Saaransh Mishra

The fundamental essence of policymaking is inarguably to facilitate betterment for the masses. It is a nuanced process that broadly involves identifying a particular problem-area and the varied facets of it, brainstorm plausible solutions with the foremost experts on the matter, arrive at a consensus on the viable specifics of the policy that could potentially solve the problem, draft the policy into law, implement it using relevant machinery and finally come to a conclusion regarding the impact of the policy after observing for a prolonged period.

The aforementioned does not encompass the entire process but is an overview of it. However, due to the rigorous nature of policymaking, one of the drawbacks is that it becomes inexplicably tedious to embed the masses deeply within the process, even though the policy is meant to be for their benefit.

This is especially more challenging in a country like India which has a mammoth population that intensifies the enormity of the scale at which policymaking is undertaken. The beneficiary population being distant from the process although inevitable surely slashes a certain amount of credibility from the policy as there is limited direct interaction and involvement. This distance of the populace from the policymaking process is generally not frowned upon and is considered a norm.

However, the Odisha government, owing to their knack for trendsetting in the field of governance, is taking steps to further a model of policymaking where the beneficiaries play a very active role in the process. The “Parents as Partner” (PaP) program, which is a unique initiative that was launched by the ST & SC Development, Minorities & Backward Class Department in the Udala block of Mayurbhanj district in September 2023, aims to make parents active stakeholders in the education systems that are put in place for students from backward communities.

The ST & SC Development, Minorities, and Backward Classes Welfare Department of the Odisha government currently oversees 6 lakh students from 5 lakh tribal households that are currently spaced out over 6000 hostels, including 1735 residential schools. The PaP initiative provides a platform for the parents of these children not only to remain informed about the progress in their children’s education but also to stay abreast of the various welfare schemes that the government has recurrently been introducing in a targeted manner to bolster the socio-economic standing of historically downtrodden communities in the state.

This model is nothing short of revolutionary due to the plethora of advantages it entails for the future of these communities. Firstly, parents are conventionally the decisionmakers for their children and enhanced awareness regarding their children’s educational entitlements, provisions and other developmental activities would facilitate more efficient decision-making. Second, these initiatives are devised for the betterment of communities that have had limited exposure to education and thus, it is unlikely for them to be familiar with governmental schemes and policies on their own.

This necessitates novel approaches such as the PaP to accomplish that objective and let them know what the Government is doing. Moreover, this initiative provides a collaborative space for fostering awareness, disseminating information, discussing schemes and issues, and nurturing a culture that recognizes parents as genuine and dignified partners in the department’s endeavours.

A deeper scrutiny of the initiative also showcases the noble intent of the Odisha Government to make this policy not just for media headlines and accolades but to make tangible impact. The deeper involvement and knowledge of the stakeholders within this initiative would mean that they would be able to hold the government more accountable for the effectiveness or the ineffectiveness of the policy, something that would not have happened otherwise, given that they lack education and awareness in general.

This is a noticeable deviation from the perennial lack of accountability from governments, who, it would appear, are more concerned about the role that their policies play in idealizing their image in the media and amongst the voters.

Moreover, the Odisha Government’s willingness to understand the beneficiaries’ wants and requirements based on their lived experiences, instead of assuming or handing them a ‘one-size fits all’ framework, is an approach to policymaking that is highly commendable but seldom implemented. Through PaP, the government shall receive constant feedback from these communities and modify the initiative based on a concrete assessment of their socio-economic essentialities.

Although the PaP has been a part of the school management framework for a while, the current re-imagination that the Odisha Government is undertaking to keep up with evolving times, bears testimony to its undisputed resolve to create a difference and transform the socio-economic landscape of the state with rapidity. The exhaustive people-centric approach that this policy exhibits, although painstaking, is nothing short of the gold-standard of policymaking.

This could effortlessly serve as a bright example for other Governments and policymakers to follow suit, provided their intent is akin to the Odisha Government’s; be more about impact, less about public perception and votes.

(Saaransh Mishra is an independent consultant dealing in HR, Media & Communication. Views are Personal)