Tag Archives: public policy

Recruitment challenges and opportunities: An interview with the outgoing RCC

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 Paras Tyagi and Swasti Raizada take some time off their busy schedules to answer a few questions about their experiences working as erstwhile members of the Recruitment Coordination Committee (RCC), Masters Programme in Public Policy, 2014-16, NLSIU.

  1. The emergence of Public Policy as a field of enquiry and an established discipline in Indian academia is as recent as a decade ago. Knowledge about the nature and scope of the field is also being rapidly made known. In this context, how do you appeal to recruiters and make the program attractive?

Swasti: We begin with explaining how public policy is a broad framework of the purpose and process for addressing a social, economic, technological or environmental issue and is essentially rooted in what the governments choose to do or not to do. This helps the recruiters in understanding why it needs to be treated as an independent and professional service. This is done by invoking the examples of increasing number of specialist positions like Economic Advisors, Defence Advisors, and Public Health Consultants etc. within the Government. It is also done using examples of political consultancies which are increasingly focusing on bringing policy convergence.

From our experience, it has been witnessed that organisations in the development sector are better placed to recognise this growing importance while organisations which deal with technical areas such as energy, infrastructure, defence, and technology are still struggling with understanding what job roles should be assigned to policy analysts and consultants.

Paras: Students have an important say in matters related to academics, extracurricular activities and other student activities in NLSIU. This helps the students to interact with the decision makers at all levels in the university, and with this experience, they learn about the nitty-gritty of administration.

A public policy professional is the ideal choice for the industry as someone who can communicate with the government, to not only speak the language of law but also understand the sensitive nature of public issues.

  1. What makes the MPP course at NLSIU stand out in comparison to Public Policy courses at other institutions in India? How important is the convergence between law and policy from the recruiters’ perspective?

Swasti: Well, in India law still remains the key engine to drive policy design. Public policy at NLSIU reflects a balanced transition from this traditional approach to a more dynamic policy approach. Experts both in the private and public sector are gradually realising the benefits of having a professional who understands the administrative pressures while formulating and implementing a policy. E.g. Why it is important to speed up the publication of policy briefs during the Budget Session, analyse public comments on a draft policy in a limited timeframe, embedding Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in the policy design itself to help monitoring and evaluation etc.

NLSIU, with its distinguished faculty and alumni, is one the best places to operationalize such a vision. It is the only law school to have an independent public policy programme in the country. It has a rich blend of bureaucrats, internationally recognised guest speakers, domain experts frequently visiting the campus. This helps it root all policy debates in the sacrosanct Constitution of the country and provide students with a foundation that helps them logically deconstruct the rules and regulations that drive the administration of a diverse country as India. For the recruiter, this means that although the students of MPP have a domain expertise from their undergraduate studies, they are equally enriched in understanding the application of law to a policy problem. This makes the batch of students unique in their holistic understanding of a problem statement.

  1. What kind of organisations especially look for policy graduates? What skills do they seek in them?

Swasti: The MPP course at NLSIU provides students with the latitude to explore their interests to suit the academia, civil society organisations, government and corporate organisations. Organisations having any sort of government interface are turning towards policy students for creating new roles. To start with, the recruiters expect the students to be good at monitoring and evaluation, one of the better-evolved streams within the policy cycle. Besides these, a strong theoretical background in policy studies helps the student to be imaginative when tasked with a problem statement in the industry. Analytical tools like social cost-benefit analysis, impact assessments, content analysis, social network analysis etc. are add-on skills for evidence-based policy making. A student is also expected to have some technical grounding in the sector to be able to easily adapt to it.

Paras: The Government has realised the importance of partnerships with the private sector to enhance the quality of governance with new tools that are not only technical in nature but also critical policy skills to aid the government in decision making. Organisations like state-owned rural livelihood missions, Ministry supported think-tanks and other government-aided agencies look for policy graduates. Similarly, corporates, research think-tanks, donor agencies and other organisations interested in the social sector have also shown interest.

  1. What challenges did you face in your endeavour to develop and sustain a long-term relationship with the industry?

Swasti: Since the policy space in the country is still in its experimental stage, the career path for students is still unclear. Although the recruiters are excited about the novel concept of public policy, getting exact job descriptions from recruiters takes its own time. Job definitions vary from business development to advisory roles. In some cases, policy students are offered legal positions by virtue of being a student of National Law School while design of economic policy instruments is left to a separate team in the organization. This leaves the student underutilized, even misplaced in some cases within the organizations and also leads to compartmentalization of the policy itself. As RCC therefore, getting details of job descriptions and communicating the exact nature of the role to the students so that they understand what the organization has to offer therefore becomes crucial. As a student body, it is a daunting task to be able to create that bridge between students and industries and provide a perfect job fit for the two.

Paras: We faced many important challenges. The biggest one was to convince people about the course and its intent to serve both the private and public sectors. As it is a new discipline in India, many people especially in the government were not aware about its purpose to serve both social and economic development objectives of the society.

  1. Carving out a niche for the program is critical in the initial years. How can the course be structured, from your experience, to cater to the evolving needs of the industry?

Swasti: Well, the pedagogy of public policy at NLSIU has been conceptualized after a thorough brainstorming exercise between the academic stalwarts of the country. It has brought in a good mix of subjects taught in prestigious international universities. The course can be enriched on the applied side by creating a repository of case studies and more hands-on learning by bringing industry projects to the campus. Additionally, introducing skill based courses like econometrics, negotiation, financial accounting, and project management can help the students inculcate creative thinking. Broadening the range of electives offered can also help enrich the course and make it attractive to a wider pool of recruiters.

Paras: Students should take initiatives to interact with the organizations where they would like to see themselves in the future and try to research about the policy challenges faced by them. If the interested students can research about, for instance, the CSR related activities of the industry, then they can advise the organizations on efficient fund allocation in the future to meet their objectives.

Unlimited Growth on a Finite Planet

Vivek Raj Anand

vivek

Background

Aurelio Peccei, an Italian scholar and industrialist, looked at the contemporary national crisis of the 20th century as symptoms of a larger insidious global crisis. He founded the Club of Rome, a virtual think tank —consisting of scientists, educators, humanists, and businessmen who were concerned with global issues— in 1968. Peccei believed that the new problems faced by humanity could not be categorised solely as economic, ecological, social or security problems. Rather, each problem is multi-faceted, where all the aspects are interconnected and interacting amongst themselves. It is the design of these interconnections and patterns of interactions that determine the nature of such dynamic global problems. Furthermore, cause-effect relationships inherent in such problems are counter-intuitive in nature, as the human mind has not gathered requisite intuition for understanding complex systems. Human intuition is trained to work in the context of simple systems; however, complex systems like Earth do not behave in the same way. Dynamic correlations between various subsystems determine the behaviour of complex systems.

System Dynamics is the science that studies interconnections between complex systems and Peccei wanted a system dynamics based scientific simulation model to forecast the future of humanity and planet earth. Dennis Meadows, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, took up the project of constructing a simulation model, with funds coming from Volkswagen Foundation.

The team worked on the hypothesis that unlimited growth —propelled by population, industrialisation, pollution, food production and non-renewable resource utilization— is not sustainable because of the limited physical endowment of planet earth. The outcome of this project has been described in this book “Limits to Growth”.

Exponential Growth

Modern economics presume that despite the peaks and troughs of business cycles, economies would always continue to grow in the long term. This book rebuts the aforesaid presumption of perpetual growth and ascribes the reason to the finiteness of Earth’s physical resources, which would eventually exhaust due to exponential growth in material demand. While authors acknowledge the diminishing marginal utility of material consumption —only after having met the threshold limit necessary for ensuring the basic well-being, the argument presented by the unrestrained growth is not on ethical or ideological grounds.  

The book explains the concept of exponential function in a rather lucid and non-mathematical manner, and provides an intuitive understanding of reasons behind the exponential growth in population and industrial output through the use of “feedback loops”. The study group observed the dominance of positive feedback loops in all the studied variables – population, industrial output, pollution, food production and non-renewable resource utilisation.

Further, the book juxtaposes exponential growth in aforesaid variables with a decline of finite physical resources of the planet, so as to ascertain the overshoot[1] and cross point. Those physical resources determine the carrying capacity of the planet, and are hence the ‘Limits to growth’.

Scenarios

The mandate of the research was not to make a doomsday prediction. Rather, it was a mathematical modelling exercise whereby endogenous variables like population growth, industrial output, pollution, food production and non-renewable resources were iterated so as to project different future scenarios of the world. The iterations of these variables represent different growth trajectories adopted by world economies, and hence it was left to mankind to choose a particular trajectory. The team developed twelve such scenarios, which included the collapse scenarios and the equilibrium ones.

The book concluded that human ecological footprint, if unchecked, would grow beyond the carrying capacity of globe i.e. what planet can provide on a sustainable basis. In the long run, it is impossible that humanity can use more physical resources and generate more emissions every year than what nature is capable of supplying and absorbing in a sustainable manner. As demand can never overshoot supply, the human ecological footprint will eventually decline either through “managed decline” or through “collapse” to sustainable levels. An example of managed decline would be limiting the annual catch of fish to a sustainable limit through legislation. An example of the latter would be the elimination of fishing communities because there are no more fish left in water bodies. The authors also argued that while market, technology and government are capable of making positive interventions, such interventions would only defer the crisis and not solve the problem, as long as there is no check on exponential growth. Hence, the cross and overshoot will still happen, but only at a later date.

Standard run. The model was tested under various assumptions, beginning with the “standard run”. Standard run assumes business as usual conditions as it existed in 1972, i.e. in the next one hundred years, there will be no significant changes in the nature of growth in the five variables. Not too surprisingly, the model projected disaster long before the end of the twenty-first century because of complete exhaustion of resources (Refer Figure 1).

figure1

Figure 1 Standard Run – Business as usual – Resource exhaustion

Succeeding runs These were made with more favourable assumptions, but all indicated collapse within a hundred years.

Stable model or Equilibrium. The study group wanted their proposed model to be self-sustaining —sustainable without sudden and uncontrollable collapse— and at the same time capable of satisfying the basic material requirements of the world. Authors called such a state as ‘Equilibrium’, a state where population and capital are stable,  and the forces tending to increase or decrease them are in a carefully controlled balance. This is possible when birth rate equals the death rate and capital investment rate equals the depreciation rate. Now, this equilibrium —i.e stable population and capital— can be at high or low levels of population and capital. Authors say that the level of capital and population, and the ratio of the two, should be set in accordance with the values of society. They may be deliberately revised and slowly adjusted as the advance of technology creates new options. (Refer Figure 2).

figure2

Figure 2 Sustainable development or Equilibrium Scenarios

Authors claim that this equilibrium does not refer to the stagnation of an economy; rather, it is dynamic in nature. Within stable population and capital, corporations could expand or fail, local population could increase or decrease. Services provided by a constant stock of capital would continue to increase due to technological advances. Besides that, human activities that do not require a large flow of irreplaceable resources or cause severe environmental degradation might continue to grow indefinitely. In fact those pursuits which are most desirable and satisfying like education, art, music, religion, basic scientific research, athletics and social interaction could flourish. This could be made possible through an increase in leisure. Such increase in leisure can be made possible only through improvement in production methods using technology. This increased leisure time could be devoted to any activity that is relatively non-consuming and non-polluting.

Readability and Limitations

The book has been suitably written so that general public can understand a rather complex subject matter of system dynamics based simulation model. Mathematical concepts like exponential growth, compounding effect, etc. have been explained in an intuitive manner. However, readers who do not have exposure to mathematical modelling will face difficulty in understanding the scenarios developed by the team.

The book can be critiqued on multiple accounts, more specifically on its assumptions and simplifications made in the model.  Authors themselves acknowledge that there are many imperfections in the model, and the same can always be improved upon. However, all those critical comments belong to a single genre, which is the limitation of any modelling exercise conducted in social sciences. No model can truly predict the future that is related to human actions or inactions. Furthermore, history has always advanced through lurching discontinuities, most of them were utterly unpredictable and hence they are not programmable.

Conclusion

The book has significant policy implications, especially for problems that are global in nature. It also exhibits the power of data analytics and computer simulation in making objective future projections. No model can fully represent the complexity of a society that consists of human beings who are invariably guided by bounded rationality and whose response is extremely dynamic. Moreover, no mathematical model can factor in all the tangible and intangible variables that determine human actions or inactions. However, the world model developed by Dennis Meadows’ team was successful in providing a heads-up to an ensuing crisis if business as usual continues. Such a heads up is all the more important for phenomenon related to complex systems with high time-constants as it warrants forthwith action. The book projects a crisis that is a necessary —but certainly not sufficient— condition for inspiring policy actions.

[1] Overshoot refers to going too far i.e. going beyond the limits. For instance, if too many trees are cut every year, the forests will ultimately vanish despite natural regrowth phenomenon.

 

(Vivek Raj Anand is a graduate student of Master of Public Policy in the National Law School of India University. He can be reached at vivekrajanand@nls.ac.in)

Prof. Sony Pellissery on being awarded “Prof. G. Ram Reddy Social Scientist Award”

Prof Sony Pellissery, Associate Professor and MPP Coordinator, National Law School is the recipient of the Prof G Ram Reddy Memorial Award for Social Scientist 2015 in Hyderabad, India. In his acceptance speech, the renowned academician dwells on the nuances of understanding public policy in India as political responsibility and a tool to enhance the dignity of every citizen. Watch the professor’s take on policy, politics and people.

NJAC: A Necessary Evil?

Siddharth Sekhar Barpanda

There is little doubt that Indian citizens from all walks of life are tired of the slow process of reforms customary in the nation. There is also a valid reason to blame the Government (of the day) for the sorry state of affairs. Democracy is work-in-progress and it takes time to build institutions capable of meeting the demands of an aspirational society. But, is it only the Executive and the Legislative pillars of democracy, which to a large extent overlaps in the Indian context, are to be held responsible for bad governance? Isn’t the Judiciary, if not wholly, but nevertheless partially liable?

Pendency (of Cases) & Vacancy (of Judges) Galore!

Let’s first look at some current issues distinctive and ubiquitous to Indian judiciary. The access to speedy justice is still a dream for the majority of the citizens. The courts in India are famous for their long & arduous process of delivering justice. No wonder, the pendency of cases in courts are rising day by day. In the Supreme Court of India alone, the pendency of cases stands at 61300 (as on 1st March 2015). Similarly, across the nation’s 24 High Courts, cumulatively more than 4 lakh cases are pending. These astronomical figures in itself stand as an alibi to the poor functioning of Indian judiciary.

Of course, for a country of 1.27 billion people, this may seem defensible. Yet, the higher judiciary cannot hide behind the veil of a large population. Even so, the pendency of cases is related to the quantity & quality of Judges. The Law Ministry has itself in its annual report claimed that Shortage of judges in courts is one of the main causes for backlog and pendency of cases in courts.As on 1st August 2015, there are 3 vacancies in Supreme Court of India against the approved strength of 31 (including Chief Justice of India). Moreover, there are 384 vacancies in all 24 High Courts against a total approved strength of 1017.

The Need for NJAC

So basically, the vacancies only in Supreme Court and 24 High Courts amounts to 36.9% of the total sanctioned strength. Note that, this doesn’t include the District & Subordinate Courts. Also, it’s true that many appointed judges lack competency and credibility. Justice Rama Pal, a former judge of the Supreme Court described the process by which a judge is appointed to the High Court or the Supreme Court as, “one of the best-kept secrets in this country”!

It is in this context, the need to have a comprehensive, transparent and a robust mechanism to select judges of the SC and HCs was initiated. Subsequently, the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act, 2014 and the corresponding Constitutional Amendment Act came into force on 13th April 2015, after the Parliament passed it by a special majority followed by ratification of the new legislation by 16 State legislatures, and subsequently assented by the President of India.

The Impact on Governance

However, some Public Interest Litigations (PIL) challenged the constitutionality of the NJAC on the ground that it affects the independence of the judiciary that forms part of the basic structure of the Constitution, which is inviolable. A 5-member bench, set up by the Chief Justice of India, is now hearing the validity of the legislature’s decision to do away with the two-decade-old collegium system of judicial appointments.

Without going into the larger philosophical debate of whether the Government or the Supreme Court has the right to invoke the basic principles of Constitution, it’s important to address the inconvenience caused to the citizens due to this ideological tussle between the Government and the Supreme Court. On April 27, 2015, the Chief Justice of India informed the Prime Minister that he would not join the NJAC panel until the SC decides on the validity of the new system.

As eminent and distinguished lawyers argue the controversial case in the SC, the vacancies in the higher judiciary are increasing every passing month.

Judges Vacancies in HCs

1st May 2015
366

1st June 2015
371

1st July 2015
377

1st Aug 2015
384

The need of the hour is that the democracy should function for the larger public good as opposed to the ongoing supremacy struggle between the different pillars of the state.

(Siddharth Sekhar Barpanda is a graduate student of Master of Public Policy in the National Law School of India University. He can be reached at ssbarpanda@nls.ac.in)

Sources

Department of Justice, Government of India

Department of Justice, Government of India (http://doj.gov.in/sites/default/files/userfiles/Vacancy_(1.8.2015).pdf)

 

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Interview | Prof Harvey Jacobs

Have you always been mesmerised by how central the conception of ‘property rights’ is to the understanding public policies in the global north and south? Have you wondered about the future of property rights and whether that shall evolve further? Did you always wonder if human development and a reliable ‘property rights regime’ are interconnected? And finally, are you concerned about how the rights to land for indigenous people conflicts theoretically and practically with the colonial and postcolonial conception of property rights? Look no further, and listen to this insightful interview with Prof Harvey Jacobs, during his interactions with ‘Lokniti’ where he provides an insightful commentary on land issues from decades of experience and expertise in the United States and globally, more fundamentally providing perspectives on how significant land policies are to the overall policy space for governments and institutions.

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