Evidence Based Public Policy-Making

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I use the word policy-making very frequently. Firstly, because policy-making has the capacity to substantively transform our lives or completely ruin it. Secondly, and most importantly because I want ‘us’ to talk about it, to question it, be critical of it and most of all “demand it”. Politics as I have been endorsing should mean policy-making, and democracy is valuable because it gives the voters an opportunity to choose good policies and sanction bad ones. Unfortunately, politicians neither talk about policies in elections nor know what it means and how to make it. Well, isn’t the meaning of “public-policy” self explanatory- policy for public?; you will ask. Yes and No. It is not as simple as it is literally meant to be.

When I was a kid my grandmother used to tell me stories of kings, in which they used to go on a walk and give random orders to their ministers, “the king loved the flower so much that he ordered, I WANT THIS FLOWER ALL OVER MY KINGDOM”. This is how public-policies are made (if at all they are made) even today in our state. But this isn’t policy-making, this is misuse and misdirection of funds and misuse and abuse of the “people’s mandate, people’s power”. And in the better functioning regions outside and inside the country (like Kerela), this kind of policymaking is unthinkable.

Today I want to talk to you as what I originally am- an international development practitioner. Real development is only based on “evidence-based policy making”. Policy-makers and practitioners intervene in people’s lives through policy-making. These interventions may have unwanted effects and may do more harm than good. Therefore, “prescriptions and proscriptions” for people have to be based on very rigorous “empirical evidence”. It is highly irresponsible to intervene based on wishes or theories unsupported by reliable empirical evidence. These evidences are based on thorough analysis and are indispensable to understand the potential consequences of any intervention, which could be economic, social, physical, psychological and so on. And this is non-negotiable, because “people matter” and their hard earned taxes matter too.

Moreover, policies that are implemented all around the world, are studied for years by academics/researchers extensively to understand how beneficial they are and this pool of knowledge and evidence needs to be well analysed before implementing a policy, that too through the lens of the geographical, cultural, social, economic context, where it is implemented. If there is no evidence that a policy has done any good around the world, it simply cannot be adopted. In Bihar, interestingly, polices that have failed all around the world are opted in an easy going manner as the ‘political class fancies”. My question- is Bihar an authoritarian dictatorship or a monarchical state?

This practice needs to be stopped and questioned. Rationality, scientific evidence based knowledge, in fact any kind of knowledge has lost its place in politics in Bihar. However, WE must keep it alive because a society stops developing the day “knowledge and discourse” is either disregarded or ridiculed. People die daily because of this inefficient and incompetent irrational style of governance and we cannot afford being ignorant about what our fellow citizens are facing, because we are safe only till we are next.

Pushpam Priya Choudhary | President, Plurals | MA, Development Studies, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK | Master of Public Administration, London School of Economics & Political Science, UK