A few years ago, when my dissertation topic for the planning course at Development Planning Unit, UCL London looked at the newly launched JNNURM through a theoretical framework of ‘social justice’, it was not only interesting to learn the findings of the study, but was also fascinating to view the policy through a defined research framework of Guiding Principles and Criteria that could measure social justice in the performance structure of the policy. In the process of measuring the criteria, it also identified possible strategic interventions that could be proposed to bring a potential impact or a sustained change that could hold the prospect of making a difference. The analysis also questioned the city vision formulated in the policy and concluded the need to reframe the vision from ‘world-class’ and ‘slum-free’ to ‘socially just’ cities. One of the important learning of the study was to develop an understanding towards ‘what and how’ to view a policy and program analysis.
Since my study in 2009, a lot has been done and debated about the success or failure of JNNURM I & II and other pro-poor schemes like Rajiv Awas Yojna (RAY). There are varied stories and viewpoints concluding JNNURM as ‘mission possible vs. not possible’ and RAY being a ‘ray of hope’. Some are critiquing the approach to be highly top-down, lacking effective means of community participation and not meeting its pro-poor goals. On the other hand, implementation of infrastructure projects like BRTS is highlighted that promises to create global standards with world-class vision to show success of the scheme. Overall, there seems to be either a consistent pessimism or optimism about the success or failure of the policy.
This raises a key question here, how do we define the success or the failure of the policy? What are the parameters to reach the conclusion? How do we diagnose the issues/problems through the findings? Are there alternative ways to look at the policies and the development? What impact does the framework of analysis has in guiding future course of action to bring a transformative change?
As someone who could now only watch this ongoing debate and discussion from a distance, what makes me uncomfortable to read sometimes is not so much about concluding a policy to be a success or a failure, but more about the lack of comprehensive framework of analysis to reach the said conclusion. The appraisal reports and evaluations of these programs at times merely becomes a project status report without a research model or theory building. In my view, what seems to be missing is a critical rethinking of new concepts and a holistic approach to assess the cross-sectoral policies and projects. What we need is a development of an appropriate methodology at various levels to define analytical categories, process of interventions and the tools and techniques applied for interventions. Let’s first define our ‘Viewing Lens’ and develop the viewing framework for policies and programs.
Here is an example from my previous work as shown in the table below, where my inquiry was to explore ‘strategic indicators’ to measure social justice in an urban policy and the case of JNNURM was selected. It did so in the context of defining social justice in the urban development, broadly categorized into distributional and institutional equity context. These performance measures were then explored for the strategic interventions that could possibly be made to guide the development in the pursuit of social justice in today’s global cities.
The research framework was developed which could be applied to any urban development policy or a project and should be observed from goals, through the process and till the outcome to measure social justice. The resultant findings of the case can be diagnosed for proposed strategic actions and can be summarized to draw a conclusion. This framework could also be modified based on definition of social justice and adapted to any policy or program context.
Fig. 1: Research Framework to measure Social Justice in a policy, program or project
Part of the work also involved exploring JNNURM through the ‘Web of Institutionalization’ developed by Caren Levy as shown below. It critically discussed the organizational and institutional relations of the intervention to propose recommendations to make relevant changes to the organizational and institutional framework. Based on the findings as represented below, strategies were proposed, where there seems to be gaps / cracks for opportunities to bring change to relationships and make impact to policy and planning and create synergy between different actors.
Fig. 2: JNNURM through ‘The web of institutionalization’ above was prepared with limited secondary data and is shown here only as an example to demonstrate one way of looking at the policy.
A well defined framework of analysis and development of methodological approach is the first step in assessing policies, programs and projects. An appropriate methodological inquiry based on theoretical building could offer us a set of analytical tools and techniques to investigate and interpret reality in a comprehensive manner. A systemic treatment of the issues at the interface of theory and methodology could build better understanding to looking at the form of policies, its content, process of making and implementing it and in turn examine the vision planned for our cities. A comprehensive approach could also better inform the diagnosis of the problems and issues at all levels. Alternative ways of looking at the problems and solutions could be explored. This could help identify and read the missing linkages and institutional gaps where possible interventions could be proposed and ‘the room for maneuver’ for different actors and organizations could be expanded for strategic actions.
In my view, there is an apparent need for a well defined analytical framework that could better examine the way problems are defined and analyzed, the way interventions are formulated and implemented, and the way policies and projects are monitored, evaluated and appraised. Let’s explore innovative ways to look at our development practices. Let’s first fix our ‘Viewing Lens’ to look through our policies and projects that are shaping and building our cities!
I had an opportunity to explore one such way of looking at a policy like JNNURM. There are many ways to define our viewing lens and I would be very happy to learn more about them. So, what’s yours?