Love and Work in December 2017

As much as 2018 started with a bang, it was no way preceded by any lull or silence. There was furore of activity in December as well. As I sit down to write I have forgotten half of things that happened in this month. Thankfully my flickr  photostream comes to my rescue.

Work travel in December was a continuation of the one that begun in November. The things I did in December are:

  1. International Permaculture Conference (IPC)  in Hyderabad
  2. Meetings ( with a new team) in Maharashtra
  3.  Maharashtra – Western and Vidharba region
  4. Andaman Islands on a holiday
  5. Weekend motorcycle ride to Tiratgad, Chhattisgarh

1.IPC 2017 in Hyderabad

I went to this conference based on my mentor’s instruction to attend this workshop to know more about organic farming and natural farming. It was quite nice to see people from so many countries who practice permanent-agriculture ( permaculture) there. But somehow it felt like these people although they are doing their bit of good by practicing permanent agriculture had not really given enough thought on how to take it to the world. It is not that every organisation working on a issue take the onus to thinking for the entire world. But the sense I got from sitting through some of their sessions was that the folks who are practicing or endorsing permaculture seem to be living in a bubble.

The key speakers in the conference were Vandana Shiva and Rajendra Singh. They spoke in their oratory fashion boxing the criminals ( corporations ) and victims ( the farmers ) in clear containers. As usual  such simple narratives beget thunderous  applauses form the audience. But they gave a signal if they were serious about their  in the press-meet. There was this young journalist from Economic times who drilled these people on their speeches and asked what they thought was the way forward to address the problems they mentioned in their speeches.  The responses they provided were highly disappointing and made me feel sincerely sad about the state of activism in this country. None of them had a plan to solve the problem they have been shouting about for decades. All of them in their sixties and seventies were still regurgitating the same things they spoke a decade or more ago. The discourse is anti-state, anti-corporation and pro-poor/farmer. But they could not articulate WHAT should be the pro-poor steps to address the problems of the people they stand for. I wonder if they were really serious about solving the problems at all??

2. Meetings with ( new team) in Maharashtra: One of my volunteering work  on an environmental project took me to few meetings in Maharashtra, in the role of a policy professional.  Unlike my usual work routine where I am either alone or  with just another colleague ( most an old friend), I was not with a team composite of people with experiences 20 years more than mine and one other guy who is just a year older than me, but a veterans whose experiences can be easily pegged to be 10 years more than me, especially with respect to people management and running a big department. I must say I have never smiled or laughed so much in my work life before. These guys were just fantastic. With lifelong experiences and having being in very key positions in big Multinationals or having made change to lakhs of farmers or forest dwellers, they were just normal people. No baggage, no gloating images of themselves. Earlier my commitment to the project was because of my mentor and the environmental cause of it. But not its gotten only better. I have walking talking libraries of experiences embodied in these humble people. These people have seen how things happen in the ground , the hurdles and issues in solving any problem. But they are interested in solving the issues , quietly and consistently without making much noise.

I know this coded post with very little work details may not be a great interest to a reader, but this part is a reminder about the fun time I had with this team and exciting times that lay ahead.

3. Maharashtra – Western and Vidharba region: The work in Maharashtra gave me an opportunity to meet the people in two parts of Maharashtra – Western and Vidharba region. Maharashtra can be loosely divided into Western, Maratwada, Vidharba and the Konkan region. The project I mentioned above took me to the meetings in these two regions. The saying about India is that every few kilometers the culture, customs, language and flavour of food change. If one were to take this statement seriously, the observations I am about make will look obvious. But think about it, even within a state how people work, the resources  distribution,  limelight a region gets  and access to skilled manpower differ and there is a clear advantaged and disadvantaged region. If anyone wishes to work in a region, understanding these aspects become imperative. The time spent on understanding the background of a region will go a long way in designing and setting expectation from any work done in a region.

Larger characteristics of a two regions within a state that are quite stark.Western Maharashtra due to historical context and importance and proximity to Mumbai has strong hold of government establishments, political clout good number of educational institutions and therefore skilled manpower, established and professional Voluntary organisations, good access to both government and non governmental funds, good set up of technical agencies that work on development issues.

