Framing a strong policy is the keystone to the foundation of effective governance. A healthy policy environment stimulates a virtuous cascade of events and actions, propelling a country to prosperity. Yet it is astonishing and sometimes painful to see the frequency and extent of policy failure in India. A simple google search on failed policies in India will provide one with ample evidence in support of the preceding statement.
To the author’s understanding, grave policy blunders are prima facie the outcomes of erroneous/ biased/ incomplete/ absence of policy analysis followed by faulty authorization. There is also the problem of fixing relevant policy agenda so as to work towards formulating policies in priority areas, but that is another matter! Coming back to policy formulation; it is chiefly guided by agenda, evidence and deliberation. The agenda decides the kind of evidence generated or collected and then the deliberations and negotiations begin towards deciding the fate of the policy matter.
Agendas are formed under various pressures: those of demand, individual proclivities or the zeitgeist. The job of those in the business of gathering evidence is to ensure that representative and unbiased evidence that plays to no particular side, is generated. However, the real world seldom allows for that especially if the evidence generation calls for heavy spending.
Studies, quoted in the parliament with vehement flailing of the arms and passionate speeches, suggesting that one side or the other is better, should be questioned. And in order for them to be questioned, those who play decision-makers must understand those studies. This involves education. It is essential to educate both the bureaucracy and the polity in ‘understanding evidence’.
What is evidence? How was it collected? Is it scientifically robust? Who collected it? Why was it collected? What does it mean for me? How is it being packaged and communicated to me? These are questions that decision-makers must feel comfortable asking. Numbers, figures and technical terms often make many skirt them, diminishing the value that these bring towards ensuring richness of policy debate. The author recommends that mandatory training should be administered to all those at the helm of policy decision-making. This should not be highly technical, rather should be built upon a practitioner’s viewpoint that would equip the decision-maker with the understanding to ask the right questions when it comes to evidence invariably drawn out of research studies.
The training would serve the dual purpose of improving understanding of evidence as well as sensitization of decision-makers towards why evidence-led policy decisions make sense. This may also have a spill-over effect in the form of increased focus on research activities.