What is vs. What ought to be, in policy
In an earlier post, I discussed that the “no effects” of RCTs on “key inputs” should be inferred as lack of complementary inputs, instead of dismissing the necessity of the key input. This means that we should do more than what’s necessary.
The question then is — Do the bureaucracies have the bandwidth? Shouldn’t we prioritise in a context of resource constraints?
Both bureaucrats and researchers do this cardinal sin of taking the bandwidth as given.
Researchers, typically the RCT researchers, start their research agenda by phrasing the problem as “governments are constrained — within this constraints, we can do this to marginally improve”.
Similarly, bureaucrats say — we are resource constrained, hence ……
Phrasing the problem taking the current bandwidth as given and trying to fit in solutions as per this bandwidth leads to incomplete and fragmented solutions.
If a researcher or a policy advocate takes bandwidth of bureaucracies as limited, then the likely policy ideas that can fit into this limited bandwidth can only bring marginal improvements at most. In a situation with low baselines, these are not going to help in long term.
Why should bandwidth be taken as given? Why shouldn’t we instead ask for increasing it, if it’s the thing that ultimately requires to make significant leaps, not marginal improvements at the border? How long will we keep satisfying ourself with these fragmented and narrow reforms?
This tendency has strengthened after the emergence of RCTs. All policy advice is around narrow reforms. People only advise to do some particular pedagogy but never ever are they going to advice governments to work on bridging resource gaps in many other key inputs.
This too much of realistic-ness is hurting. It is replacing what ought to be with what is. We might not get what’s needed but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask. One should at least point out that it’s the problem. Acknowledging it as a given reality and trying to work around it all the time, only entrenches the status quo. We can never get out of the status quo this way.