Evidence of Public Policy Success

23 Sep

Remember we defined Management as the Art and Science of getting results and the consequent need for a concept of measurement.

I spoke of the four important types of measurement scales:

  • Nominal
  • Ordinal
  • Interval
  • Ratio Scale

We also discussed the “sources of knowledge”

  • Perception: (प्रत्यक्षा) – pratyakṣa, or Direct Experience
  • Inference: (अनुमान) – anumāna, and
  • Word: (शब्द) sabda – (Testimony of past or present reliable experts)

With particular reference to Evaluation Research, we can select the “Evidence” (Pramana or प्रमाण) which literally means “proof” from these sources of knowledge.

We discussed “Facts, Opinions, Beliefs and Prejudice” as the assertions our stakeholders (and even we ourselves) make in most statements we make.

A fact is verifiable (eg. I was born in 1947)
An opinion is a judgment based on facts (eg. “From his previous performance, I dont think he will pass the examination this time either.”

A belief is a conviction based on religious, cultural or moral values. It cannot be disproved or challenged using logic. Identifying and understanding such beliefs is very important in public policy. (eg. Water is a gift of Goddess Cauvery… why should we pay for it?) This was a belief which was a hurdle for House Connections in Mysore city for Water Supply in KUIDP – (ADB Loan No. 1415-IND).

Five Citizens’ Representatives from Mysore were selected for a review of how Cauvery water is pumped to Bangalore in three stages of 500 feet each. Once the water is pumped up to the plateau, it has to be stored, purified and then distributed to the various wards of the city. At the time of the KUIDP, 63% of the households in Mysore were relying on piped water supply. It was granted that the Municipal water supply in Mysore used the gift of Goddess Cauvery, but the City Corporation had to pay crores of rupees each month to pump the water to the various City Wards, filter, purify it and then distribute it. This demonstration formed the core of a social marketing programme for water supply connections.

Prejudice is also an assertion that we have to understand in Public Policy. Dealing with prejudice can be very difficult. A certain Ward in a certain city in KSUDP refused to allow a “Sewage Treatment Plant (STP)” to be constructed because they had not been consulted and because they believed the STP would be a permanent source of foul smell. To complicate matters, an Opposition Political Party leader lived in the selected Ward. The project had to look for another site to build the STP.

Is Time an unchangeable fact?

The reason why I am writing this blog is that a couple of days ago, I came across the review of a book named Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception by Claudia Hammond.

Under normal circumstances, especially with the reach of the internet, we believe that time is universal for everyone (in a given time zone). However, Hammond makes the assertion that the time on your watch and the time in your head can move at different speeds. As we grow older with greater responsibilities, worries and preoccupations, time can be perceived to move faster than the time on your clock.

Those who have experimented with Cannabis may agree that time can get “stretched out” and give the perception that you are truly living “the moment”.

In my undergraduate years I read Carlos Castaneda hoping to learn some obscure truths. What I learnt instead was that there are some medicinal plants and mushrooms with hallucinogenic properties which can completely alter your mind and your perception of all your senses in the most unconventional and sometimes frightening way.

The purpose of this foray into the realms of hallucinogens is to convince you that it is very difficult to get a community influenced by what we think are “facts”. It is almost natural for a community to reject a policy proposal by an “outsider” who is perceived as someone who doesn’t understand the ways of the community.

The “Holiday Paradox”:

“The Holiday Paradox is caused by the fact that we view time in our minds in two very different ways — prospectively and retrospectively. Usually these two perspectives match up, but it is in all the circumstances where we remark on the strangeness of time that they don’t.”

“It comes from the disconnect between the experiencing self and the remembering self – a quirk of our brains that selectively chooses what to remember and what to discard.”

“You are most likely to remember the timing of an event if it was distinctive, vivid, personally involving and is a tale you have recounted many times since.” (My family will certify these features of my experiences!)

In the first Certificate Course run by CPPR in July 2021, one of the participants, a young lady teaching economics sounded disappointed that it looked like the course was for social science graduates, not for economists… This (slightly superior sounding) feeling no doubt came from viewing “Economics” as “Micro Economics” and “Macro Economics”. There are so many other applied Economics disciplines like “Welfare Economics”, “Development Economics”, “Agriculture Economics”, “Rural Economics”, “Urban Economics”, “Public Choice Theory” and so on… the list is endless.

Dont think for even one moment that it is sufficient to do a couple of so-called “Focus Groups” prior to introducing a successful policy. Typically communicating the need for and features of a new policy is the job of the politician, but not every politician is skilled and and has the required communication skills. The difficult route is through a “Participant Observer” method although some clients are likely to be reluctant to include such items in the Policy Research budget. For too many administrators, research is just a formality. One Public Sector Marketing Manager in the eighties told me, “Market Research is like the curry leaves used for making sambaar. Once served, the leaves are carefully removed from the plate and discarded.” A Superintending Engineer told me, “You write your poetry and we’ll write our engineering FACTS and CONCLUSIONS.” This is not merely arrogance. It is ignorance and a sign of inadequate multi-disciplinary training and experience.

A Participant Observer method may also convince you that some of the assumptions made by the Policy Makers are false and need to be revised. This can be a very difficult task indeed, but knowing about it can save huge amounts of money in project costs.

Be careful when you assert that something is a FACT.

Is it a Fact, an Opinion, a Belief, or a Prejudice?

In addition to the great four attributes, sometimes an assertion can even be based on a “Desire” and for that reason it deserves a mention.

In 1801, Tsar Paul I of Russia sent a proposal to Napoleon Bonaparte for a joint invasion of Mughal India. The Mughal Empire had been brought to its knees by the raids of Nadir Shah of Persia followed by the raids of the Afghan Chief Ahmed Shah Durrani. The Mughal Treasury had been emptied and weak Mughal rulers had no response to the aggression and bloodshed.

Internally, the only viable replacement for the Mughals were the Marathas, but superior British diplomacy and military power checkmated them with the Treaty of Bassein in 1802. Bassein is the English spelling of Vasai, which the Portuguese called Baçaim.

Fortunately for the East India Company and their allies, Napoleon who had recently been defeated at the Battle of the Nile (1799) decided not to engage his army for the raid on India.

This is an example of a policy which was conceived on the basis of the vanity and avarice (desire) of the Russian Tsar.

“Only a month out and less than halfway to Khiva, relief came in an unexpected way: Tsar Paul was dead and the mission recalled, averting certain disaster for the Cossacks and sparing Russia an embarrassing humiliation.”

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