Category Archives: Discussion

Whither Plan C?

A recent op-ed by Planning Commission member Arun Maira in the Indian Express makes encouraging reading. But, is the work on the XII Plan actually following this third paradigm?
What are the ground level strategies to apply the principles of ‘localization, lateralization, learning and listening’ that Mr Maira talks about?

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Some quotes from ‘It is time for Plan C‘ by Arun Maira in the Indian Express, 27 oct 2011

The consensus of all states in the recent meeting of the National Development Council was that we want growth and, even more, we want more inclusion in growth. It was also clear that we need a process to make the states and the Centre work together to solve common problems.
So far, we have considered two plans (or paradigms) for our progress. Plan A is a strong government above that lays down the rules. And makes sure everyone follows them. This is governance based on a power hierarchy. This paradigm is expressed in a strong Central government of a country, even in a strong CEO of a corporation. The problem is that the powers above often get it very wrong. Plan B is to leave it to the market — in which the interacting atoms (or individuals) will figure it out somehow. This too is not satisfactory. Because, in reality, some atoms know more than others and are stronger than others. They set the rules, and manage the system to serve their ends.

There is a third way however. This is Plan C for governance.

It is high time that pro-government types, and pro-market types came together to explore Plan C. Because Plan C is better suited to learning and adapting to complex phenomena that experts cannot fully understand and a world in which problems do not know state and national boundaries.

Many people consider a “Planning Commission” in the 21st century an anachronism. Therefore, India’s Planning Commission is considering processes required to plan and govern in a 21st century world in which many things are interconnected and people want a greater say in the way they are governed. Four principles of Plan C provide the architecture. These are the Four Ls: localisation, lateralisation, learning and listening.

The principle of localisation is founded on the realisation that “one size does not fit all.” And that, whereas there could be universal principles, there is not likely to be a single package of these principles with universal applicability. The packaging must be done by local communities.

The principle of lateralisation requires that lateral links be deliberately designed across boundaries. So that people coordinate laterally, rather than expecting a power above them to compel them to coordinate. Ostrom’s research describes ways to achieve lateral coordination without an overbearing coordinator above. Such lateral coordination is obtained by communities of shared interests and processes for collaborative decisionmaking.

The third principle is learning based on “systems thinking”. Systems thinking is an orientation that has been killed by overspecialisation. Experts live in “conceptually gated communities”. They know a lot about a little. And understand little about the whole. Processes for understanding systems must be applied to enable us to solve global problems that have been created by our fragmented views of reality.

The fourth principle is listening. Experts must listen to each other. But most of all, experts must listen to the real people. They must understand the language of real people.

This is India’s 21st century challenge. Mindsets and institutions are not easy to change, even after their “use by” dates. But change we must to realise our aspirations for a more inclusive society. New processes must be invented. Sixty years ago, our far-seeing Constitution created political democracy. Now there is a growing recognition of human rights that go beyond the political right to vote, to economic and social rights too — to livelihoods, education, health and dignity.

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