Knowing-Doing Gap in Public Policies

Session Report
Mansi Garg

Contours of the Public Policy in India in the Amrit Kaal, An Online International Autumn School Programme was organized by IMPRI Centre for the Study of Finance and Economics in September 2023. It was also A One-Month Immersive Online Intermediate Certificate Training Course graced by various experts in the field.


The session, led by Mr. V Ramakrishnan, the Managing Director of Organisation Development in Singapore, delved into a critical issue in public policy – the Knowing-Doing Gap. This gap reflects the divergence between the understanding of what needs to be done in public policy and the actual execution of these plans. In the realm of policy formulation and implementation, this gap often poses significant challenges.

Key Concepts

1. Compass vs. GPS Analogy: Mr. Ramakrishnan employed a compelling analogy to illustrate the Knowing-Doing Gap. Knowing, he explained, is akin to a GPS, offering a comprehensive view of the current situation. On the other hand, doing is represented by a compass that directs one’s actions. In the context of public policy, knowing involves comprehending the existing challenges and uncertainties, while doing encompasses taking tangible actions to address them.

2. Comfort Zones: The session emphasized that individuals and institutions tend to remain within their comfort zones, even when they are fully aware of pressing issues within public policy. For instance, the case of electricity access in Indian villages was cited as a poignant example. Despite widespread knowledge of the issue, action was consistently delayed due to various excuses and challenges.

3. Uncertainty: The acknowledgement of inherent uncertainties in emerging realities was emphasized as a crucial aspect of public policy formulation. Human nature often resists uncertainty, which can hinder progress. Consequently, understanding and addressing this uncertainty were highlighted as vital steps in bridging the Knowing-Doing Gap.

4. Outcomes-Oriented Policy: The session stressed the importance of policies focusing on delivering specific outcomes to citizens. Rather than merely outlining administrative details, policies should define what needs to be delivered, to whom, when, and at what cost. This shift towards outcome orientation was presented as a key strategy.

5. Knowledge-Competence Quadrant: Mr. Ramakrishnan introduced a knowledge-competence quadrant, where high knowledge and competence, combined with awareness of known issues and challenges, represent the zone of comfort. In this zone, incremental performance is common. To truly bridge the Knowing-Doing Gap, it is essential to move beyond the comfort zone, address unknown challenges, and work towards strategic objectives and vision.

6. Strategic Decisions and Innovations: To overcome the Knowing-Doing Gap, it was noted that public policies often require strategic decisions and innovations. Several real-world examples were cited, such as digital transformation in India, waterway transportation, missile production, and alternate fuel development. These initiatives pushed public policy beyond its comfort zone and highlighted the importance of embracing strategic change.

7. Capacity Development: The session underscored the critical role of capacity development for the success of public policies. Initiatives like online education, activity schemes, and teaching-learning programs were identified as essential for building a skilled and disciplined workforce, enabling more effective policy execution.

8. Addressing the Knowing-Doing Gap: The Knowing-Doing Gap in policy formulation can be bridged through careful consideration of various elements. This includes robust planning, clear outcome definition, knowledge identification, cause-and-effect analysis, ensuring value for money, understanding client motivations, managing goal conflicts, adopting a strategic approach, and effective project management. The comprehensive nature of this approach was outlined as crucial.

9. Institutional Strength and Partner Selection: The session highlighted the importance of building strong institutions and selecting appropriate partners for the effective execution of public policies. The strength and alignment of institutions play a significant role in policy success, as does the selection of partners who share the vision and goals.

10. Performance Management: The monitoring and evaluation of public policy performance were underlined as crucial components of successful policy implementation. Active involvement of the government, including parliamentary bodies, in assessing the achievement of intended outcomes was deemed essential for accountability.

11. Marketization: The session emphasized the importance of allowing market forces to influence policy decisions. Conducting thorough needs analysis and involving various stakeholders in policy formulation, rather than imposing top-down policies, was presented as a more effective approach. The dynamic nature of markets was highlighted, suggesting the need for adaptability in public policies.


The session, led by Mr. Ramakrishnan, provided a comprehensive exploration of the Knowing-Doing Gap in public policies. The key takeaway was the need to understand the distinctions between knowing, planning, and executing for effective policy formulation and implementation. This understanding is crucial for delivering the desired outcomes to citizens.

The principles of strategic thinking, innovation, and a focus on capacity development were identified as fundamental components in successful policy execution. The session underscored that public policies must be outcomes-oriented, prioritizing the needs of citizens while adapting to emerging challenges and uncertainties. Bridging the Knowing-Doing Gap was presented as an imperative for the success of public policies.

In summary, this session encouraged a holistic and proactive approach to public policy, emphasizing the importance of aligning knowledge, planning, and execution to deliver tangible results for the betterment of society and the fulfillment of citizens’ needs.

Acknowledgement: Mansi Garg is a research intern at IMPRI.

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