we come to the end of this to keep going. Because the first iteration is just the first iteration. Hopefully many of you in the first iteration learn so much that you realize that maybe your problem statement needs to be addressed again. Maybe you needed to go back and think about authority, acceptance and ability. Maybe you realize that your iteration wasn't demanding enough or maybe it was too demanding and you need to go back. This is all about going back. It's all about going back again and again and again and again, relentlessly, consistently and continually addressing the problem. Tackling the status quo so that you can affect change. Please keep in touch as you do these things and please, please contact us if you need any motivation as you move along. You can motivate us too. Thank you. 

[00:10:59] Thank you for listening to Part Twelve, the final episode of the practice of PDIA podcast series. It's been a pleasure to take you through the PDI journey and we hope that you have learned some useful tools that will help you solve complex problems in your day to day work. We hope you stay in touch with the Buting State Capability Program by following us on social media at Harvard BSC, visiting us at BSC.CID. Harvard.edu or reading our blog.