Public policy is both what the government does and doesn’t. Government action and inaction touches, controls and coaxes our behaviour at every step of life.
In India, public policy making has traditionally been in the hands of the elected and selected government officials – politicians and bureaucrats. At the time of Independence, it was thought that the political leadership, with the help of technical experts, would think and plan the policies and the civil servants would implement these policies.
The idea was that the political leadership would act as benevolent social planners and choose the most efficient and effective policies. However, it was soon realised that there hardly ever was “the best” policy. Blaming poor implementation for the failure of policies, which were designed with flawed assumptions, rarely took us anywhere. It was the realised that for the policies to be successful, the views of the stakeholders and alternative ideas needed to be taken into consideration at the design stage itself.
Therefore, today, the government is opening up to policy advice from outside organisations and advocacy groups. This is evident from the proliferation of numerous public policy think tanks, advocacy organisations and civil society units around India. The role of these organisations should not be limited to advising or critiquing of government policies, but also include educating the general public about policies that affect them. A well-informed and involved citizenry is a democracy’s best bet against bad policies.
In the role of navigators
In present times, to perform these functions, these organisations need policy analysts and activists who are well versed in the working of the Indian governmental and political system, social and cultural system, ground realities, and limitations. Therefore, there is a need to train such enthusiastic policy analysts, who can steer the public-policy organisations in the right direction.
A broad ambit
The primary training of a public-policy analyst should include exposure to “whats” and “whys” of public policy, quantitative and qualitative data analysis methods, analytical and persuasive writing methods, Indian legal, political, economic, social and cultural system. This should be the core curriculum in the colleges. In the first semester, students should be exposed to courses like introduction to public policy, statistics and data analysis, qualitative research methods, microeconomics, law, governance, and institution, and academic writing. In the second semester, students should study political philosophy, macroeconomics, social and cultural theory, and programme evaluation. In addition, starting in the second semester, the schools should also undertake several optional courses in their areas of specialisation. Today, students have an opportunity to take a few master’s level courses that complement and complete their specialisation that could be studied from the new-age universities.
Specialisation at PG level
MA in public policy curriculum trains students to successfully perform their roles as policy analysts and policy advocates at public policy think tanks, research organisations, NGOs, civil society organisations and corporate social responsibility wings of major companies. Graduates also get jobs at media houses as policy journalists as well. A few have chosen to join civil services too. In the MA in public policy programme, the goal of the university should be to train students to be able to pursue policy oriented careers. The steadily growing number of universities and institutes that offer MA in public policy shows the need of public policy training in India. Borrowing from Victor Hugo from a different context, it is “an idea whose time has come”.
— The writer is Assistant Professor, JSGP, Sonipat