Episode 13: Urkhan Seyidov

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

Urkhan Seyidov serves as Senior Advisor at the Department of Economic Issues and Innovative Development at the Administration of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. He is a dynamic and motivated professional with a proven record of generating and building relationships, managing various projects and programs on innovation and strategic communications. He is an expert in building cross-functional teams, demonstrating exceptional communication skills in government relations and making critical decisions during policy design and implementation process. He is an author of two books: Innovation – Implementation Guidelines and Soft power and Public Diplomacy of Azerbaijan in the Digital Age. He is also an alumnus of the Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education Program with a concentration in Public Policy and is an HKS Alumni ambassador in Azerbaijan. To learn more about Urkhan's IPP journey, read his BSC blog post, Anticipatory Government.

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 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 Urkhan Seyidov, who serves as senior advisor at the Department of Economic Issues and Innovative Development at the Administration of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. He is a dynamic and motivated professional with a proven record of generating and building relationships, managing various projects and programs on innovation and strategic communications. He is an author of two books Innovation, Implementation Guidelines and Soft Power and Public Diplomacy of Azerbaijan in the Digital Age. He completed our IPP program in December 2019 and is currently serving as a moderator for our community of practice. Welcome, Urkhan.

Urkhan Seyidov Hi, Salimah. Thank you for having me. It's a great honor to be here with you.

Salimah Samji Wonderful. It's great to have you as well. Let's get started. It's been over two years since you completed the IPP program. What do you still remember as being useful?

Urkhan Seyidov It's been two years since my journey with IPP started, and so much has happened both good and bad. Like with COVID 19 then this, in 2020, we had this conflict with Armenia, now we have this conflict in Ukraine. And it all, of course, has its own impact on how we feel during these two years. But I can tell you for sure that the participation in this program is one of the most positive and rewarding memories that helped me get through these two years. And the reason is very simple. Whenever I introduce this PDIA concept to my colleagues and my friends, I always say that PDIA is a universal coding language. I'm not a professional coder, but I know the logic behind the coding. So whenever you understand PDIA, it's like you're able to code, actually decode, your grand problem into smaller pieces and then come up with smaller solutions. It's very similar to it. And it really doesn't matter whether you apply it in your policy design or in your day-to-day life. Once you know the language, you can apply it everywhere. So in that sense, I think that the most useful thing up til now is this fishbone analysis. Because a lot of times we tackle problems without fully understanding the fundamentals, and it's only with IPP program that helped me realize that even the most complex problems, the most wicked problems, can be broken down into simpler ones. And this is where you should start tackling them. So step by step, you get to solve the complex problem. You just need to have like some sort of a roadmap and constantly updated through iteration. It may sound like a very obvious thing, but it resonated with me only when I participated in this program. And after that, I am an active implementer of this approach. So this method gave me a very different perspective on many matters. Again, day-to-day life and professional life as well.

Salimah Samji I particularly like your idea of it's a language like coding. I've never heard that before, but you're exactly right. It does make sense. I've done some coding in my past and it is, it very much is like this logical process. Thank you for that new analogy.

Urkhan Seyidov Thank you.

Salimah Samji Can you share some examples about how you have been using, you know, you talk about the fishbone, but are there any specific examples that you can share of how you've used some of the tools that you learned in the program?

Urkhan Seyidov Sure. So at a time like two years ago, we started drafting a strategy for innovative development of Azerbaijan together with the Boston Consulting Group. And while their expertize has helped us to design the strategy, PDIA actually has helped us to challenge the points of view. And as a result, to come up with a more realistic let's say strategy. Not that only sounds fancy and has best practices, but the straightforward plan on why and how to implement it. So one of the most important things I would say in this process is that we try to involve all the stakeholders and have them on board. We realize that without them accepting the strategy, without them understanding the need for the change, we will not achieve the desired results. It was very crucial to have the right team and to make this three A analysis and to actually understand what our change space is. Because a lot of the time, I think we must calculate the importance of the analysis. But, and this is my personal experience, I know for sure that sometimes you can have the best possible strategy on the table, but without the right people, without the proper three A analysis, when you are pitching a wrong authorizer at the wrong time, all your efforts can go for nothing. So I think PDIA, again, helped me and helped our team to sort of challenge the BCG analysis. And then once we did that, we would go to stakeholders and ask their opinion, they would challenge us. So initially, I would say that the strategy was supposed to be ready within six months. But in reality, taking into account this back and forth approach, it took us almost two years to finish. But even now, we still continue the iteration process and we constantly do appropriate adjustments. So even though the strategy is ready, the process is still going on. And PDIA is the essential part of that process.

Salimah Samji You mentioned your team. Have you shared your learning with your colleagues at work?

Urkhan Seyidov Yes, definitely. Well, right after I came back from the program, I knew that I would not be able to go far alone. And so I gathered my team to introduce them to the concept, and we started implementing the PDIA approach together. They were very keen to learn, but I also knew that I need to expand this knowledge to other people as well. So with time, I did various workshops and popularize it in the local media as well. And the idea behind it was that the more people know where my analysis is coming from, the easier the process goes. So I really do think that sharing is a very essential part of the PDIA process as a whole. You have to share it.

Salimah Samji Right, building coalitions and including everyone into your process.

Urkhan Seyidov Definitely.

Salimah Samji Now you are currently a moderator, one of four moderators, for the IPP Community of Practice. What does the IPP community mean to you?

Urkhan Seyidov Well, to be honest, I can't imagine implementing PDIA without IPP classmates and the wonderful community of practice. Without their stories and experiences, without their constant support, it would have been impossible. The community is always there for you and it doesn't really matter from which cohort you are like 19, 20, or 21. With the energy that this community has, I really do believe that we will be able to change things that have been broken for too long in this world. And IPP community spreads, love and support. Without this community, the IPP program would not have been the same and it would be just incomplete. So it's just an amazing and distinguished group of people that are together, and I'm thankful for those people that I had them in my life.

Salimah Samji That's wonderful. It really is and an incredible community. As part of this podcast series, I ask a series of rapid fire questions, and so I'll start with the first one. What are you currently reading?

Urkhan Seyidov Well, as you can hear from my introduction, I'm very into innovation, and I'm trying to understand how and when innovations happen and how to recreate such favorable conditions in Azerbaijan, especially. So there is a very interesting book called How Innovation Works by Matt Radley. It's a very simple name, but the book is really fascinating. And he discusses and illustrates dozens of vivid examples actually of the nature of innovations and its hugely positive impact on mankind's quality of life. I highly recommend it to those who have interest in this topic. Great book!

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

Urkhan Seyidov I think my favorite part is brainstorming with the team on deconstructing the problem. At the end of the day, all of us have different views and opinions, and I just love the process when people share their analysis, when you disagree or agree, but you are all in one room trying to solve a problem. It is really about the teamwork that I enjoyed the most and how PDIA unites our different opinions into one firm solution.

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

Urkhan Seyidov So I've been working on public problems for the last eight years, and I know that tackling public problems is not an easy task for many reasons. Every country has its own red tape and hoops. It may take you years to change a tiny thing, increase efficiency, to implement innovation. But if you believe in your purpose and in what you're doing, you have to be patient. So my advice is to be patient. Learn PDIA because it will serve you as a North Star.

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

Urkhan Seyidov Thank you. It has been my pleasure.

Salimah Samji Thank you for listening to our podcast today. If you liked it, please check out our website bsc.cid.harvard.edu. Or follow us on social media @HarvardBSC. You can also find links and other information under the description of this podcast.