In the case of Vidharba region (infamous for its farmer suicides) is literally one of the backward regions of the country. This region is far from the capital, little urbanisation and industrialisation in comparison to Western Maharashtra, has access to plush government funds to mitigate farmers’ plight but little access to big non-governmental funds. The skilled manpower in the region is also not many , except some very conscious individuals who have by choice moved and set up small organisations in the region to work on the issues of the region. But the lack of access to big funding to voluntary organisations has lead to NGOs working with each other like friends and the informal networks are quite strong here. The lack of funds is a necessary condition but not sufficient condition for such kind of behaviour in the region. So to see such friendly, networked way of functioning that is facilitated by whatever means is worth noticing and lauding.

4. Andaman Islands on a holiday

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 A holiday that was totally organised by the  brotherinlaw to Andamans was an awesome break. We just had to pack our bags and make ourselves present in the island. The natural beauty of these islands made me dream about working from these islands for a year or so. The island looks like coastal towns of India from a decade ago.  The ride across the Baratang island to experience the closed Jarava territory was revealing and made one raise a lot of questions about this tribe.

The apparent  functioning of government system (from the interaction one had with the locals) seem far superior to the functioning of the state in the mainland. I would like to dig deeper and read more about it. But it seems, one need not look outside the country  for a functioning welfare state, it is right here in these islands. I am making this statement, mainly due to one stark fact. Everyone  use the ration shops. Everyone gets their rice and sugar from the ration shops for their personal consumption. Everyone who is well to do or not uses the ration shops. May be I am wrong in making this observation centric to my conclusion about functioning of the government in this state. I will validate this in a post when I get time.

While visiting the Marine Bio-reserve and recollecting about tsunami effect on these islands , the thing that kept coming back to me was, the issues of environment are so difficult to perceive. The islands look beautiful, green and lovely. Where is the biodiversity loss, who and what are being harmed due to changing climate. As a lay tourist, I cant see it so why will I believe it? If we really want our people to be conscious of the vagaries and loss of biodiversity and be responsible in our act in fragile regions, the issues of environment need to be made felt.

5. Weekend motorcycle ride to Tirathgarh, Chhattisgarh

This is the magnificent #chitrakootfalls. It is magnificent. Returned to this place after a decade or so, was beautiful. Can you make out the #rainbow formed by sun rays falling on the dispersed water particles (#prismaticeffect ) been so long since I use

 This should have been the first note on the month. The month started with a long motorcycle ride with my partner to Tirathgarh and Chitrakoot falls from Raipur. These falls is quite beautiful and the ride was definitely worth it. Some observations on the state from the ride is , most of the roads from Raipur to these falls are good, towns and villages that we crossed are kept clean and compared to most other tourist places these falls are kept really clean and well. At Chitrakoot falls there are shops with art works from the state. The Bastar art work from this state is simply classic, subtle and of course beautiful. These art works are mainly from the Kondgaon region that one crossed on the way to these falls from Raipur. One can also drop by and meet the artisans and artists who produce these art works.

So thats was December and thus ended 2017.

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Wrap Up 2017

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Like this green hillock with little sense of identity,  I feel my personality and identity seems to be less prominent, more vague like these hillocks this year.

Its been a while since I blogged here. 2 years ago (before June 2015) , my problem will upkeep of the blog was my lack of confidence in articulation. In the last two years ( until July 2017) the randomness in the blog was due to very very hectic schedule that involved studying and working ( with Frank Water) and also picking up freelance consulting work. And hence that time I have been back to working with Frank and was busy working with the team of experts and Isha Foundation on the policy document for their nation wide campaign to revitalize rivers – Rally for Rivers (RfR).

 

There have been some major events in my personal life since the end of the RfR campaign. I moved to a new small town Raipur. I am settling in here and I am yet to establish a routine with respect to work, house keeping ( literally), working out, and find time of hobbies- painting, biking, singing and swimming- that attend to that aspect of my life that work usually cant attend to.

