As an aam aadmi (aur aurat), I often wonder how you of the laal batti gaadis form policies. Of course I know the process – you write a note, and then submit it for attention, kindly, please and then the note gets forwarded till one day it snowballs into national policy. With the right kind of nudging and nurturing, any good note can become a policy when it grows up. And yes, of course there is a proper process – and the intent, I sincerely do not doubt. I do not state it either.

All government policy is supposed to benefit the nation – that is the purpose. It is created for the greater good. This is not as easy as it sounds – for what is good for one section of society is not necessarily good for another. Even if it is something like building a metro for Delhi – which certainly benefits most people, it is at the cost of something. The businesses that happened to be located near metro stations saw an increase in their real estate values and footfall, while others in the shadow of the lines and flyovers often lost their clientele who could not access them easily. Policies become schemes and thence projects – all in competition with some other schemes for ‘budget’ allocation. One scheme ultimately is at the cost of another, though within silos the tradeoffs are often not visible to those running the projects.  Then of course, there is time – most long term gain is at short term cost. But even if we are willing to bear the short term cost, do we know whether the long term will bring any gains? Some of us have lost that trust and are unwilling to give up our present and immediate benefits for the longer term good. Greater good? Who has ever seen Greater? What does Greater get for me on Diwali?

Does anyone ever wonder what happens to a policy after it is made? It gets sent on for implementation. Thats when the ‘how’- do- we -get- this- done is figured out. After, not before.

Is process thinking part of policy making? Of course, in principle, err, there are experienced experts, err, it is a complex process, and we have to include all views, all sensibal views, that is, and their contributions contribute to the making of the policy. Most of these people are well intentioned, erudite, passionate about what they do and have devoted a lifetime to their subject areas. And therefore must be consulted on their subject areas, not on everything. Just because you know your way around a few meeting rooms, and have been on various consultative committees does not necessarily work as a qualification for others. To figure out whether a policy works on the ground (more wonkspeak) you need to run scenarios, need to be able to run through the process as it will play out in these scenarios and then take a call on what mistakes you will have to make. For no policy, scheme or project can ever be perfect. But the thinking behind it must be so. The scenarios must be complete, comprehensive, honest and fully thought through. Paying lip service to this aspect of policy making is insulting the very people you make the policy for.

Speaking of people, I will not ask if you asked the people first about what suits them. Of course the Masters of the twice born do not ask. (Or was that men, I forget). Market research is for bad people like private profit making companies. We give to the masses, in whichever way we like – what do they know about what is good for them? Not kidding here, many still do believe that despite voting intelligently for decades, the masses cannot contribute to decision making. There goes the community centric locally led reform movement. Well not completely, they can receive some ‘budget’ and join in some schemes. Always top down – that is how policy here works.

Forget market research, there are other ways to estimate what is required for the betterment of people. Especially since for a growing nation where much has to be built – pick anything and it will do some good. (Oh, did I just reveal a methodology?) But for everything that will be built, it must work well for the people it targets. Also known as Usability testing in the trade. Trade, did you say? Oh no, we build roads, and allot shops, and driving licences but we are no traders. Why would we need to ensure that the users have a good experience?

(This is a part of an article I am in the process of writing – would love to hear comments and stories)

4 thoughts on “Policy Making

  1. Well Meeta. Policies, in theory, are made only when they help more people – the greater common good you spoke of. There are always some who will lose. Inevitable. In really good policies those who lose are ones who had vested interests and those whose power was weakened by the said policy – reservation of seats for women in Panchayats meant that the men who used to wield power lost out..

    Having said that, good policies are never those that are created by the lal-batti crowd alone. They are ones that are based on empirical evidence from the ground. They are also those which are co-created with the stakeholders. I do not for a moment believe that those who are targeted by the policies are the ONLY people who need to be involved. Many a time there are larger issues that may not be evident immediately. For instance, a food insecure person in North Kenya may want WFP to continue feeding support for ever but it is for Government of Kenya to realise that they need a long term solution around livelihood systems to free the nation of dependence.

    A common problem that I have seen in South Asia and the Horn and East of Africa is not that there are no good policies. Sure there are many good ones. Problems are in the implementation.

    1. the policy was only a political statement and there is no real will to implement it
    2. no money assigned
    3. no delivery structures built
    4. delivery structures also monitor (the “quis custodiet ipsos custodes” problem)

    This is where, imo, civil society and media have a role. They are expected to play a watchdog role. Do they? I don’t think so. Look at the hype and share of voice for “Sunny Leone” and you will know what I mean.

  2. A sarcastic article, i would say. For some time i am learning about govt. policy making, schemes(to prepare for upsc), initially i get into appreciating the whole process & schemes, which involves so much complexities.But on reality check, it seems to be only on paper.Far from sincere implementation.A policy cripple.
    And i would agree on the point, all policies hav top down approach, rarely any bottom up scheme comes out.

  3. Good one on a very relevant topic. Involving people in policy making never has been in the agenda for any governments. The ‘people’s planning’ experiment in Kerala may be the only exception worth mentioning. What is needed is robust processes and associated institutions to ensure people’s inputs are mandated and considered in policy making and priority settings.

  4. Policy making can be made by those who have a wide perspective. People who have limited view of small details (statistics only) which they perceive cannot have a wider view. And stereotyping mind cannot see it all, but it sees the world by the limited knowledge it has. Catchy phrases cannot explain a policy; words limit the comprehension of bigger situations. A caterpillar can visualize a two dimensional world, while a butterfly can see a three dimensional world, for those are the limits of the minds.
    A policy has multidimensional effects. For example a new policy on women’s property rights was made in Goa. In Goa a policy was made to give half of the property of the husband when she gets married; it had the effect of elevating the status of the women and also made her a good manager of the family’s resources.
    The real test of policy is revealed when it is implemented and expected results are seen. What is good for the people, the people themselves do not know. Patriarchal mindsets cannot see any good in property rights for women. But policy makers know what is good for bringing change in society (change which patriarchy does not want). Thus voting out sound policy makers is possible

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