By Devi Prasad IES*
NITI Ayog is  a Government Think Tank. As such the depth, spread, durability and the  scope of its influence on public policy differs from that of the other Think Tanks. Its mandate is much wider than that of Korean Development Institute. In a way, its mandate  comes closure to the mandate of OECD as in Article 1 and 2 of its Convention of December 1960, which came into existence in support of Marshall Plan and continues on the strengths of Lessons learned in 60 years of the Plan.
NITI  has a willing audience in Central and State governments;  it doesn’t suffer resource constraints; it is guided by the decision makers and steered by thinkers. Sans a legal support or any  constitutional foundations, NITI Ayog needs to have its own assessment framework  as relevant to its collaborative operations with  India government and the respective state governments  so that its existence is continuously accepted and respected  on the basis of its performance.  Some wise men in Delhi  must be firming up such a framework.
Assessing Impact of NITI Ayog Vs Planning Commission:
Good or bad, Planning Commission’s influence   and  impact were perceived, felt and measured through annual plan allocations, acceptance of utilization certificates, discretionary  grants in the form of Additional Central Assistance upto  autonomous organisations, Zilla Panchayats and municipalities. Be it  rationale or not, the influence of Planning Commission was also reflected in the accounting protocol where  budget lines are shown separately* for Plan non-Plan,  discussed in  the  C&AG Reports and  in several  proposals by  Budget  Division, where  Plan funds are referred as proxy for development expenditure. But, sans the ability to influence the annual allocations, and influence on the annual budget proposals, the NITI Ayog  needs to have a framework to  prepare its own annual business plans, to define its outputs and to put in place a framework to assess  impact of its outputs and  institute an accountability  mechanism.  In this regards, besides the KDI and the OECD, looking into   some evaluation Reports of IMF may be instructive.  For Eg. Role of the IMF as Trusted Advisor  and  Research at the IMF: Relevance and Utilization
A framework to  assess the impact of NITI Ayog vs. other Think Tanks
An year ago a Think Tank -Civil Society programme affiliated to Pennsylvania University had released an Index ranking 150 think tanks at global level. The report assessed Resource Indicators, Resources Utilization Indicator, Output Indicators, Impact Indicators.  The ranking for 2013 was  presented separately  for the following.
•   Top Think Tanks in the World
•   Top Think Tanks by Region
•   Top Think Tanks by Area of Research
•   Top Think Tanks by Special Achievement
Think tanks from Brazil, China, Singapore, Korea hold ranks among the top 50. It is time that the 7th Report would be released some time during the current month. Though the Think Tanks themselves like to equate their products with their impact,  a  comparative and universal  framework exists to assess  the outcome based impact of non government Think Tanks.
NITI Ayog need to avoid the pitfalls of ‘elite’ Think Tanks as flagged in several publications*.
Think Tanks, in general, have varying  ability to raise their resources, different means to influence the public policy and policy operations.  Think Tanks,  combine elements of established sources of public knowledge and exert a tremendous amount of influence on the way citizens and lawmakers perceive the world.  Think tanks are perceived  to  transform the government of the country, the press, and the political role of intellectuals.
In reality, it depends on their proximity/gap in their relationship with the decision makers in the national and regional area, and media owners, competing NGOs, multilateral organizations, acceptability to the trade bodies etc.,  Some Think Tanks are paid to play; some keep lobbyists on their staff; some engage influence peddlers on their staff.  Some Think Tanks, over a period of time  -as democracy gets  corporatized and in the absence of quality control mechanism and  a competitive environment tend to generate predictable ideas. Some elite think tanks tend to influence policies for allocating wealth than the policies for creating wealth.  Generally,  the  reactions of think thanks can be explained using  Futility thesis, Jeopardy thesis, Perversity thesis as articulated by Albert Hirschman in  Rhetoric of Reactions. Apparently many think tanks seem to  prefer to remain as elite local fora to discuss ideas that shape national thinking.
Like OECD,  NITI Ayog need to identify and engage professionals on its Staff, who would be able  think for it, and along with it on several areas and thus ensure an enduring relationship with Ministries, PSUs,  State Governments, Municipalities,  Zilla Panchayats and the Villages as per its mandate for Transforming India.
Dig deeper:

Mr. Devi Prasad IES is, 1982 batch Indian Economics Service (IES) officer and former Advisor to Government of India.   Presently the Research Fellow at the Civil Service Officers Training Center at Mussourie (LBSNAA), Uttarakhand.  He served as the Chief Executive Officer / Director of three organizations during his tenure in GOI and also functioned as Advisor to the Executive Director, IMF

 The views of the Author are personal and may not necessarily represent the opinion of CPPR

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