Insight from Civil Society Engaging
with Science and Technology
What drives policy as of now? For this question we came up with a lot of
One is what Kavita said "crisis", and then there are policy
stereotypes - that is where the Narmada issue also got stuck. Bilateral
projects which drive policy have got to do with donor agencies who can then
buy policy space. Motivated bureaucrats taking an initiative, I think
this is what happened in the issue of bonded labour.
Election triggered. I think that has also been brought up. External
pressures (like low gold reserves in 1991). And of course civil society
groups do manage to drive policy in certain sectors. And the other point
that we have is marginalisation of certain communities like say the
Muslims. That also seems to drive policy.
The second question was: what constitutes knowledge or expertise in policy
Knowledge is always more than science or expertise. But it needs to be codified,
it needs to be branded and approved by state and now corporates. You become an
expert because you can codify and brand somebody else's knowledge. And only if
politically active people pick up this knowledge, does it get politically
processed; only then does it constitute knowledge for policy.
Input centric knowledge - for example fertilizers for agriculture is an input
centric idea, but anything that is process centered is difficult.
Creation of demand: I will be talking about that but here we felt the demand
should reach some kind of a threshold. There has to be some threshold level and
only after that do we get heard.
The third question related to how community experiences were showcased.
In many cases there was mass mobilisation; it had to be very visible.
Opportunities and problems have to be dramatised only then can the experiences
be showcased. And there were gross generalizations being made. I would request
the other people of the group to elaborate these points.
We clubbed questions four and five together viz. how community representatives
and formal specialists influenced policy.
Actually they are exclusive. Community representatives do come in. But you need
specialists to amplify them. One is to create a common platform. You have
government organisations, NGOs and community representatives that can come on a
common platform. The method involves making alternative formulations that can be
anchored either in technical knowledge or traditional knowledge.
The third point was large scale mobilisation and this had come through earlier
also. You can't have this one voice but you have it in different places in
different voices but it has to be a single message.
The presence of experts working with people among us is needed. The example is
the Mathura case, which Rukmini was talking about, the lawyers were the experts
and they played a big role in seeking the policy improvement. In certain sectors
again the experts themselves have a big role to play. In some cases as in silent
valley and so on it is just the experts, just the middle class that manage to
The tools that were successful and the tools that were not successful in
influencing policy was the last question.
Tools that were successful were:
1. Focussed anger.
2. Story telling which was supplemented by research. Here again the role of the
expert comes in so that you can re-formulate the issue.
3. PILs have been successful- judicious use of PILs have been successful.
4. Monitoring in terms of social audit of large-scale government programmes has
been successful in influencing policy.
5. Working groups that may be self appointed and working with organisations that
can influence policy.
6. Media both traditional and modern.
7. Sometimes individual whimsy has been a successful tool like the mid day meals
Tools that were not successful included:
Working groups that were constituted by the
government. They don't work unless the members in it make special efforts
otherwise they are likely to be dismissed.
Fasting and strikes don't seem to work anymore.
Normal politics don't work anymore- that is to say
that earlier we had people in the streets even in small numbers you were able to
get the government to listen to but today even if you have a mass of people on
the street it does not help.
Then it also happens that proven experiences do get
rejected. I think the problem here is that it requires too much structural
change. In certain sectors the government is ready to listen. In certain sectors
it is much more resistant.