I am done ranting about why I have not written a word here since April. I wont be promising about if I will write regularly again. The only thing I know is that life on some fronts look streamlined. Subconsciously I have always wanted these streamlining in my life to be able to take on bigger things and responsibilities in my life. Now that I have them, life is staring into me asking me “what next”? This forces me want to reflect on  my work, and projects until now. Thus this first ever “Wrap up” post.

If I were to look at the year that went by, I would like to broadly reflect on three major streams – MPP (Masters in Public Policy) thesis on sustainable agriculture,  changes in WASH job, volunteering for the creation of  policy document on Rally For Rivers , resuming work on Weaver technologies and motorcycle journey to Himalayas. As much I would like to write a long essay that seamlessly flows like any long essay article. I am quite tuned into thinking in list-ized and bulleted manner. Hope that doesn’t annoy anyone reading this post.

MPP Thesis on Sustainable Agriculture: This was a simple immersion endeavor I consciously took to step out of my “WASH expert” zone to put to use my larger environmental engineering degree and knowledge gathered in MPP to understand the larger ecosystem of agriculture and the so called sustainable agriculture space in India. I started working on this space since 2015 November and I quite enjoyed this  longterm immersion. Studying and going to school is fun, but what does the schooling do one only comes out when one puts the knowledge gained to use. This project gave me that opportunity. Also, working on this thesis involved – pouring over many books, interviewing farmers,  interacting with experts, bureaucrats, technocrats, digging into policy and traveling – to my native ;Tanjavur region; in Tamil Nadu, & to 15 odd districts in Rajasthan. And this due course I found a lifetime mentor. Something I have been searching for a longtime.

In a way this project  has given me way beyond what set out to learn. It made me dig deeper into the sector and also provided a 360 degree perspective, softening my sharp opinions with a buttload of realism.

WASH job: At Frank Water, we have two staff based out of India. The other India based advisor is quite articulate and sharper. Working with him and the other India Project Manager sitting in Bristol has gotten better over the years. The Bristol based manager slowly is transitioning to become a friend and working with India advisor has only made me become more thorough with work. The change in the framework to manage partners using Adaptive Project Management has improved the engagement levels of partners and their staff across the entire hierarchy.  The WASH programs are also becoming more diverse making the work more interesting.

Policy work with Rally for Rivers (RfR): Volunteering with the policy team at Rally for Rivers along with my mentor and experts was rewarding. This engagement gave a taste of what realtime policy making entails. Not just about realistic understanding and writing of policy, but what could happen to something which is high profile and has the attention of the larger public and media houses. I have never had an experience this intense in the last few years. Early in the career I have had similar but short-lived experiences of intense work, working with a friend on many projects. But the experience this time around in RfR was of solo kind ( although with a team). I got pushed, pressured, and worked with unreal deadlines and timelines. I could survive, with the help of grace and the team’s support.

The experience of working on this project although under high pressure environment was so rewarding, I literally had a withdrawal syndrome post the rally. This experience at different levels has left me so much richer than what I was when i started work on this. One of the many important things I have learnt working on this live policy project is that, any solution to a problem never gets successfully accepted not in a vacuum.  For a solution to be heard and taken up, it matters how the problem is defined at different levels ( to the politicians, technocrats, bureaucrats, important stakeholders and  the larger public) and how the solution is present to the same group. When I say “how it is presented” – I mean the language, the attitude, leveraging strategic points that speaks specifically to each group’s interest.

On a specific thing that i have learnt and expanded my appetite level volunteering on this project is the eye for details and clean up the mess I have created again and again and again! Patience, an elusive trait for me was a compulsory requirement while working on project like this.

Weaver Technologies:  With 2 year sojourn in education finishing the startup that I have been part of for over a decade is taking a different shape now. Consulting and other work endeavor is moving to a different level.

Motorcycle journey to Himalayas: Writing about this needs a post all dedicated to itself. Whie I keep going on short weekend rides to nearby places, this one was a long wished trip that I have never really though I would end up getting on to. But this also got executed like this was a project that needs to be finished before a given deadline. The experience of being on the trip is something I have not yet reflected until today. This was a trip of two – Suhas and I. I have been on similar such motorcycle trip to Himalayas in 2012, but that was solo. This was a whole 5 years hence. This trip was exhilarating, exciting, scary, eery, lonely and rewarding. The trip was from Bangalore to Leh via Manali and return to Chandigarh via Srinagar. I felt as if I went through two different countries ( other than India) in this trip.

We started out on the trip with very little preparation, and we came back home in one piece. It is only grace that made it happen. If I were to do this trip again, it will be less rushed, more prepared with knowing my  bike and a lot longer and would avoid riding on the world class national highways in the plains of the country.

Wrap up 2017:  The year seemed a lot about work, expanding the sectors of work and little bit of fun and some major changes in personal life. The time spent working seemed so fulfilling that even when on breaks I was looking forward to going back to work. I got burnt and pressured at work, but seems like the workaholic has been woken up again after many many years.

It seems all the desire to have my year that has – on the road, seeing the world and being with nature for larger part of the time is now taking a back seat. Working and being part of meaningful projects seem to take centre stage. I would none the less like to pick up singing again though. In 2018, I would like to have discipline, better time management during less pressure periods and get back a good workout routine and not forget to be on the road now and then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To be at ‘IT’ incessantly

I am being brutally honest in this post about my struggles to get back to a piece of work after a break from it due to other engagements. I end up spending hours or sometimes days gathering myself to get back myself on track with the work. Many times there are some clogs, unrelated to the job, but they really clog the mind from working on the task at hand. These clogs could be as mundane as gathering all bills or invoices together or a bike maintenance appointment I wanted to finish before getting back to the task or cleaning up the  worktable or simply make a painting or clean the cupboard or unpack and wash clothes from a trip or finishing up a long pending salon appointment. It  could be any one of these or combination of these. If I am unconscious of that clog, I take days at times to unclog my mind.

The unclogging process usually doesn’t happen by itself all the time. If I take the time on my return trip back  ( literally or metaphorically ) to my old job, to reflect on what is coming next, then things happen smooth like a flowing river. If I end up being sick or zapped after the assignment, I forget or run little bandwidth to reflect and I come all constipated mentally to the previous job. Then I seek seek inspiration. This is a conscious or a deliberate process. Where I question why I am doing what I am doing, what is the “purpose” of it, and try put a face to it. A face like this one below. I tell myself if I do my job right there is a possibility that this face can be affected positively. And the choice of not working on cutting edge technology firm or a engineering firm was to see that face smile.

Kids across are adorable. She was just going about her business of playing and being curious around us yesterday while we were going about our work. This village was recovering from #earthquake and many houses had moved into tin recovery shelters. The #sc

A child from a earthquake affected village. She knows none of the troubles of all that. You want those eyes to remain happy! Dont you?

Been a while…

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I have begun a Masters education again in Public Policy from a “reputed” Law School in India last July. Its been a long time since I wrote. Its been a busy year at the new school trying to understand the language and discourses of social science- patriarchy, feminism, injustice, the lefts , the rights, the left to center, the right of centre, marxist, capitalist, yada yada yada…along with falling ill etc.

As much these social science ways of looking at things fascinated me, I think by the end of it all I would still prefer to remain an engineer. Pick up a problem and solve it.

All this time I have been trying to get myself to READ, READ and READ as much as possible and make sense of things, to be able to read in between lines, understand the social dynamics behind a particular issue at hand. I must admit that, its been helpful to engage with these things. But its frustrating to argue, debt and discuss on caste, class, gender, inequity, ulterior motive behind every move of a government  or the world as such. Only exception among the social sciences that seems to be concrete although erroneous many times is Economics. Fascination for this subject has not worn off. As much as it is good to know what is the backdrop of any given condition or issue, it will be useful to also work towards addressing these issues.

 

 

Cages that are heavily coloured and some that are non-existent

Since the Salman Khan’s bail and Jayalalithaa’s aquittal from the judiciary in the past month has made one only  question if the judiciary is indeed impartial or the powerful can anyway get off with doing anything.  After the Salman Khan’s bail for which the judge went an extra length, I felt disgusted. His fans doing dhara for his bail and things like that, makes one wonder are people so blind folded to the crimes committed by their ‘stars’.

