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Do leaders need scholars? Epistemic Crisis in Policy Practice | A panel discussion at NASPPA South Asian Conference


Conference Site:

Zoom link: Click here.

Meeting ID: 948 0036 6849
Passcode: 253884


Friday, November 12, 2021

The panel discussion is part of the NASPPA South Asian Conference being held from November 12-14, 2021.

  • Time: 14.30-16.00 (Dhaka Time)
  • Panel Organiser: Sony Pellissery, Institute of Public Policy, NLSIU
  • Panelists: Sachin Tiwari, Disha Ranjan, Vijay Paul, Vasundhara N., Mounik Lahiri, Anoushka Roy & Shreoshee Mukherjee

Six decades ago, Hannah Arendt spelled out the epistemic crisis that shrouds the world when it comes to decision making process in public sphere in her classic on Truth and Politics. The policy practice of ‘speaking truth to power’ has become increasingly opaque since Arendt’s prediction. This panel is exploring the problematic Arendt proposed in South Asian context.

Knowledge generation, knowledge transmission and knowledge reception in professional context of advice giving is extremely complex. How knowledge is able to influence policy decisions becomes the proof of the pudding in the context of professional education. Most of the South Asian countries with authoritarian decision making model face the difficulty of convincing a leader with the apolitical tool of knowledge. This is the epistemic crisis of policy practice in South Asia. Educational content in policy schools, pedagogy used to prepare the graduates and strategic linkage of policy schools with government creates an eco-system to deal with this epistemic crisis.

In South Asia, policy schools are yet to define their mission clearly, since most of these schools are attached with Management Schools, Law Schools, Economics Departments, private universities or even as entrepreneurial opportunities. Aaron Wildaswky’s insightful formulation of “Public policy schools do to government what business schools do to business” (ref. Speaking Truth to Power) can be one leading light in this mission defining exercise. This panel aims to contribute to this mission defining exercise by exploring the connection between knowledge and power in advice giving in policy context.

Three papers included in this panel are exploring the theme of the panel from three different viewpoints:

  • First, from the point view of curriculum of public policy schools. Curriculum is designed in policy schools to prepare graduates to equip necessary skills, knowledge and value orientation to deal with the challenge of ‘speaking truth to power’. However, different schools adopt different positions when it comes to policy practice. A clear divide that is emerging in South Asia is between techno-managerial approach and political approach.
  • Second paper in the panel is examining the question of mismatch between skill requirement in the job market for public policy professionals and curriculum in South Asian schools.
  • Third paper is examining the imbalance in relationship between public administrators and consultants. A good number of placements for graduates from policy schools are with consultants. Therefore, how the relationship between consultant and administrator is defined, shape the policy practice.

All the three papers together contribute to the understanding on vexed relationship between truth and power in policy practice in South Asian context.

Papers presented by the panel:

Title: Competition of techno-managerialism and political views in the public policy training
Authored by Sachin Tiwari (Centre for Labour Studies, NLSIU), and Disha Ranjan (Army Law College, Mohali)

Abstract: A visible change has taken place in last one decade for public policy education in India. Forty seven schools of public policy education have emerged in less than a decade in India. Among them, five streams of policy education are being offered. These five streams are: a) undergraduate degree in public policy, b) post-graduate degree in public policy, c) doctoral education in public policy, d) diploma programmes in Public Policy, and e) online education programmes in public policy. This paper is comparing the educational curriculum of these 47 schools based on the publicly available information, and interviews conducted with academic leaders and students of these schools. Pattern emerging here shows that in the post-graduate programme, there is a unifying trend. There is huge heterogeneity in all other streams of programmes. Therefore, further analysis is undertaken on the curriculum of post-graduate programme, where a divide of techno-managerial approach and political approach to public policy is visible.

Title: Context matters for employable skills in Public Policy: A study of job-seeking patterns of graduates in Public Policy in India
Paper by Vasundhara (Doctoral Scholar, National Law School of India University, Bangalore), and Vijay Paul (Policy Innovation Lab, India & Graphic Era University, Dehradun)

Abstract: Is there a mismatch between skills sets imparted through public policy education in India, and demands existing in job market? It is important to answer this question to inform the emerging public policy schools, not just in India, but across Asia. We study this by gathering information on placements from public policy schools and by conducting in-depth interviews with graduates after 2015. We notice that, there is good skill overlap between Master of Business Administration and Master of Public Policy. Very often, firms are employing graduates with MBA degree in the absence of sufficient pool of public policy graduates. Yet, the defining feature of policy professionals is their versatility and deep rooted desire to bring positive societal change. In this manner, unlike MBA graduates, where works ends up perpetuating societal status quo through market focused work, public policy professionals are oriented to be organic intellectuals, where work is in the interfacing areas of market, the state and civil society. Thus, transformation of public sphere is contributed through the works of policy professionals themselves. The key finding of our paper is the need for context-specific knowledge to gain public policy jobs. Knowledge as a universal transferable category to inform skills often is not appreciated by policy firms that recruit professionals. This is the epistemic crisis in policy practice we find.

Title: Effective Policymaking and Implementation: Do we need Administrators when Consultants call the shots?
Paper by Mounik Lahiri (Deloitt), Anoushka Roy (PwC), & Shreoshee Mukherjee (J-Pal)

Abstract: Opposed to traditional views of who constitutes the ‘circle’ of policymakers and implementors, the emergence of private management consultancies—the knowledge brokers, or intermediaries between knowledge generators and policy decision-makers (Craft& Howlett, 2012; Lindvall, 2009; Sundquist, 1978), has expanded the public policy ecosystem. This ecosystem has ventured well beyond closed-door, bureaucratic public institutions. The often-acknowledged impasse within the public administrative system has strengthened the role of policy consultants, presenting fertile institutional settings, and conducive developmental priorities for policy consulting as an industry, and a profession to thrive.

Against this background, we question whether there is a need to rethink the functions of traditional administrators. If consultants control the life cycle of a policy, do we need administrators at all? This paper seeks to answer the question by examining how policy consultants operate differently from public administrators, latently embedded within the governance processes for many years. The key objective of this paper would be to investigate policy decisions which are complimented by private consulting firms at various stages forms—as political aide, as research consultants or as on-field executors. With this paper, we aspire to call out the obliterating line between the public and the private in policymaking, a topic rarely addressed in policy academia.