What do UQ, John Lennon, and Brazil have in common? They converge at the intersection of peacebuilding, public policy, and creating agents of social change. Thanks to the generosity of the HASS team who awarded me a Globetrotters Grant, I was able to participate in the International Public Policy Association (IPPA) and National School of Public Administration (ENAP)’s 4th edition of the International Summer School on Public Policy in Brasilia, Brazil from December 10-14, 2018, and Lennon’s quote was at the center of the course.
The main objective of the International Summer School was to provide advice and knowledge on public policy theories, concepts, and methodologies in policy analysis. A mix of public policy practitioners, master’s and PhD level students attended the course. In total we represented twenty-seven countries! Each day, we attended morning lectures and afternoon workshops in small groups taught by internationally renowned scholars and policy experts. Professor M. Ramesh facilitated my group of policy practitioners and students from Brazil, Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Australia & USA (both represented by me).
Our task for the week was to first understand, assess, and critique the policy process. We came to understand policy as the intention to make a difference in people’s lives by addressing a problem to solve. However, we discovered there are challenges in this problematization related to untapped capacity for innovation and limits regarding communication strategies. Ramesh urged us to think outside the box to improve the process of policy design, implementation, and evaluation. Rather than trying to merely solve a problem, we took time to understand the problem itself, using case studies from each of our countries, research, and experiences. Some emergent themes to improve policy processes included defining success, building trust, improving communication, and allowing space for reflection and creativity to imagine new possibilities and approaches. Throughout the week we considered Albert Einstein’s idea, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” With this in mind, we each created and presented a policy brief to a mock president and shared feedback with each other.
The policy brief I presented was in the form of a hands-on learning activity that encouraged increased communication and collaboration for policy makers. Five volunteers from the group were tasked to each fulfill a role in order to solve a problem and achieve a goal. One person was blindfolded and was allocated a ‘risk management’ support staff, one was the speaker, another could use only non-verbal communication, and one came to realize they were ‘marginalized’ and left out of the activity. The non-talker was given the task to communicate to the speaker who directed the blindfolded person to draw a circle on a piece of paper. While this seemingly simple task was eventually completed, the roles were confused, the non-talker accidentally spoke, and the marginalized volunteer felt really left out. We debriefed the activity and generated a better understanding of the complexity of the policy process. The participants and observers learned that creating policy is not just about solving problems. We reflected on the importance of understanding the problem before implementing solutions based on perceived urgency. This approach to engaging the ‘policy makers’ in an activity where they took the proverbial 55 minutes to understand the problem helped them tap into their own agency and abilities to more effectively engage in the policy process. In this case, learning by doing was a beneficial step to increase agency, improve creative thinking, and encourage collaborative teamwork for these real-life policy makers.
In addition to participating in and learning from the course in Brasilia, I made new international friends, developed an affinity for Pão de queijo (Brazilian cheesy bread), and attended a number of cultural activities including dancing to live samba bands. During a city-tour, a group of us happened to meet the Armenian Ambassador to Brazil and snapped a fun selfie with him. Additional outcomes of the course included mobilizing an international network, sharing and building upon experiences, and contributing to improve the quality of worldwide governance. After participating in the course, I now believe that John Lennon’s quote, “A dream that we dream together is reality,” is truly possible. Thanks again to HASS, the Globetrotters team, and especially to Dr. Prudence Brown from the UQ School of Political Science and International Studies for helping me make my dream of participating in the course and learning about public policy possible.
This article was originally published on 26 December 2018 at https://hass.uq.edu.au/public-policy-brazil-dream-we-dream-together-reality-john-lennon
Working with people can be both challenging and rewarding. You might find yourself waiting for your turn to talk rather than actively listening to what someone else is saying. This common human experience can happen in a variety of contexts from team meetings to negotiations or in discussions with family or friends. In order to make conversations productive and not escalate or generate conflict, it is important to consider the following:
ACTIVE LISTENING: Taking the time to listen to what the other person is saying can open pathways to collaboration and mutual understanding. A helpful acronym to add to your collection is WAIT: Why Am I Talking? Ask yourself this question and take a moment to reflect if what you want to say is actually useful or beneficial in this moment.
A work around for team meetings when time may be limited is to use the Parking Lot tool. This can be a piece of paper where someone notes the additional ideas not on the meeting agenda and is accountable for following up thereafter. This ensures that people have a space to share their ideas and that their voices are heard.
CHECK FOR UNDERSTANDING: What you say may be different than what you mean. What you hear may be different from what the other person said or meant. Confusing? But, it doesn’t have to be. One way to check for understanding is to repeat back or summarize what the other person said. This builds upon active listening and creates not only understanding but TRUST as well. Checking for understanding allows you to be vulnerable and demonstrate your commitment to the person, conversation, and the project. Try it out:
It sounds like you are… Let me make sure I understand…
CLARIFY: Herein lies the Magic Question. When engaged in dialogue and practicing active listening and checking for understanding, a game-changing technique is to ask WHY. For example, someone is insistent upon changing a policy or that they are right, [insert your experience], you know you’ve been there. Arriving at this head-butting crossroads can often be frustrating. In order to problem solve collaboratively, ask WHY and be curious.
Why is that important to you? ... Can you tell me more about that?
We all work with other people, and your conversations can become easier and more productive by practicing these tools. By engaging in active listening, you can increase the positive outcomes of the conversation. By checking for understanding, you can build trust and move through difficulties. By clarifying and asking the Magic Question, you can step up your communication game and move though challenges, turning obstacle into opportunity. Give it a go and feel free to post a response to share success stories, challenges, or other tools you use.
Originally published November 9, 2018 on LinkedIn: