Bridging between planning and implementation

Saturday, March 29, 2008

"No matter how beautiful the blueprint of the programme is, a defective implementation of it will make nonsense of the whole programme."*

Independent India has (arguably) seen unprecedented innovations in the policy 'formulation' for socio economic development. Some of the policies and programs could taste the sweet of success but (again, arguably) most of them failed to 'change the lives around'. Some policies helped governments to win elections and some brought down the governments. Every government, while launching a new policy/programme, dreamt of 'changing the lives around', but nevertheless, failed to do so. Why? Why did programs like National Extension Service(NES), Food for Work Programme(FWP), Employment Guarantee Scheme(EGS), Women Development Programme(WDP), Jawahar Rozgaar Yojna (JRY, some pandits say it was a success) etc.. have failed to achieve the desired results? When these programs were drafted, most of the experts in the government and academia thought that they would significantly change the socio economic conditions of rural India. Well, nothing much happened. Why?

As a matter of fact, the actual problem in developing countries is not that of policy formulation but of implementation. Deeply institutionalized corruption, inefficiency, maladministration, non-accountability have deep rooted in Indian Democracy. "Little attention is paid to the subject of policy implementation by policy decision makers while it is often taken for granted that once a policy is adopted by government it must be implemented and the desired goals achieved."*

Why policies fail in implementation stage?
  1. Problems in identifying the "actual poor".
  2. Target beneficiaries are not allowed to contribute to the formulation of the policies that affect their lives.
  3. Some programmes get the final shape with catchy slogans (Example Gujrati 'asmita') just before the elections and, most of the time, will be shelved after the elections.
  4. Over-ambitious policy goals to attract the mass attention and win the elections, which ultimately end up in haphazard implementation.(Example, recent Rs. 60,000 crores loan waiver policy, which of course has adverse consequences).
  5. Apathy towards programmes (which are in implementation stage) commissioned by previous regimes due to ego clash.
  6. Lack of awareness about the programmes and lack of publicity.
  7. Lack of funding or some times the lapse of govt funds due to the unawareness of funds.
  8. Failure of the policy makers to take into consideration the social, political, economic and administrative variables when analysing for policy.*
  9. And of course, bribery, corruption, inefficiency, non-accountability and maladministration.

Most of the policy makers and bureaucrats sitting in New Delhi have never seen the ground reality. Some of the rural development programmes have been commissioned without testing their local suitability. Also, green signal was given to some policies without even verifying the prerequisites of policy implementation. For example, in case of small and marginal farmer development programmes in 60s, the policy "should have been preceded by land reforms but that was not done. For instance, well-digging activities had been undertaken without consolidating the land holdings!"

What should be done?
  1. Target beneficiaries should be involved at the formulation stage in order for them to have an input in what affects their lives. This will also give them a sense of belonging and, therefore, a sense of commitment.
  2. There must be effective communication between the target beneficiaries and the implementors of policy programmes.
  3. The culture of discontinuing a policy once there is a change in government should be discouraged because even though government comes and goes, administration is continuous. There should be continuity in policy except if the policy is found not to be useful to the people.
  4. Provision should be put in place for adequate monitoring of projects, as poorly monitored projects will only yield undesired results.
  5. For any government to be judged to be administratively competent, there must be evidence of bridging the gap between the intention of a policy and the actual achievement of the policy.*
Okay, all said and done, How can we achieve them?

The most conspicuous solution that I can think of is, bridging the gap between policy formulation and policy implementation. Policy makers sitting in capitals do not have sufficient data about the ground realities which are, unfortunately, specific to each region. Data collected from local bodies and surveying agencies (for example, NSSO) are not adequate/satisfactory. I believe this is the most important reason why our policy makers comes up with innovative policies which most often end up in haphazard implementation.

How can we build the gap between policy formulation and implementation?

Importance of academia in technology building is unanimously accepted. Similarly, I believe, academia should be involved not only in policy research and formulation but also in policy implementation. Just as it is mandatory for a medical graduate to serve in rural areas at least for one year after graduation, the students of social sciences or any other related discipline must be made mandatory to do projects/assignments related to socio economic development of rural India. For example, If a student is studying 'rural credit structure' in a local university, he/she can be assigned to collect 'authentic' data related to rural credit system in the area surrounding the university and such 'authentic' data collected must be used by policy makers to make better decisions while formulating the policies. The ideas and innovations generated out of such assignments/projects should be rewarded and showcased in the surrounding area. This will not only create awareness in the region, but also facilitate to understand what is more suitable for that particular area. So, the academia can act as a bridge between policy formulation and implementation by providing the data at a very first step. And yeah, its just another idea, but not the only idea. There may be better ways to do this, you are most welcome to suggest one.

But this kind of ideas will have better impact in long term. Definitely not short term solution like Rs. 60,000 crores loan waiver given by present government, which I think is just a political strategy. The same money should have been used in building the rural infrastructure and more importantly strengthening the rural credit structure which would have benefited farmers in long term. Strengthening the rural credit system can liberate farmers from money lenders' obligations which in turn could improve economical conditions of the farmers. The government should stop this political blackmail during the elections and should focus on "actually" changing the lives around.

*I had collected these data from my previous reading. I don't remember the sources. My apologies for not providing the appropriate links.

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This work by Manjunath Singe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License. The views and opinions expressed in this work are strictly those of the author and do not represent his employer's views in anyway.