Poised for the future: Public Policy

    • By,
      Thakur Natraj Singh – Student, Kautilya

Policy making, historically, was the domain of the rulers, except in democratic societies like in ancient Greece, Rome, and the Indian Janapadas. It is fairly recent, since the publication of Wilson’s “The Study of Administration” in 1887, that policymaking became a specialized field and we have policy experts who analyze the various challenges being faced by a society. As somebody that has studied widely and has been exposed to the multiple dimensions of a social problem, a public policy expert is a fairly unique human resource. They are not only able to identify the most pressing of problems but are also able to build the right team to target the issue with the right amount of resources. As a result, they also help in making the best use of limited resources, especially in a developing country like India.

Today we are living in the age of big data. Right from the number of steps you might have walked from the moment you woke up this morning, to the number of fighter planes in the Indian air force, everything is recorded. Previously, a complete week of vacation would give us 64 or perhaps 100 photos, but these days one takes almost that many pictures at one single spot, hoping to pick one good picture from all of those photos. That is how trivial data has become in the 21st century, as has the processing power that makes sense of all that data. A computer that took up an entire building previously, fits in the palm of our hand these days.

Ironically, despite all this data and power, most of us do not have any idea about what’s happening around us. We are still facing all the problems we have been facing since the dawn of human history. Wars, disease, hunger, you name it and the problems persist. Even worse, we are faced with newer problems every new day. The most astounding part is that we are not even able to come together to identify many of these problems that plague us, let alone solve them. Everybody disagrees about everything. For some, climate change is the most pressing problem facing humanity while for others it’s just a hoax being peddled by the Illuminati. Covid vaccines, for most of us, are the reason for the world coming back to normal today while for some of us, they are big pharma revenue conspiracies at best and people tracking sinister potions at worst. It is one thing to have differing opinions about what our future might look like but to disagree even about events that have passed, that’s a completely different situation.

To be fair, we don’t know if this is due to the generation of fresh information at a rapid rate or the confusion caused due to an overload of unreliable information. What is clear though is that while there is so much information all around, only a small fraction is truly understood by an individual. This reminds us of those famous lines by Coleridge, “Water, water everywhere, and all the boards did shrink; water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink!” Today, there is such easy access to so much information but very few people can make sense of it or use it for the betterment of humanity. There is a clear and pressing need for a substantial number of people that can use all this information and elevate humanity out of the cesspool of insurmountable challenges it finds itself in.

Prima facie, the humongous amount of data and an ever-increasing number of resources, human or otherwise, appear inconsistent with the simultaneous increase of the challenges we face as a civilization, but that’s the fact. Humanity has never been as prosperous or peaceful as it is today. Never had the world been as healthy, wealthy,or peaceful as it has been since the end of the Second World War and the formation of the United Nations. We do not have any great power wars like during the 18th, and 19th centuries; colonial wars like in the 15th, and 16th centuries or religious wars like in the centuries before them. We have the most sophisticated medical technology and the most free and widespread trade since the origin of humanity. And yet, the world population as a whole is neither completely healthy, wealthy, or at peace. This situation right here is the paradox that needs to be solved.

There is something seriously wrong with the way the world is governed. And it is this combination of surplus data and a scarcity of solutions that makes one believe that it’s time for a proper systematic study of public policy and governance. We did it for science, technology, and business in the previous decades and centuries, we need to do it for policy-making now. And while this is true for the world as a whole it is especially important for a country as young as ours with a growth rate to match.

The need of the hour now is to leverage modern technology, big data, and the dynamics of a developing democracy to effectively address pressing challenges like corruption, climate change, unemployment, and rising social discontent. We need to move on from the British-era practice of leaving public policy formulation and implementation to a minuscule number of public servants and enlist more specialized professionals to target specific problems. Policy making needs to be opened up to the suggestions and scrutiny of domain-specific policy experts of whom there is a very clear deficiency. The demand for public policy professionals is likely to increase as India ascends to the global stage. Greater interaction between the government and the private sector will involve a greater degree of regulatory work especially in new emergent fields such as space, and technology. As the relationship between the state and citizen evolves and we see significant developments in the domain of electronic governance there will be a need for individuals who can navigate the field of politics and administration with generic knowledge as well as with intuitive solutions for many of the emergent challenges in outreach to the wide population of the country. I think we can be rest assured that these professional policy experts will play a critical role in bringing to life our aspiration to be a developed nation by 2047.

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.