Oval Dialogue on Measuring Governance in India

February 04, 2015 New Delhi

Public and political discourse in India today is dominated by talk of good governance. But while it is possible to meaningfully and objectively evaluate a claim of Kerala being better developed than Bihar; on what grounds can one evaluate the claim that governance in Gujarat is objectively better than governance in Maharashtra? A prerequisite to make good governance the benchmark of an effective government is a mechanism to evaluate and assess the same. Unfortunately, India’s public and political discourse has been restricted to debating issues on basis of ideology and not evidence. Previous attempts by government agencies have resulted in incomplete or discarded projects. This shifts the onus upon private institutions and civil society organizations to initiate a project of this nature. A comprehensive governance index focused on a host of integral processes that are needed to execute governance, would be beneficial in not only encouraging a culture of accountability but would go a long way in identifying the how such processes can be developed and consolidated in order to deliver the intended outcomes.

Needless to say, measuring governance and the complex web of processes that it entails is a mammoth task. The task becomes even more problematic considering people have varying idea of what governance means. Some would posit that governance is the mechanisms and institutions that are considered essential to manage a country’s affairs – civil rights, transparency and accountability, rule of law etc. A contrarian point of view would suggest that governance encompasses both the processes and the outcomes that are the objectives of good governance – equity, efficient provision of public goods etc. Still others would assert that there is no established set of processes or outcomes that define good governance – the nature of good governance, the objectives and the processes involved, are context dependent and can vary from country to country.

A significant number of academics and intellectuals in India have built up a substantive body of knowledge on quantification of governance over the last few years. We feel that it would be of immense benefit to tie some of these diverse strands together, share existing research and debate the future course of this process with the foremost experts in the field from all over the country. As such, Oval Observer Foundation is delighted to convene a Dialogue on the complexities involved in developing a governance index for a country like India. We envisage this Round Table to be the first among a series of dialogues that will draw a diverse set of stakeholders together to take stock of existing research and identify potential areas of collaboration.

In this regard, the first dialogue on measuring governance will focus on reviewing existing literature and attempts at designing governance indices in India and briefly debate and discuss some of the fundamental questions that lie at the core of governance quantification.

Dr. Sudipto Mundle, Emeritus Professor, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy

Dr. Sudipto Mundle is an Emeritus Professor and Member of the Board of Governors of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi. He has served as a member of the Fourteenth Finance Commission, constituted by Government of India. Prior to this, he has also served as the Acting Chairman of the National Statistical Commission, Government of India; Member of the Monetary Policy Advisory Committee of the Reserve Bank of India; Member of the Board of Governors of the Institute of Economic Growth, New Delhi, and Chairman of the Research Advisory Committee of RIS, a think tank of the Ministry of External Affairs. He had also been a part of two steering committees of the Planning Commission for the 12th Five year Plan.

11:00 – 13:00Introduction and Presentations by participants outlining their research and work on governance indicators.
13:00 – 13:30Lunch
13:30 – 16:30Discussions on:

o Process-based Indicators of Governance

o Role of Subjective Indicators in the Measurement of Governance

o Innovative Methods of Weighting Indicators of Governance

Given the centrality of good governance in political discourse in India and the glaring lack of means to assess and measure it, the Foundation conducted a Dialogue on quantifying governance on 4th February, 2015. The dialogue was moderated by Dr. Sudipto Mundle, member of the 14th Finance Commission and Emeritus Professor at National Institute of Public Finance and Policy. Other participants at the discussion included academics and civil society experts such as Mr. Rajeev Malhotra (Jindal School of Government & Public Policy), Dr. VN Alok (Indian Institute of Public Administration), Mrs. Yamini Iyer (Center for Policy Research), Mr. Yogesh Pai (National Law University) and Mr. Srinivas Alamaru (Center for Budget and Policy Studies), among others.

The morning session was intended to share existing research and attempts at quantifying governance in India and consisted of presentations by eminent researchers in the field. Dr. Mundle began by presenting a framework that conceptualized governance as ‘what governments do’ and was based on a parsimonious selection of outcome indicators where the dimensions represented the three pillars of government – executive, legislature and judiciary. Correcting for the level of development, Dr. Mundle found that there was remarkable consistency in the groups of high and low performing states irrespective of weighting methods used. Dr. Alamaru was the second presenter and showcased a 123 indicator framework that conceptualized governance with a focus on ‘processes’ and used extensive survey based data to place the citizen at the center of governance assessment. The final presentation was made by Mr. Malhotra who displayed his assessment of policy effectiveness rooted in a notion of human wellbeing. His inter-temporal study of performance of Indian states exposed poor national performance on the rule of law index and threw up some counter intuitive results such as poor performance by traditionally highly ranked states like Gujarat and Kerala.

The afternoon session was guided by a set agenda to discuss some of the fundamental questions that lie at the core of governance quantification. Issues discussed included: process and outcome based indicators of governance, lack of access to data, importance of subjective indicators in governance assessment, ignored dimensions of governance and weighting methods used to aggregate indicators. The event witnessed diverging viewpoints and constructive deliberation on many of these issues. Some of the interesting new areas of study and research that were identified included the need to increase user demand for administrative data, more effective presentation of data to the public, third party surveys of health outcomes along the lines of Pratham’s ASER, weighting of indices based on a survey of the citizen’s ranking of governance dimensions, qualitative studies of decision making structures that translate policy into action, comparative case studies of regulatory institutions and their independence, and increasing access to real time data – especially at the interface of government and the public.

Mr. Sanmit Ahuja concluded the discussion with an overview of the Foundation’s engagement with sustainability and development projects in India. He impressed upon the participants the Foundation’s commitment to taking forward some of the proposals that had been made over the course of the day and invited academics and authors to approach the Foundation for funding and collaboration on projects related to assessment of governance in India. The Foundation intends to develop these talks into a series dedicated towards developing robust methodologies for capturing different facets of governance in India. The Foundation has already initiated its second deliberation focused at exploring the role of Big Data in measuring good governance, which will be moderated by Dame Wendy Hall, Professor, University of Southampton.

As an initial step towards understanding governance issues in India, The Foundation will be launching a Bi-Annual journal titled “India Governance Review.” The journal will aim at establishing a repository of knowledge on governance issues and challenges in India with the objective capturing the essentials of a complex discipline for the general understanding of the populace. The theme of the inaugural edition will be “Quantifying Governance in India”. The Foundation aims to launch the first edition in September and is currently establishing an Editorial Board, which will comprise of some of the foremost scholars in this discipline.

The Foundation has also undertaken a research study, which will focus on exploring the independence of State regulatory institutions in India. Essentially, the research shall look towards identifying both ex-ante and ex-post constraints that affect the decision making process of these institutions. The study will be focused on developing case studies, which may throw light on the independence of such institutions.

Please download our event report from here, Link.

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