What is Science Policy? How are Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) policies made in India? Is there an institutional mechanism for STI policymaking? Who are the players involved in the STI policy process? How does evidence flow into this process? This article, as the first in the Science Policy 101 series, attempts to answer, think-through, and discuss these questions.
What is Science (Technology and Innovation) Policy?
The interactions between‘Science’ and ‘Policy’ require a clear conceptual understanding to define what we mean by Science Policy. Science could be used in (any) policymaking for making better-informed policy choices. This is known as ‘Science for Policy’ or, in other words, ‘Scientific advice for policymaking’. On the other hand, a policy, which is made with an aim to promote, advance, apply, and regulate Science towards an anticipated outcome is known as ‘Policy for Science’ or in other words, ‘Science Policy’. In this article, we talk about the latter, i.e. Science Policy. Here, the term ‘Science’ is used in a much broader sense to refer to the whole enterprise of science. Also, it is imperative to note that ‘science for policy’ and ‘policy for science’ are not mutually exclusive.
As an example, let’s take one of the most pressing issues of our time which has a strong policy implication — climate change. In this case, scientific data generated through research and/or experimental observations informing climate-change policies, is a Science Advice activity. On the other hand, a policy having climate change-related research as one of its objectives – for better understanding of climate variables, generating and advancing the know-hows for climate change mitigation and adaptation – is a component of Science Policy. Scientifically informed climate-change policy is an example of ‘science for policy’ and science policy that helps in generating that scientific data/understanding to inform climate-change policy is an example of ‘policy for science’.
Who makes our national STI policies?
As per the mandate drawn from Government of India’s allocation of business rules 1961, the Department of Science and Technology (DST), which is a part of the Ministry of Science and Technology, is the nodal agency which formulates policies that relate to Science and Technology. Although DST is primarily responsible for making STI policies, it is not the only agency involved in the STI policymaking process. It would be appropriate to say that DST initiates and coordinates this policymaking process, taking various stakeholders on board. DST has a dedicated division called Policy Research Cell (PRC) which coordinates these activities.
STI policies have an impact on all sections of society, and therefore require reflections/interventions from various stakeholders: the government, academia, industry and the society at large.
Priority areas for policymaking are derived through a rigorous multi-stakeholder consultation process. This is a facilitated discussion amongst all involved players with an aim to gather different perspectives, build trust, and develop a better understanding and consensus. It is important to note that within the government’s institutional structure, the scope of public policies related to STI is not only limited to the Ministry of Science and Technology, but cuts across a range of other ministries, departments and agencies.
The Institutional composition has been fairly consistent for all the STI policies made in India so far. However, from time-to-time, there are minor changes in the institutions/actors involved in the policymaking process, and this is influenced by various factors.
How are STI policies made (so far)?
A policy statement is a declaration of plans and intentions which conveys the purpose of a specific policy and spells out a set of principles or guidelines to help achieve certain objectives. There is no one standard way through which the need for a new policy is felt. There is no periodicity followed in releasing a new policy statement. In India, thus far, four STI policy statements have been issued. These include (i) Scientific Policy Resolution (SPR1958), (ii) Technology Policy Statement (TPS1983), (iii) Science and Technology Policy (STP2003) and (iv) Science Technology & Innovation Policy (STIP2013). The motivation for each of these policy statements was multifactorial and sometimes driven by the needs of that time. [A detailed discussion on motivations, salient features and impact of all four policies will be presented in our next article.]
Once a need for new STI policy arises, the policymaking process starts with the constitution of a Committee. Following are a set of general steps involved.
Forming a Committee
DST identifies a renowned ‘leader’ in Indian Science, usually an eminent scientist, as the Chair of the policy committee.
The Chair, in consultation with various officials and experts, identifies suitable members for the committee. The members are both ex-officio (by the virtue of holding some official post) and subject matter experts.
The committee is constituted to have a balanced stakeholder representation from government, academia, industry and non-governmental organisations/think tanks. Also, gender and geographic representation are taken into consideration while appointing the members of the committee.
The committee meets more than once for the multi-stakeholder consultation. The first meeting usually starts with a background document which outlines the policy aspirations through a set of goals and objectives.
Various stakeholders also present a set of additional documents to the committee. These documents may include relevant background studies which identify the gaps and offer recommendations that the committee can consider.
The first consultation largely captures the essential components of the policy in the form of an initial draft. Here, a consensus is built amongst stakeholders.
As per the Chair’s discretion, the committee meets for subsequent consultations where the members deliberate more deeply on individual items of the initial draft, engage more with fellow members of the committee to understand various perspectives, feasibility and challenges. This peer questioning and direct engagement adds necessary rigour to the policy-making process.
After sufficient rounds of consultation, the committee agrees on a final draft version of the policy document. This final draft is then sent out to various ministries and departments for wider consultation. The final draft is also published online to provide sufficient time for the public to view and provide any feedback.
Approval and Release
The committee meets again to discuss and incorporate the feedback and suggestions obtained from the public consultation process.
Once approved by the Chair, the committee submits the document to the Cabinet for approval.
The Cabinet carefully evaluates the policy document and seeks clarity if there are any observations.
The Cabinet approves the policy document after performing its due diligence and the policy is released by the country’s top leadership.
“Evidence-based” STI policy framework
Around the world, it is widely being acknowledged that evidence plays a critical role in determining success (or failure) of any policy.
Evidence, as it is simply referred to in the policy process, is nothing but rigorously established objective knowledge. Evidence-framework is a term commonly used to denote the institutional mechanism to introduce evidence into the policy process. Evidence could come directly from data, expert-level advice, and through policy research and analysis. In the Indian scenario, the national academies, think tanks and other individual experts bring evidence into the policy process through various means. These could be policy bulletins, inferences drawn from research data (and experimental observations), field reports or expert opinions. Particularly, in the case of STI policies, the data on STI (gathered through R&D and innovation statistics) form a critical portion of the collective evidence base. However, the robustness of evidence-framework in Indian STI policy process is still debatable. To strengthen the institutional mechanism for building a robust evidence framework, starting from 2013 onwards, DST established the Centres for Policy Research (DST-CPRs) in different parts of the country.
The following are some observations made by the author on the existing national STI policy ecosystem.
The present STI policy ecosystem in India is not structured enough to be easily comprehended. This presents both challenges and opportunities. Sound institutional memory (for preservation of best practices, knowledge, and learned experiences) and knowledge transfer processes (for ease of dissemination of knowledge) have to be built to make the ecosystem more robust and to help transfer good practices to the next generation of policy practitioners.
Evidence should form the basis of the policymaking process and must be used to inform every step of the STI policy process including its implementation. It is promising to see that efforts are being made by DST, MHRD and other agencies in the form of establishing policy centres and fellowship programs to create and institutionalise a robust evidence framework for STI policy in the country.
STI systems are becoming complex, dynamic and are witnessing rapid changes. To support the dynamic nature of these systems, both evaluation and adaptation should be an integral part of the STI policy cycle.
Acknowledgement: The author duly acknowledges Prof. VS Ramamurthy, Prof. T. Ramasami, Dr. Arbinda Mitra, Dr. Akhilesh Mishra and Mr. Aditya Kaushik for their direct and indirect inputs and Dr. Lakshmi Ganesan for creating the supporting infographics for this article.