Anyway witnessing this extreme from the judiciary reading this book ‘Colours of the Cage’ by Arun Ferreira reveals the realities of prison for a poor or a man with little access to legal aid.

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I have been reading the news on his case since early 2010s. This book is an account of all that he went through his incarceration. A four and half years of prison for voicing against the injustice done to the marginalised. What is remarkable about this book is the unsentimental account of it. I am sure the author must have gone through a lot of agony both physically and mentally through his time in the prison, but he chooses to dwell a lot less on them than on an objective description of the happenings in the prisons he was put in.

His narration of appalling living conditions of prisons, the politics within the prison and how things move in the judiciary with respect to all the cases he is charged in throws light on ‘how things work’ with Indian police and the judiciary system. But, his accounts on other prisoners like Kithulal  makes one feel helpless and sad for these people. Kithulal a farm labor ‘ who was convicted for the murder of a small boy who died by accidental consuming pesticide Kithulal used for his crop’. As Kithulal could not afford proper defence, he had spent more than 15 years in prison.

As much as I believe ‘ equality’ is not the nature’s way of things, but I also think it is imperative that we try to ensure at least the most basic of necessities for life anywhere is available to all. In the case of prisons , access to legal aid will be also part of the necessities list.

Hunger

Since the past couple of days, for some specific purpose I am having only two meals a day. First one post noon and the next one at 6:00 pm. As I eat only two times I eat really really well ( read it as gluttonize). Still I stay hungry for most parts of the day except between 12:00 in noon to 8:00 pm. My mind seems to not be able to overlook food, as I wake up hungry at 6:00 am and I sleep hungry at 12:00 am. Only a few times   have I been in a place when I did not have food to eat and I was hungry.

The plight of most of our (subsistence) farmers and their families  is of hunger, lack of proper nutrition to children and stunted growth. What must it be to stay hungry when you are a producer of food? Isn’t it cruel? One may wonder if I am being overtly sentimental about it. It would be good to go hungry and limit your meals for couple of days and observe it for yourself.  You will realise how it could fee. Many of us reading this post eat much before we get hungry and have forgotten how it is to feel ‘hungry’. In the state I come from, Tamil Nadu, people greet by asking Saptingala? ( have you eaten). Saptingala is a replacement for all the “good mornings”, “how are you”,  “how is the weather”, “how are things” and the “whatsups” .   This must have been the practice when there was not enough food for all. And to be well was as simple as  to have a filled stomach.

I was glad when the National Food Security Bill was tabled in 2013. But the new government at the centre is only trying to cut down the expenditure and make it minimalistic in nature.  The Shanta Kumar committee which was mandated to look at Food Corporation of India and recommend changes. The committee did that, but majority of its recommendations rather suggest to curtail the National Food Security Act. Two of its recommendations were : to reduce the percentage of population covered under it form 67% to 40% and to increase the cost of grains to half the price of the minimum support price provided by the government to the farmers from the present Rs 2/kg and Rs 3/kg for rice and wheat respectively.

It looks like the way of the BJP government to change laws instead of re-hauling the ineffective and inefficient institutions that are supposed to deliver law. Something similar has also done to the Environmental law, by the High Level Committee set up to look at the environmental law. In their haste to review the law in a limited period of 2 months, the committee goes about recommending changes to law rather than looking at the institution which has to provide the certificates and what lacks with them.  Ramaswamy Iyer looks at this  in his piece in The Hindu.

One hoped for development and wellbeing with this new government. the hope still is present. Hope this government does what it wants to do for industries without sabotaging the interest of the weaker lot: the farmers, the tribals who survive on the forest and others. Also hope it is not foolish enough to invoke  damage to the environment and forests that make the earth liveable.

All this rampant industrialisation without any consideration for the environment or cutting down the expenditure in food security  will give the government garner better economic development, higher growth rate etc. But what is the point to development when along with it, the only thing that it garners is increases is conflict, unrest and wider economic divide.

