A dynamic monitoring system is needed to implement public policy

The political leadership both at the national and the state level is the most crucial force behind the success of the implementation machinery. This spirit and authority travel down to the local leaders and managers.

It is often said that without proper implementation, a policy is merely a well-intentioned statement. And that the best policy will fail if not properly executed. My mother, a simple but successful homemaker, agrees: “It’s not high philosophy — no preparation will ‘taste’ good if it is not well executed.” Indeed, it is taken for granted that a policy, particularly a government policy or social-development programme, is meant to be perfectly executed.

How is it then, as Fortune magazine notes, nine out of 10 organisations fail to implement their well-thought-out plans? Why do most fail to realise that implementation is the key and end up with sub-par results and uncompleted projects?

This enquiry and the associated challenges gain special focus in the context of the politically-unanimous agenda for all-round growth. Most of us probably saw India in the recent past as a land of excavations — public streets, internal roads, water and sewerage, flyovers and highways lying, as if perpetually dug out, and projects remaining uncompleted were common. These “ruins” of modern development result in a wastage of scarce public resources and hurt the common man. They also hurt his trust and faith in the democratic system, as this implementation-failure underlines the system’s inefficiency, unaccountable processes, corruption and, above all, the lack of single-mindedness in the political leadership.

India has had mixed experiences post-Independence. The consolidated development chart will appear rather skewed, with tall skyscrapers, commercial malls and landscaped environment on the one hand, and vast areas surviving with mostly stagnant civic infrastructure, inaccessible rural and hilly inhabitations, crumbling and non-functional education and healthcare institutions on the other. Millions continue to live in abject poverty, deprived of basic amenities like a liveable house, a private toilet, safe water, electricity and cooking gas, and an assured minimum income. India desperately needs a quantum leap to achieve a just society.

What is causing this implementation deficit? Do we lack political commitment and support? The processes of implementation are complex, particularly given the diverse demands on, and the challenges faced by, the implementers.

What are the enabling and empowering conditions which can make the difference? It would appear that India needs to work on the implementation and reforms processes in a wider manner, with the primary aim of attaining fast-paced development and effective delivery of the intended public benefits. This effort must also meet the demands of quality and public probity.

It would thus help to highlight certain important prerequisites, which can bring greater efficiency to implementation processes. The first requirement, obviously, would be a capable implementing machine — or what has been called the “perfect administration”, driven by passionate team leaders. The prime rule of the game is: Brook no delay. The guiding urge should be not only to swiftly resolve any bottlenecks and contradictions but also to complete the task before schedule. Other critical determinants include: Unambiguous demarcation of responsibilities, particularly at supervisory levels; frequent brainstorming sessions to anticipate and take formal note of likely challenges, and agreeing upon solutions; ensuring and authorising a largely free hand with matching resources, and the ability to make on-the-spot decisions. The evergreen strategy to make implementation a near-perfect process is to build in a vigilant monitoring and evaluation mechanism, which is both firm and benign. A dynamic monitoring mechanism makes use of technology, which today is being built into various flagship programmes initiated by the present government.

In the interest of achieving wholesome implementation, it would be desirable to set up an autonomous “Monitoring Trust” as an integral part of all important public policies and programmes. The proposed Trust can comprise core technical, administrative and legal members, along with stakeholders and social activists.

Engaging stakeholders and implementers, through various methodologies, is fast emerging as an effective strategy — indeed it needs to be seen as a goal in itself. Sharing information and progress through dashboards and other technology tools, inviting suggestions through IT portals like MyGov democratise and enrich both policy formulation and execution. Also, generating larger participation and a sense of ownership amongst stakeholders brings in beneficiary acceptance, outreach to a greater number in the last mile, and ultimately, trust and happiness to the people in general.

It would be an enriching experience for the readers to peruse the implementation account of a rural electrification programme — Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana —covering 18,000-plus un-electrified villages, across several states and Union territories. The institutions and methodologies developed in this case present an exemplary fusion between human ingenuity and the miracles of the customised technology. The project master-crafted and accomplished under the administrative guidance of A K Bhalla, the then secretary, Government of India, Ministry of Power, sets unparalleled benchmarks in the country’s development journey.

The political leadership both at the national and the state level is the most crucial force behind the success of the implementation machinery. This spirit and authority travel down to the local leaders and managers. It does not miss anybody’s notice how the NDA’s team of motivated ministers led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has helped evolve a world-class model to implement a complex social development agenda. Such an endeavour in effective implementation alone can converge with good governance, bold innovation, rewarding delivery and the transformation of marginalised human lives.

This article first appeared in the print edition on December 21, 2020 under the title “The road to getting things done”. The writer, an IAS officer, is Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Commerce and Industry

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