Over the last couple of years, ‘public policy’ has become the buzzword in India, every time the topic of ‘careers’ comes up. As young adults look to enter postgraduate courses and make a career in what used to be known as ‘niche’, public policy is fast becoming the most sought-after career choice.
From working in the social impact space to pursuing degrees at elite universities abroad, millennials are seeking to make space for themselves at the public policy table.
The Public Policy Sensibility & What Defines Your ‘Game’
Did you quickly download the draft of the New Education Policy 2019 to figure out the highlights for the sector you follow? Did the Rohith Vemula movement motivate you to introspect and ask deeper questions of yourself? And finally, do you understand the standpoint(s) from which various think-tanks make their policy judgement calls on the many issues they work on?
If you have indeed engaged with these diverse points of inquiry, you are well on the road to imbibing a ‘public’ policy sensibility.
More often than not, we place the emphasis on the word ‘policy’, when in fact, the word ‘public’ is equally important. In a world where the digital is taking over governance space, and corporations get a big slice of the policy pie, one wonders what is left of the ‘public’, as people need not necessarily want to occupy the digital space alone, to be governed. Any young public policy enthusiast must ask her/himself these questions, to understand the flow of power, both material and soft.
Making a well-informed decision on which side of the coin you’d like to be, is important in defining your public policy game.
Let’s Look Beyond Crunching Numbers
When one seeks to belong to a space, one is quick to get acquainted with the language of that space. This is true of the public policy space as well. As young people seeking to make space for ourselves in public policy, we often try to use the right lingo to fit in. However, one must be warned against the use of jargon without substance. Buzzwords like ‘evidence-based policy’, or ‘big impact iterations’ are all swell, if one actually gets to the bottom line.
Similarly, the proliferation of quantitative studies and numbers as proof of ‘impact’ is another conundrum confronting the public policy space.
Numbers, more now than ever before, present only the crust of the pie. The proof or ‘evidence’ is often in taking the fork all the way through the thickness of data. If you have a friend studying anthropology, make sure you ask him/her about Geertz! It is imperative for us in the public policy space to go beyond solely crunching numbers, and imagine different kinds of qualitative indicators. As a friend in the social impact space once suggested, policy in actuality is qualitative.
Why ‘Critical Policy Literacy’ Is The Need Of The Hour
These points lead to the gripe of veterans — do we as millennials have what it takes to not only sit on that chair at the policy table, but to actually command attention and shift the contours of the conversation? The key to this lies in answering ourselves another question — are we policy literate? With a burgeoning youth population, India could do with the young being invested in tackling hard policy question, even with regard to the elections, for instance. However, critical policy literacy is often missing from the picture.
The myth of the dichotomy between the rational and the emotional voter is just that — a myth. By recognising emotive rationality as an important aspect of the average rational voter, one transcends the assumption that mere poll propaganda is sufficient.
Critical policy literacy helps the average voter read documents like a party’s manifesto and ask crucial questions to the local leaders.
If anything, critical policy literacy is the need of the hour, a pedagogical intervention waiting to be made to evoke such emotive rationality in the citizen.
How To Up The Ante At The Policy Table
As someone who aspires to teach policy, I cannot but help zero in on what constitutes critical policy literacy. Simply put, it is the ability to not just read and analyse policy documents for ‘policy factoids’, but also to interpret it in a way that asks questions of what kind of dominant ideas find articulation in the policy, how are myths reproduced as facts, and how one can dispel them by presenting real contextual and historic perspectives.
When such a literacy to study policy beyond just the textual is acquired and honed, it allows the aspirational millennial to turn the quality of conversations around, perched comfortably and confidently at that very public policy table.
(Preeti Raghunath holds a PhD in Communication, and works on media policies in South Asia. She tweets @preetiraghunath. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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