Thoughts and Questions as I read Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the 21st Century’

Its a delight to have someone write a historical economics book looking at economies over a long period of time across a large number of countries. This expanse aids in portraying and reasoning the economic conditions more near reality of the times. With this its trying to see what will the economic future be like.  I am happy to be reading this book. Its an effort of 15 years of rigorous research on 20 countries over 3 centuries.

I am not done reading the book, but I am impatient and tempted to say that, this book may be able to see what lies as the economic future of the world. I say this because the author seems to take into consideration and be empathetic about the conditions of the times when the previous economic theories were formulated. Secondly, he is taking into account all the historical events and their connections to the economics of the times.

As a lay person ( not trained as an economist ) reading journal papers, news papers and looking  the trends of things around I had this observarion about the way economies have been in recent times : Economies oscillated between the keynesian (socialist)  and hayek’s  ( free market ) economics . This oscillation between the extremes and all permutations and combinations of parts of these two models will be a part of the cycle the world goes through and it will continue to go through.  As there is no permanent fix to any economic condition or social conditions like poverty and penury. New theories will evolve, will fix the social problems until these theories are well understood and misused by few for their own personal benefit. Economics as field so seems to be one which will keep evolving, getting more complex as time goes by and so will the problems.

Violation of women in Indian society

A year old writing of mine, which has been left as a draft for a long time. I seem to come back to the thought of violation now and then. I come back to it because its deeply upsetting. Secondly there seems to be no way(s) of handling this violation in immediate ways. If it is long time, then there is no clear set of steps to follow to uproot it. 

A subject that I have been very emotional about for a long time. Something I have always wanted to talk and write about. I never did it all this while because I did not want to be another activist shouting ” You rape, We Chop”. Having personally been a victim of sexual abuse as a child, as a teenager and as a traveler, I know where that rage comes from. My blood boils reading about a 7 yr old, 60 yr old or 15 yr old being raped.

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“Theorization vs Doing… which is your cup of tea?” , I ask myself

I have taken a 12 week policy course to understand policy and the craft of policy making and analysis in a structured manner. A secondary purpose of this course was also to understand if I can really engage with theory as I engage with practice.

Engaging with practice or doing things on work along with relevant reading and research comes more naturally to me than  first reading, understanding and then doing. I have been lucky at work with colleagues whose strengths lie with the later approach. Both methods have their own advantages and disadvantages. But one thing that I no more question is the relevance of theory to practice.

But what kind of theory is useful is something I always dwell upon. The process of engaging with theory is fascinating. Theories paint a neat and beautiful picture most of the times. They make you hopeful and optimistic about solving a problem. And the process of theorization most of the times assume many things and concentrate on few parameters or factors that affect the problem and try solving the problem with these factors in mind alone.

One of the books that lays down beautifully the approach to policy analysis is  Eugene Bardach ‘s A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis: The Eightfold Path to More Effective Problem Solving. 

It helps understand how to look at a problem and solve it methodically step by step. But every step I read, in my mind I have examples of following some of the steps ( myself or someone else) and failing at achieving expected outcomes. And in real world most of these structured approaches do not guarantee achievement of aspired outcome. And my questions in most classes are the sort that do not get answered satisfactorily. This  leads to a conclusion that, in spite of all these beautiful methods, every situation is unique and every outcome of a situation is as uncertain and unpredictable when prepared for or  unprepared for. Especially in the policy making/ analyis exercise. This is more so in the Indian context.

But to my relief reading the papers from 1959 and 1979 respectively  ; The Science of “muddling through” and Still muddling, Not yet done ;  by Charles E Lindblom seem to answer my angst. Lindblom’s incremental approach to  theorizing  policy and decision making more real.

The concept mostly used in policy analysis is a Rational- Comprehensive approach, What  Bardach suggests can be comfortably placed under this approach.

