Bad policies or bad implementation?

When one wants to make something new, there are broadly two types of approaches that one can take.
  1. Start with extensive research, go on building each part with utmost care and finesse so that the end product is flawless.
  2. Make a quick prototype, minimum viable product, and then keep iterating.

The first approach is like doing a surgical operation. One has to be careful at every moment, each step has to be taken with extreme care. Let us call these as 'research tasks'. Quickly reaching the organ as soon as possible and then taking care of  things later, isn't an option. The mistakes here are costly. 



The second approach is like washing a mark off the shirt. One can quickly try and see which detergent works and get the job done. Let us call these as 'iterative tasks'. Instead if one sits down for in depth analysis of the chemical composition of the detergent, then it is an unnecessary and fruitless exercise. 


With these as the base, there are four categories in which a task can be done, depending on the categorization of the task and its implementation.


Consider this 2x2 matrix.


Implementation
Good
Bad
Categorization of task
Correct
1
2
Incorrect
3
4



Consider the first possibility, the task is categorized correctly and is implemented properly. This is an ideal scenario.

The second possibility is where the task is categorized correctly but not implemented properly. One scenario here is, where people correctly categorize the task as 'iterative tasks' and make a quick prototype but never reiterate. The first version solved their existing problem, then, they move to another problem. This hopping from one problem to another without improving the first drafts continues resulting in a messed up product after some time. Another scenario here is where, people correctly categorize the task as 'research tasks'. They start out doing extensive research. Either they don't do the research properly and end up with shabby product or they go into extraordinary minute detail that the product never takes off.

The third and fourth possibilities are equally dangerous or ineffective depending on the situation. These tasks are incorrectly categorized. If one does research on chemical composition of detergent for one year before washing a shirt, the stain is removed at the end of the day, but the process is ineffective. This is an example of an incorrectly categorized task, executed well.  It is dangerous if one takes an iterative approach to a surgical operation, cutting off the necessary inner organ and knitting the wound, without bothering about the consequences. This is an example of an incorrectly categorized task, implemented badly.

Why am I telling all these? If you observe closely, this 2x2 matrix has resemblance to policies design and execution. There are some policies designed without proper background research but implemented well, making them dangerous. There are some policies designed without research and also executed badly, making them ineffective. There are some which are designed properly but executed badly. There are very few which are both designed properly and executed properly.

What is the root cause - bad policies or bad implementation? Sorry to use the cliched term, it's partly both! 

Policy design involves subtle aspects of political economy, along with the technical research. This forces people to make some hard choices. This may partly explain the bad design of the policies. Of course, there are certainly problems with the technical aspects of some of our policies, as well. 

On the  implementation aspect, it is true that in some cases, the design of policy itself makes it difficult to implement. After accounting for that, our weak governance capacity, the lack of capability to implement, means that we are not able to benefit from both well designed policies and whatever the little benefits of not so well designed policies.

2 comments:

  1. If you can fill that matrix with examples of policies from the Indian or International context that would be great, we can probably arrive at some understanding of how to turn things into 1

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    1. I agree. Some examples of "research tasks" and "iterative tasks" in context of public policy would add much insight to the piece.

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