Sea of Public Policy
Setting some footprints in the sand
Back in college years at St. Stephen’s and Delhi School of Economics, my understanding of Public Policy was limited to graphical theorems of Development Economics, research papers by erudite Indian economy Professors and axiomatic beliefs of Political economy. It was all black and white. If one saw a proportional relationship between growth of national income and human development indicators after controlling for exogenous factors, one could happily conclude their correlation and make a policy recommendation on that basis. There I was, confident that public policy is just the art of presenting findings and creating positive results out of those.
Entering into the world of academia, I witnessed how our syllabi for undergraduate education presented only one side of the story. Due to the limited time period and pre-decided scope guidelines, only few aspects are covered. Most papers on the Indian Economy take sample data for a particular time period and specific geographical zone. The assumptions and controls applied often takes away the complexity of the actual situation. The teacher mirror showed me that I am telling my students either black or white but not both at the same time. Now, Public policy seemed like a science in itself.
For a short while, I jumped to opportunities that helped me work with the Government of India. I was privy to some high-level conferences, Parliamentary discussions and closed room meetings. I was surely in awe of the vastness of scope and scale of impact in the hands of the Government. I observed how each Department operates through its teams but there is often a interactive void in the much-needed intersection of issues. For instance, if Ministry of Agriculture is working on percolation of agri-tech innovations, there is an important role that Ministry of Commerce, IT and Industry can play for more efficient and effective implementation. In some months of working as a Young Professional, I realised that it is not even one bit easy and simple as it sounds. The cooperation from different sub-divisions and Departments itself takes so much time that coordination among Ministries and State governments would surely be a herculean task. Maybe that is why Public policy is a social science for it needs equal parts political will, bureaucratic support and public participation.
After a circuitous journey, I am now working as a Policy consultant at a Multinational firm. Our clientele include governments at all levels, non-governmental institutions and multilateral organisations. I deep dive into their problem statement trying to not lose sight of the macro perspective and find a solution. With every iteration and team discussion, I learn more about what I don’t know regarding the journey to impact. If I want to help farmers procure a particular machine, I have to have multiple use cases for one size doesn’t fit all. What may be a well-fitted solution for one group turns out to be a half-baked one for the other. I now tell myself that I am on my pursuit to provide an exhaustive yet exclusive strategy for our target group so that they atleast have a roadmap for their end-goal.
So, if someone asks me if Public policy is a science or an art, I do not have an answer as of now. I am still trying to formalise a tool kit for anyone interested in this field.
Till then, I shall keep sketching on my drawing board.