Insight from Civil Society Engaging
with Science and Technology
Policy Change in Watershed Development Program in India
by Ramachandrudu Paper
I am going to share WASSANís experience
in Influencing Policy with regard to the Watershed development
programmes in Andhra Pradesh.
Approaches to Policy Change
Some of the Common approaches to policy
change process are:
- Lobbying for policy change
through struggles and peopleís movements;
- Facilitating policy and
administrative changes by collaborating closely with state/state
- Accessing and using legal
instruments such as public interest litigation (PIL) to enforce a new
- Establishing new policy
framework through democratic processes
Changing policies under
the influence of donors/ funding agencies/ industrial groups/ markets
- Changing policies as an
obligation towards the national and international commitments and
WASSAN has been working mainly with the
second approach namely facilitating administrative related changes.
Though there are other instruments like peopleís struggles, PILs and
other instruments but we are largely focussing on a kind of
collaborative arrangement with government and changing the policies in
The advocacy process in an activist
mode is perceived as being against the government. It seems to say that
the government doesnít know and that it is we who have to tell them
what to do. The other aspect is that the advocate is speaking on
behalf of community. Given this attitude, there is always some kind of
friction in this kind of advocacy process.
Considering this, we tried to first
understand what are the kinds of options that we have if we have to do
it as a partnership. First we have to understand the concerns of the
programme and what changes the state government itself would like to
bring, for which they may be looking for partners. Then we need to
understand the limitations of the state government. We have
to understand that the State governments will largely look at
policy changes as an internal exercise, and think of external agencies
like us helping them in making a better policy and providing physical
inputs. Generally they are looking for some kind of professional
support and some kind of independent input to the policy formulation
And this kind of
partnership requires a great amount of trust and also confidence among
the partners. It also rests on quality inputs from the external agency.
While there are issues of ownership of the process, as well as areas of
differences, it is the kind of framework that we have chosen for
working in watershed policy
We have been working with government
on different development projects particularly watershed and
comprehensive land development project. We do not have a very clear cut
strategy , but over a period of time, we have evolved a
particular process, and some guiding principles.
The first is reliance on
evidence-based suggestions. There should be some experience
somewhere based on which you pick up a lesson and then convert that
into a policy paper. The idea is that the suggestion is not just a
fanciful idea that does not exist anywhere.
New ideas, responding to a particular
challenge, have to be tested through pilots or through some kind of
innovative experiments on the ground, thereby creating new experiences.
Again this need not be done by ourselves or a single organisation.
These can be done by several agencies. We pick up lessons from
different pilots, some of which we may even commissioned others to do.
And also do a lot of consolidation of
experiences from various projects from various parts of the country,
and this consolidation helps in the conceptualization of the content of
An important guideline is to obtain a
mandate for policy formulation. We believe that we are providing
professional support, and therefore a mandate is required. True the
mandate may not be just given to us just like that , and we would
perhaps even lobby for it. But we do need a mandate. Several forms of
engagement gives us mandate to involve in the process. It could be that
we are asked to become members of different committees, or a monitoring
assignment, or a pilot programme or action research.
We have found that monitoring of
large-scale programmes gives us a good foothold in the policy content
formulation process and also a mandate for advocating better practices.
Under this we are also involved in the operationalising the policy that
is taking it from policy formulation to implementation.
The last important guidelines is the
entire process must be a kind of collective effort of
several agencies, organizations, civil society and even government
departments. We all need to work together in this process. It
should not be just one organisation doing everything, which everyone
else has to accept.
These are the principles we have
learnt over a period of time. We have also learnt that it is an ongoing
cyclical exercise, where after implementing, we learn from our mistakes
and work toward a new policy.
The cycle begins with a mandate of
either a pilot, or monitoring or working group. The Network of
Groups meet annually, to give us a mandate for the year. We then
consolidate lessons from different
experiences through various methods, workshops, Inventory, literature
review and action research. The studies are then converted into
some kind of policy guidelines or policy document. And then a new
programme emerges from these guidelines or formulation, which will be
supported by the government itself.
After that our work
is to help in better implementation of policy by offering certain
services, either to NGOs or to the government itself. Our services
include capacity building, monitoring support, and creating spaces for
NGOs to implement and take some specific responsibilities in the
programme. We conduct regular monitoring of these projects.
This monitoring experiences as well as handholding support, generates
lot of first hand experience, to WASSAN as well as its partners. This
in turn is again converted into better policies and better
programmes. This is a kind of cyclic exercise that we are engaged
In this process there are several
concerns and dilemmas. Though we say that the State Government
gives the mandate, and that we are providing some kind of support to
the process, there are definitely issues of ownership. This is
particularly true wen there is a change in government/leadership.
Sometimes a good policy comes in this
entire process but the government departments donít implement them
either the state level or at the district level. Sometime, if a policy
is not working, the blame can easily be put on Wassan. If on the other
hand it is working well, the credit would be taken by the government.
Then there is the question of
respecting the inputs. While they would generally like our inputs, as
it meets their expectation of professional report, they would also
complain that reports are too bulky, or that it has too much
data. Our problem is how to make the reports more understandable,
so that there is better appreciation of our inputs. They would
generally complain that our inputs are too academic, perhaps because
they would do not have the time and patience to read the reports.
There are also dilemmas with regard
to governance especially with respect to bilateral projects. Most
of the recent projects are supported by bilateral agencies. There is a
feeling that these agencies have a hidden mandate and agenda. We are
percieved as becoming part of that agenda. It must be said that
generally these projects give lots of space for innovation and
experimentation. They also create spaces for this kind of policy
formulation and we are very much engaged with that process. So the
question often put by those who are take the activist mode of
intervention, is whether we are becoming puppets, without
knowing or are we really contributing to good policy.
And there is a space for continuous
engagement with policy formulation. continuity and dissent in this
whole process. Policies are formulated. Implementation does not take
place, accordingly, and then improvement are not ensured. Then there is
a lot of cost involved, either to engage with government or engage with
network members or the community. Who bears the costs of these
interventions. That is the major dilemma there.
When one is working in a network, not
all members are well informed. Inspite of major inputs, some are still
quite ignorant, which again does not lead to good quality advocacy
There is the dilemma between the
Programmed interests and Policy Content. Many civil society
organisation particularly NGOs are mainly interested in implementing
projects. They are not focussed on particular programmes or issue, but
are interested in their role as a project -implementing agency.
This attitude of several NGOs does not help in creating good policies.
Thus there is always the dilemma of NGOs looking at programmes more as
a implementing agency that as a civil society engagement.
Similar is the dilemma of our role
vis a vis the state. Are we Cooperating or are we being Co-opted.
This question is put to us within our team and even by our
trustees. Sometimes we are also wondering if we are doing the right
thing or not, whether we are doing a kind of harm to the nation.
Delays and Continuity: Several of our
suggestions are not taken to the fullest extent at the implementation
level. So policy document may be wonderful but there are problem at the
Desirable, Essentials, Compromise: In
the policy formulation process, agencies like Wassan, try to create
some kind of negotiating space on behalf of either community or civil
society organisations. In that process there is always a
compromise, a give and take. That you compromised on a particular
aspect, or that you negated a particular kind of component, may be
questioned at any point of time. So it is always a dilemma. Is
something is a victory or a compromise depends on the position you
take. But you have to make the call. There is no running away from it
or a controversy.