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Action Research, Policy And Impact: A Bureaucrat's Experience

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Action Research, Policy and Impact: A Bureaucrat's Experience

Session Report
Nivedita Sinha

The IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi is hosting a Four-Month Online Immersive Public Policy Qualitative Participatory Action Research Fieldwork Certificate Fellowship Cohort 2.0 from December 2023 to April 2024. On day 7 of the programme, the session today was spearheaded by Dr Purnima Chauhan, an IAS retired officer, former Secretary, Government of Himachal Pradesh, director of Himachal Pradesh Institute of Public Administration, and visiting Senior Fellow at Impri.

Exploring the Intersection of Research and Public Policy

The discussion revolved around how the realms of research and public policy can be married, through the perspective of her experiences as a bureaucrat. She began by taking us through the goals of a welfare state and what the idea of “good governance” is. Good governance can oonly be facilitated by identifying gaps in public policy, and the ways in which they correspond to the goals of a welfare state, or the lack thereof. She then began to explain the different models of “Participatory Action Research”, starting with Scott Gould’s seven levels of Participation – Consult, Consume, Connect, Compete, Comment, Create and Curate.  Moving on to the idea of how we must measure development and “good governance”, she explained how the different indices like the Human Development Index came to be and the ways in which these online indexes are in sync with the larger goals of international organizations like the UN and its sustainable development goals and how they take into consideration all aspects of human life – from gender to technology to climate change. 

In discussing Bhutan’s No. 1 position on the Gross National Happiness index, she discussed how the data was arrived at, and whether the results were even generalizable and reliable considering that Bhutan also has ethnic cleansing allegations. After identifying over 700 variables, there were nine important domains that were used – physiological well being, health, time use, education, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience and living standards. She then brought up the Malmo Citizen’s Panel, from Sweden which is a decision making body with active citizen participation  that takes suggestions and proposals from citizens and and has a feedback loop system between the citizens and the different government sectors, resulting in a successful waste segregation policy. 

Advancing Policy through Continuous Research and Technological Integration

The next thing she insisted upon is the idea of research being a continuous concurrent process to assess the effectiveness of a policy, with regard to any type of policy – from healthcare, to resource validation to education, all these arenas require research and data accumulation. Governance has to be more decentralized, taking the local quotidian perspectives into account all the time to ensure the best results, giving the example of a self help group of women in Mandi in Himachal Pradesh who helped to come up with solutions for climate change disaster mitigation. 

In the last few segments of the session, she discussed the impact of information technology and data on public policy outcomes with several examples. She also touched upon the necessity of of feasibility studies before establishing and constructing any large-scale projects, like airport construction in high-altitude areas. She discussed the importance of a digital literacy mapping programme in Himachal that conducted surveys to understand how digital the areas actually are, and how this digital literary can be beneficial or not beneficial to different policy consequences and results. She also spoke about how to create relevant indicators that promoted equity and capacity building in local areas and was also in line with the objectives of the new Sustainable Development Goals – these are known as the Local Sustainable Development Goals which focused on nine themes of poverty eradication, health, access to water, cleanliness, infrastructure, a just Panchayat, good governance and women’s safety.

Her examples of governance and bureaucracy was rich and nuanced with her own experiences and her own occupation with Himachal Pradesh. She also was able to explain these concepts to the participants in a clear and lucid manner that created an environment of critical thinking and a dynamic question- answer session by the end of Day 6 of the fellowship.

Acknowledgment: Posted by Reet Lath, a Research Intern at IMPRI.

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