Characteristics of  Rational- Comprehensive approach are [1]:

  1. Clarification of values or objectives distinct from and usually prerequisite to empirical analysis of alternative policies.
  2. Policy-formulation is therefore approached through means-end analysis: First the ends are isolated, then the means to achieve them are sought.
  3. The test of a “good” policy is that it can be shown to be the most appropriate means to desired ends.
  4.  Analysis is comprehensive; every important relevant factor is taken into account.
  5. Theory is often heavily relied upon. 

Whereas what actually happens is intertwined evaluation and analysis. This can be better understood using the Successive Limited Comparisons approach as suggested in Lindblom’s paper.

Characteristics of Successive Limited Comparisons approach are [1]:

  1. Selection of value goals and empirical analysis of the needed action are not distinct from one an- other but are closely intertwined.
  2. Since means and ends are not distinct, means-end analysis is often inappropriate or limited.
  3. The test of a “good” policy is typically that vari- ous analysts find themselves directly agreeing on a policy (without their agreeing that it is the most appropriate means to an agreed objective).
  4. A succession of comparisons greatly reduces or eliminates reliance on theory. 
  5. Analysis is drastically limited:
      • Important possible outcomes are neglected.
      • Important alternative potential policies are neglected.
      • Important affected values are neglected

If theorization draws from reality like what Lindblom does it looks like my cup of tea, atleast for now! If not I will stick to doing rather than theorizing.

Signing off, as I muddle through my dilemma of “to theorize or not to”… 🙂


1. The Science of “Muddling Through” , Charles E. Lindblom, Public Administration Review, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Spring, 1959), pp. 79-88,Published by: Wiley

 

A just society – Who is responsible for its existence and functioning?

I am passionate about certain ideas, one of them is – ‘a just society where there is enough space and tolerance for all ( human beings and others ) in the world to coexist’. These ideas have been the reasons for making many important decisions in my life.  My career shifts , the areas I work in and design of work – non work life all are based on these ideas.

On a dinner table conversation yesterday  I find myself in between a argument where the ‘ideas’ and my beliefs that I am passionate about are questioned. And the person questioning has good reasons why he thinks its not something an individual can strive for or even responsible for. And I have my life and the journey until now precisely based on the belief that – an individual can work on these ideas and facilitate the journey of the society towards becoming more just.

This being the context, I here try to articulate what is the idea of a just society and who is responsible for its functioning as a just society.And answer who is responsible for it – is it the system ( loosely made up of governments and the state) or the individuals.

When one of the friends, A, talk about making an ethical choice on goods ( food, clothes , furniture etc) bought for needs/ wants of our life is made, another ,B , retorts – there are systems in place to take of all those matters and “I do not want to live in an eternal paranoia , which may not even be true”.

My response to B with context building goes as below:

What industrial revolution of the 1800s has hastened the process of change on this planet that is unprecedented. It is made possible to produce and manufacture goods of scales at phenomenal speed. This has given rise to a crisis situation that none of us on this planet have any knowledge about and there is no history of this situation to learn from. The crisis situation has manifested in many forms, to state a few – deforestation and high  utilisation rates of natural resources and exploitation of vulnerable communities.

How is a system (government + bureaucratic institutions) responsible to this kind of crisis situations? Assuming that we live in a country where the systems are perfectly functional, what should they do? The systems should make policies and decisions that benefit majority of the stakeholders and hurts the least. The other responsibility of the system is to be the watchdog and regulator so that there is very little exploitation of the weaker stakeholders by the stronger one.

But the conditions in which today’s crisis happen are happening in a dynamic web with too many factors influencing it. The pace of change of systems is far lacking to the pace of change of things in todays world. Therefore the responsibility to build a just society also falls on the individuals who make the society itself.

Its individuals that participate and raise objections to the system that help it change to meet the needs of the times. It is individuals who perceive the loopholes and point fingers and take steps to change the loop holes that make the systems better.

The entire argument here is too simplistic because of the assumptions made. If we look at a situation realistically, all of us will agree on one thing that the systems of governance and regulation are not at efficient.  In such situations participation and owning up to situations and reacting on an individual level becomes an imperative. Finishing on a very rhetorical note:

Little drops of water
Make the mighty ocean