Public Policy Careers: A Deep Dive

Session Report
Rehmat Arora

Careers in Public Policy was a three-day immersive online introductory career counselling and awareness certificate training workshop conducted by IMPRI. The first speaker on day three of the workshop was Mr. Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director of ActionAid Association India; Former Co-Chair of the World Urban Campaign coordinated by UN-Habitat; Editor of Agrarian South – Journal of Political Economy; Advisor, IMPRI.

Mr. Sandeep Chachra initiated the discussion by offering a glimpse into his distinguished career, which spans three decades. The speaker’s discourse emphasized the pivotal role of community engagement in shaping effective public policies, making the case for an approach grounded in collaborative decision-making and community involvement.

Empowering Communities Through Agenda-Setting

The conversation pivoted towards agenda setting as a fundamental component of the public policy process. Mr. Chachra stressed the importance of community-driven agendas, asserting that it is the communities themselves who must have a central role in determining policies that directly impact their lives. He highlighted the efficacy of participatory action research as a vital tool in this process. It empowers communities to frame their concerns, gather on-the-ground evidence, and set their own agendas.

The essential idea here is that those most affected by policies, whether indigenous communities, marginalized groups, or vulnerable demographics, must have the agency to shape the policies that influence their lives. Agenda setting is a crucial step in ensuring that public policies are inclusive, just, and representative of the communities they aim to serve.

Public Interest Litigations: A Catalyst for Change

The session touched upon the role of public interest litigations in influencing public policies. Mr. Chachra spotlighted instances where progressive policies emerged as a result of strategic legal interventions. These case studies vividly demonstrated the capacity of affected communities and their allies to drive policy changes through the judicial system.

One such example was the case of Badulla Mukti Morcha v. Union of India in the 1980s. This landmark case focused on the issue of child labour and led to significant policy changes aimed at eradicating child labour. The power of public interest litigation in addressing critical social issues was highlighted, emphasizing that public policy professionals can play a crucial role in leveraging legal mechanisms to drive positive change.

The Craft of Policy Formulation

Moving further into the policy lifecycle, the discussion focused on policy formulation, a stage demanding a diverse skill set. Mr. Chachra underscored the need for policy professionals to possess a range of competencies, including data gathering, analysis, a comprehensive understanding of historical contexts, and the ability to evaluate international best practices. Policy formulation necessitates multifaceted skills and the capacity to synthesize complex information.

To illustrate the significance of policy formulation, Mr. Chachra shared his experience of working on labour codes in India. One of the labour codes was on Social Security, and the policy professionals had to engage in a comprehensive analysis. This involved examining the historical context of labour policies, studying best practices from countries like China, Brazil, and Germany, and considering the needs of informal workers in India.

Policy formulation, the speaker emphasised, demands the ability to blend different types of research and to navigate the complexities of existing policies and international standards.

Navigating Policy Adoption

Policy adoption, the point at which policies are enacted, was identified as a pivotal phase in the policy-making process. It frequently necessitates navigating through competing interests and making necessary compromises to ensure that beneficial policies are implemented. This stage demands negotiation skills, the ability to build consensus, and a commitment to the greater good.

The speaker cited the urban homeless shelters case as an example of policy adoption driven by public interest litigation. This initiative, which aimed to create 24/7 shelters for the urban homeless, originated from the grassroots level, led by homeless individuals themselves. Through a process of advocacy, negotiation, and compromise, this policy was eventually adopted at the national level. The experience underlined the importance of building bridges between communities, activists, and policy professionals.

Evolution of Policy Implementation

The discussion then delved into the evolving role of policy implementation. While traditionally the purview of bureaucracy, it is progressively becoming an area where public policy professionals can contribute. Effective policy implementation involves overcoming challenges, adapting policies as necessary, and ensuring that the intended goals are achieved. The speaker emphasized the role of public policy professionals in shaping policy implementation for better outcomes.

One area where policy implementation plays a crucial role is in addressing climate change. The impact of climate-induced disasters and displacement is felt most acutely by vulnerable communities. Policy professionals can collaborate with these communities to ensure that policies for climate change adaptation and mitigation are effectively implemented.

The Enduring Value of Policy Evaluation

The webinar stressed the importance of policy evaluation in the policy cycle. Evaluating the impact of policies and deriving lessons for the future is essential for creating adaptive and effective public policies. Continuous learning, collaboration, and community engagement were highlighted as key elements in ensuring that public policies are beneficial and responsive to the needs of society.

Policy evaluation often involves gathering feedback from affected communities and assessing whether the policy’s objectives were met. This iterative process ensures that policies are constantly refined and improved to address the evolving needs of society.

In conclusion, the webinar provided a profound understanding of the dynamic and collaborative nature of public policy and community engagement. The speaker’s rich experience and insights illuminated the ways public policies can be shaped, influenced, and implemented to the advantage of marginalized communities.

As policy professionals continue to invest in the communities they serve, they hold the potential to influence public policies for the betterment of society, guided by the principles of justice, equity, and inclusivity.

The webinar offered a compelling glimpse into the future of public policy, where community involvement will be pivotal in shaping policies that lead to transformative social progress. The collaborative work of policy professionals, along with communities and a diverse set of stakeholders, is poised to drive positive change and create policies that truly serve the greater good of society.

Read more session reports from Day 3 of Careers in Public Policy:

Exploring Public Policy Careers: Opportunities and Challenges