Tuesday, December 29, 2015

'Policy Modelling is like making a middle of the road film of 1980s'

The last time I wrote and published a blog in this digital confession box of mine was in March 1, 2015. Its been quite sometime since then and I didnot publish anything in this confession space. The reason for that was a constant search to frame the title of this blog piece in an accurate way. Such a search needed time, more work in various research projects, assignments, papers. It also needed learning and unlearning from various research work happening in the domain of policy relevant modelling and within all peer networks.

Well, the search is still on and I guess it will continue in near and distant future: however, towards the end of the year 2015, while listening to the soulful music of A.R. Rahman for Majid Majidi's film "Muhammad", I felt that atleast I got an apt title for this confession. And therefore the title of this blog piece was born. As the title also partially sounds like a hypothesis, in the remaining part of this piece, I will make an attempt to justify the hypothesis objectively without drawing any judgemental conclusions.

If we ask a question as a layman that - "What is the objective of a Policy Modelling", what are the kind of answers that come in our mind? Well, one of the primary objective of Policy Modelling is to address the future issues, directions that various agents of any society can and will grapple with. In order to address that, the modelling frame has to understand the past and current stories that are of relevance to the people, agents of any society across the different layers of a society. In order to do that, those agents have to be well defined and understood by the modelling frame. The stories of these agents and what are their needs and requirements for future has to be assessed through facts, data and scientific analysis and not subjectively. In the assessment process thorough mathematical, analytical rigour can come in but at the end of the day, the outcome of the policy model has to tell an appealing story for the agents whose future matter to us. So, for an effective story telling, both scientific, mathematical rigour and relevant future policy story collection and its contextualization within the modelling frame has to go hand in hand.

Doing this will involve meeting and talking to many non scientists, non modellers, the agents at various layers of society whose actions actually matter on ground. It requires observing them constantly and understanding their needs, stakes in a policy. Therefore, if modelling thought process ideology is imagined as a line, then on one side of the line, we have a point where we have lot of technically sound, rigourous mathematical thinking and a group which is constantly publishing them in their knowledge groups and networks. These papers also do have an influence of mathematical abstractions and theories which are important for laying a foundation to any new idea. 

On the other side of this line, we have bunch of models which are simple, back of the envelope type models, telling policy stories for agents in a simplistic way. However, a successful policy modelling is moving more towards the middle of this line which will be a middle point of rigorous modelling frames mixed with simple, effective policy story telling. Such a movement might push all of us to move out of the comfort zone of the extreme corner points of this line and try to understand each other who are on the either side of this middle point of this line. Once a modelling framework is made with this intent, it will immediately involve several non scientists, non modellers, non policy makers in a modelling approach. It will then immediately take a form about which Siedl, R (2015) mentions in the latest paper titled - 'A functional dynamic reflection on participatory processes in modelling projects' (Ambio, 015 Dec;44(8):750-65. doi: 10.1007/s13280-015-0670-8. Epub 2015 May 22.)

Drawing an analogy, I felt that such a modelling process and the final model will be like  middle of the road films of 1980s. 'Middle of the road films' ,  is a term with which we all were getting accustomed in India during our childhood days. Those films talked about real issues and touched the lives of the people in a simple way. For instance a film like - "Saaransh" by Mahesh Bhatt which was about the lives of real people who live in the society didnot compromise in terms of the film making rigour. But at the same time it had elements of a simple touching story which can affect the life of a common human being in this country. Therefore, it had the identification element in the film with which people can identify themselves and can like the work and feel about it.

In a similar way, a policy modelling by moving towards the centre point of the line has to create such an identification element with which people, agents of society, non modellers, non scientists and as well as modellers, policy and decision makers from both sides of the line can identify. Only then, policy modelling will lead to meaningful policy outcomes, directions. The film industry in India today has made an honest attempt to bridge the gap between commercial, non commercial, art, middle of the road films. It has happened with funding support, risk taking, substantial efforts of several people coming out of their comfort zones, government policies and constant efforts, hardwork by the people of the film industry. The divides are getting blurred day by day and getting unified.

For policy modelling, within developing and emerging countries, it has to begin too. Let us start by doing policy modelling more and more in the lines of making a middle of the road film of 1980s. Some lights have already started sparkling and more will come soon. Till then, lets wait!