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Why Governments, Think Tanks And Private Sector Need Public Policy Graduates

Business World
By Professor  

Public policy graduates are well positioned to replace lobbyists who are employed by the private sector because they have the right connections and networks of influence. Such lobbyists are on their way out because of positive developments in governance, more transparency in decisions taken by the government and greater emphasis placed on knowledge

Public policy refers to some purposive course of action taken by the state in order to solve a specific set of problems confronting the country’s population or a subset of its population. All public policies are formulated by a specific political process, and are adopted, implemented, and enforced by one or more public agencies. 

The ‘state’ includes the Government and Parliament of India and the Government and the Legislature of each of the States and all local or other authorities within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of India.  

Public policies typically seek to bring out changes in the behaviour of institutions and people so that identified problems can be tackled.   In order to induce behavioural changes, policies may create incentives or penalties associated with the conduct of concerned institutions and relevant groups of people. Recent advances in behavioural economics are particularly pertinent for the effectiveness of public policies. 

The definition of public policy itself makes it obvious why knowledge and skills acquired by graduates of public policy programmes in universities will be relevant and useful for all of the entities comprising the ‘state’.  This includes public sector corporations because they are pervasively under the control of governments, financially, functionally and administratively. 

Likewise, think tanks and research institutions, which take up projects and studies relevant to the design and evaluation of public policies, often at the behest of the ‘state’, will value the knowledge and skills of public policy graduates.  

Moreover, because public policies must be endorsed and approved by the political process in a democracy, there is growing number of political consultant companies that provide special services to politicians. These services include analysis of priority needs of the electorate in constituencies which their client-politicians represent, or aspire to represent, appraisals of the impact of policies being implemented in those places, provide socio-economic profiles of the electorate, and strategies to counter electoral strategies of their opponents. 

The question remains is why should private corporations, which are not the ‘state’, and are not political representatives of people, employ public policy graduates? 

The answer is because public policies of the state matter a great deal to the private sector and can make a significant difference to their economic value.

Private sector corporations and firms will do well to employ public policy graduates who have a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of how public policy agenda is set, how the policy process actually works, and also the specific implications of state policies on the particular business of the private corporation.   This is why Facebook, Twitter, Google, companies which are emblematic of our globalized age, have all established public policy divisions. They are as important to the functioning of these companies as their technological divisions.

Governments pass laws and regulations in order to incorporate policies in a legally enforceable form.  Public policy graduates (certainly JSGP graduates) are trained to appreciate nuances of the relationship between law and policy.  They can also be alert to the possibility that an arm of the state, not initially involved in the design of policy, namely the judiciary, can interpret legal provisions in ways that either legitimate the policy enshrined in law or thwart its implementation.  A sound understanding of law and its relationship to policy requires a serious study of public policy.  It cannot be got by only the study of law or any one of the social science disciplines.

Public policy graduates can usefully brief senior management of companies about important policy issues that constitute the current policy agenda of relevant governments.  They can gather intelligence about government actions that could affect the company. They can provide to the company’s leadership useful background information on social, economic and political objectives of governments.  They can help the company build strong, knowledge and trust-based relationships with key government actors. Public policy graduates who are specialized in quantitative methods can quantify potential effects of government’s actions on the economic value of the company. 

Public policy graduates are well positioned to replace lobbyists who are employed by the private sector because they have the right connections and networks of influence.  Such lobbyists are on their way out because of positive developments in governance, more transparency in decisions taken by the government and greater emphasis placed on knowledge

The Indian Companies Act 2013, by making it mandatory for companies to set aside two percent of their profits, has forced an alignment of corporate strategy and corporate social responsibility (CSR).  This development opens up new vistas for public policy graduates who can understand and align the interests of internal and external stakeholders of a company. CSR is not conventional philanthropy or charity.   It requires specialized knowledge about how a country can increase the supply of public goods (which will not generate profits) and merit goods like education and health (which can generate profits but call for a high order of responding to needs of society).  

Another important reason for the private sector to employ public policy graduates is the growing importance of public-private partnerships (PPP). The skills-set of public policy graduates includes an understanding of what sets of policies and institutional environment is most conducive to public-private partnerships so that they can contribute to both growth and human development.  PPP give governments also a good reason to employ public policy specialists. They can enhance the state’s ability to share risk with the private sector, tap external financial resources, and provide to the public benefits of private-sector investments and intellectual capital. 

Shiv Visvanathan, a prolific public intellectual (as distinct from ‘policy intellectuals’ serving governments, the private sector, and think tanks), makes a case for our education system to focus on public policy: “A subject like public policy is an invitation to construct a feasible future. It will be interesting to see how many Indians accept its challenge and construct the dream of a different India.”