Scope for New Advocacy Groups in Public Policy

The new government is probably going to be most transparent and open government India has ever seen. As reflected in presidential address to parliament, they are keen to leverage the potential of technology including social media to make governance more participative.Increased participation could be seen in terms of

1. Soliciting the ideas about plans, policies & programmes to tackle the various socio-economic problems facing the country

2. Taking views & feedback on draft policies

3. Feedback on existing policies to improve their implementation, remove lacuna

4. Direct involvement of Youth in governance (Public Policy Design & implementation) through short term internship, fellowship and other type of association.

5. Communicating directly with citizens to inform about the various policy stances and reasons for such moves to remove any distortion of message, which is usually the case when lot of intermediaries are involved especially the Mass Media (i.e TV) which thrive on sensationalism, breaking news and opaque ‘sources’ for their reliability.

Present government seems very keen to leverage the technology including social media for variety of reasons ranging from reducing reliance on middle-man/broker, reducing the echoing and filtering in communication and feedback & their inherent comfort with new communication technologies.

The new regime at center is open to idea and it is now coming without any presuppositions and dispositions. They are open to genuine ideas from every quarter which can help in Nation Building. They are not only looking for fresh idea but also talents who can help them implement the ideas into practice. They are looking for talent who can help improve the delivery mechanism by giving a bit of their time in improving service delivery.

They are new to Delhi Durbar so their mind is still open. They don’t have any legacy to preserve, but eager to build one, along with making India a better place to live for future generation. They do want to leave their imprint behind. They are looking for long term- at least a decade- so they may not be tempted for short term electoral prospect.

This opportunity should be utilized by people interested in public policy. Those who were eager to contribute but there was no one in system that can hear their voice and implement their ideas. Someone who is interested in real development of nation, their constituencies, who want to share their novel thoughts, suggestion and ideas in their areas of interest – in area of their interest, expertise – whether based on their intellectual and academic experience or gained by common sense exposure by their life experience.

In this context, there is huge scope for a serious & genuine advocacy groups who promote/ advance the good ideas with rational scientific backing on different policy issue. I think would be ample opportunity for genuine advocacy groups to engage effectively to provide fresh, innovative perspective to tackle the tremendous challenge of development in front of country. So far we have lacked the critical mass of genuine advocacy groups as there were few avenues for political engagement at level of policy making except for Business lobbies and some favorable coteries or kitchen cabinets like National Advisory Council (NAC).

If you have look at spectrum of economy and social sector, except of few handful of Industrial lobby groups like FICCI, CII, ASSHOCHAM, NASSCOM, Sector specific lobby groups like GSM Operators Lobby, CDMA Operators Lobby , there was no serious advocacy groups for Agriculture, Small and Marginal Farmers, Service Sector, Small and Medium Industries, Students (Students organization like NSUI, ABVP , SFI are more busy in demonstration rather than engaging in any public policy engagement for improving the standard of education) and off course no one is there for primary education , for improving the public health or for that matter important issues like Urbanization , Urban Planning and Local Self Government.

Beside the above mentioned uncovered sectors of economy, there is serious opportunity to tap the innovative spaces in areas of Digital Technologies, Skill Development , Area Development (local, specific plans for each state, region , District etc), Smart Infrastructure, Financial Sector, Integrated Urban and Rural Development (RURBAN), Good Governance practices , E- Governance , Public Services Delivery , Manufacturing and Defense Sector. The underserved areas where there is huge scope for improving the qualities includes Public Sector Undertakings, Performance of Government Employees and assessing competitive advantage of country in global supply chain. The same applies to areas where government need to engage constantly with other countries or International Institutes such as Climate Change and Trade Negotiations, Defence procurements and Indigenization, Energy Supplies(or Security), New Technology Acquisition and Development, R&D and Development Assistance to other countries.

To add the values in above sector and to constantly innovate in order to remain relevant would require different set of skills than being present in existing advocacy groups. The New groups need to tap the talent from diverse sector and socio-economic background to make effective contribution. They need to be technology savvy but at same time being connected with grassroots to ensure that they don’t provide their advices and suggestions just based on paper modeling but from real life experiences. They need to mix the policy advocacy with real experience in implementation (even at pilot levels) in many of sector like Ru-Urban Development. In terms of Improvement in Delivery they need to immerse themselves in best model operating in country and then try to replicate that in different regions with necessary contextualization and adaptation in collaboration with governments at various levels from national, state to local level.

Though in recent time there has been emergence of some serious advocacy groups in School Education after the implementation of RTE Act. Similarly entities like Jangarah are working in areas of Urbanization and Urban policy. Spurt of such advocacy groups on Budgeting (Budget Tracking, Budget Analysis etc) has also been observed but they are more of sister concerns of big think-tanks like Centre for Civil Society rather than being independent entity.

Off course Big Foreign groups like Brooking India, CFR & Europeans are making their present felt in country but their mass engagement is rather limited and they are more of elite gathering and interested in influencing the policies to suite their vested interest rather than focusing on public interest from perspective of citizens or masses. Some local influentials have also started promoting the Groups like TakshShila (with Big Contribution from Spouse of Mr. Nandan Nilekani), Gateway House (with big Contribution from Mrs. Meera Sanyal) etc.

While it’s difficult to match either the network or pockets of either Foreign International Foundations or Indian Philanthropist but there is scope of committed people with Deep Interest in Public Policy to emerge as viable Advocacy group.

Off course CAG (Centre for Accountable Governance) is going to play important role in all the above areas especially its proximity with power-centre is going to help both parties. CAG would be envy for such start-up advocacy groups but they can & should focus their attention in creating niche in specific areas.

Many others who are now not in mainstream may become mainstream in next few years. Possible contenders includes Vivekanand International Foundation (present NSA was key brain behind it- It has already become a hot darling of foreign dignitaries which have established contact with this new Idea shapers club in capital. I came to know about these visits after writing draft) , India Foundation (in areas of Border Management , Internal Security and Neighborhood policies as it have good talent pools with some amazing ground work in border areas).

There is need for advocacy group who advocate Public Interest not lobby for their self interest. Since indication so far suggest, corporate lobbyist and cronies are not getting their way so far, it’s time for real Indian Citizens to come forward and contribute their ideas and suggestion and be partner in progress. There is need to build groups based on areas of interest who can work collectively , brainstorm among them, analyze the best practices from global to local and put forward the same to government for implementation.

Hopefully, such synchronous working would be possible. I hope a real partnership can be build between such citizens who are eager to contribute and government which is eager to improve the condition of nation. Only time would tell how successful this is going to be. But my intuition is that it would be going to be game changer partnership which has potential to transform India – for Good.

Post Script : A short remark on funding pattern which new advocacy groups should strive to achieve should also be innovate which doesn’t compromise their operational autonomy. Like foreign funded NGOs, foreign based think tanks & advocacy groups have their own vested interest. Such quad pro qua are never in public mandate or public statement but they advance the agenda of their funders through implicit means. The involvement of Indians in their boards or directors or as their employees is not going to change that. The same applies to corporate funded advocacy groups. But there is need to distinguish between institutes funded by handful of corporate and institute receiving donation from corporate (with no single corporate making a big chunk of overall funding). For the new aspirant group, they need to focus on maintain their autonomy and intellectual integrity. This doesn’t mean that corporate funding be abandoned or it should become anathema but it financing should be diversified in source and ways (with mix of consulting fees, revenue generating activities, funding from individuals, government and corporate). The focus should be on making itself sustainable on its own in medium and long term.


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