Practice of PDIA Podcast Series from Building State Capacity

Posted on January 28, 2020


This blog post originally appeared on the Building State Capacity blog and is written by ELGL member Salimah Samji.

In this post, she introduces Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation, or PDIA. This is an iterative learning and adaptation model that enables solutions to be found for each problem that crops up, based on the lessons that are learned on the implementation journey. We’re sharing it via ELGL because of the lessons that can be learned from this approach for local problem solving.

One of the core values of the Building State Capability (BSC) program is to make our tools and approach publicly available for use by development practitioners who are in the weeds of implementing public policies and programs.

In the same vein, we have:

  • Enabled an open access title of our Building State Capability book, published by Oxford University Press, and is available as a free downloadable pdf. Over the past two and half year, the book has been downloaded 15,000 times across 176 countries.
  • Developed a PDIA Toolkit which is a DIY guide for teams who want to use PDIA to solve their own complex problems. Our Toolkit has been released under a creative commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) and is currently available in English and Spanish (with French and Portuguese titles being developed).
  • Offered our flagship PDIA online course, a free course for teams looking to solve complex problems. 1,264 development practitioners in 87 countries have successfully completed our online courses.

We are pleased to announce our new 12-part Practice of PDIA Podcast series which will walk you through the PDIA approach to solving complex problems. This series is based on a video series we use in our online course. We hope that you find it useful!

Part 1: The Big Stuck and Capability for Policy Implementation. In many developing countries the capability of the state to implement its policies and programs is a key constraint to improving human development.


Part 2: Techniques of Successful Failure. Many reform initiatives fail to achieve sustained improvements in performance because organizations pretend to reform by changing what policies and organizational structures look like rather than what they actually do.


Part 3: Building the Capability you need: This typology will help you determine what kind of capability your organization needs, in order to succeed.


Part 4: PDIA to Escape Capability Traps: Organizations build their capability for implementing policy by defining problems, discovering the practices that work to solve those problems, and then embedding and incorporating those practices as their new way of doing business inside the organization.


Part 5: People as the Source of Capability in PDIA. ‘People’ are vital to PDIA. Who do you need to do PDIA and how you get them to engage?


Part 6: Constructing Problems. Problems are key to driving change. A problem that matters is one that gets attention and mobilizes action. Solving problems that matter ensures that you are doing something contextually relevant.


Part 7: Deconstructing Problems: Most problems in the public sector are wicked hard and therefore it is easy to get stuck. These meta problems need to be broken down into manageable problems to help you mobilize support and to ultimately solve.


Part 8: Sequencing: using change space analysis to identify entry points. Effective sequencing is key to doing PDIA. A failure to sequence effectively could lead, in principle and practice, to premature load bearing (where change demands are introduced before they can be managed by your country or organization).


Part 9: Crawling the Design Space for Possible Solutions. We believe that the answers to complex problems do exist and can be found, but must emerge through active iteration, experimentation, and learning.


Part 10: Building and Maintaining Authorization. Authorization is a necessary condition to build state capability. However, it is not easy to build the authorization to act.


Part 11: Designing and Learning from your Iteration. We believe that the answers to complex problems do exist but they must emerge through active iteration, experimentation and learning.


Part 12: Thinking Big and Small. Many development challenges are complex and yet there is pressure to scale up the solutions. Learn how we think about scale and sustainability in PDIA.


Subscribe to our podcast to learn more about PDIA or download our toolkit.


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