Editor’s Note: This is a three-part series on Aam Aadmi Party’s impact on the state of democracy, development and rule of law in Delhi that remains undocumented by the press. An insider’s look at National Capital’s transforming legislative, executive and judiciary through public participation, co-creation and citizen-centric decision-making. This is the third and last part of the series.
In 2014, I co-authored four documents with a bunch of experts to prepare the foundation of Delhi government’s governance model through the Delhi Dialogue. The Delhi Dialogue team convened by Arvind Kejriwal comprised of Ashish Khetan, the late Meera Sanyal, Adarsh Shastri, Preeti Sharma Menon and myself. Writing, research and communication were supported by a brilliant team of on-ground, remote and NRI researchers and communication volunteers. The document served as the first governance blueprint for this young party’s policy vision for the National Capital.
The policy problems and governance solutions were further spread through the party’s political organisation of volunteers as well as conventional media and digital media reaching unprecedented scale, engaging over six million people online and eight million people offline for over three months. This shaped a manifesto that reflected ‘the reality on the ground’ as much as possible.
The final two outputs were two documents: a political and punchy 12-page 70-point action plan and a 42-page J detailed policy manifesto. Its foundation was in three major sources i.e. the 2013 manifesto for Delhi elections, the Vision Swaraj inputs that formed the basis of the 2014 manifesto for Lok Sabha elections and Delhi Dialogue, a series of participatory governance dialogues with the citizens of Delhi.
Delhi Dialogue brought creativity, specificity and scale to AAP’s promises through a participatory politics-policy campaign. It crowdsourced Delhi’s problems and solutions through scores of focus group discussions in 21 policy areas with domain experts, bureaucrats, businesses, journalists, non-profits, academics, activists and over 450+ public meetings augmented and sharpened through thousands of emails, tens of thousands of SMSs and Whatsapp messages and lakhs of people touched through public meetings.
The themes of dialogues addressed personally by Kejriwal were youth, women, health, education, water, electricity, village, unauthorized colonies, JJ (Jhuggi Jhopri) clusters, business and trade. These policy spheres mirror the focus areas and successes of the Delhi government till date.
The other two outputs were a personal and professional response to those who demanded concrete plans for AAP’s promises on energy and environment, and more specifically, its water and electricity promise. Our approach was based on honest politics and evidence-based policy and our documents reflected our team’s socio-political perspective and techno-managerial approach. From this, emerged campaign documents which were Bijli Swaraj (Energy self-governance) and Jal Swaraj (Water self-governance) white papers that laid out clear plans for these sectors and how they’d be improved in Delhi.
While whistleblowers from Delhi Jal Board and Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission were brought on board to identify the problems within the system, non-profits and for-profit companies from spheres like solar and renewable energy, electric vehicles as well as water, sewerage and river cleaning were consulted. There were engineers, economists, architects, planners, academics, bureaucrats, civil society activists, businesses, traders and common citizens, who all threw in their hat to frame problems and determine solutions.
We treated information from whistleblowers to be more useful for city planning than official planning and statistics documents. Ideas from technologists and innovators were considered as critical to solving public problems like any policymaker. The idea was not to pit business and activists against each other, instead at attempt was made to find a synthesis between their two perspectives. We treated fieldwork and ground meetings to be as valuable as policy insights aggregated at scale as much as any academic with a high h-index. The framing and communication was culturally and linguistically relevant and attempted to weave logos, pathos and ethos in an optimal measure on a monthly basis offline and weekly basis online.
The team travelled across the city be it to dingy backrooms hunting for data residing with termites and mice, traded anecdotes and information with Lutyens’ elite and some of its intelligentsia, met grassroots and paper tiger non-profits to learn from their experiences and operations. The group also conducted focus group discussions with professionals and academics, conversed with whistleblowers and BJP/Congress office-bearers for insider information, explored policy feasibility in committee meetings at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial with MLA candidates and party office bearers. The final political feasibility for announcements in manifesto committee meetings was aided and advised by friends, colleagues, professionals, well-wishers and do-gooders at every step along the way.
For people who did not come from political backgrounds, engaging with specialists to prepare an Indian political party’s foundational literature widened the scope of the executive within the Indian political system. For far too long, state-led development has dominated the Indian context leaving public problems at the mercy of corrupt politicians and stakeholders aiming for private profit over public service. This changed with AAP in 2013, Delhi Dialogue in 2014 and the Delhi government in 2015.
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When we became a government in 2015, all ministers and department heads in the city were called in and provided a copy of the manifesto as the basis of departmental priorities, ensuring that policies were therefore directly responding to the views and needs of society. Each department followed a process of inside-out transparency and outside-in engagement with non-government stakeholders in the formulation and implementation of policy and governance.
You’ll probably read about the achievements in Delhi governance quantitatively and qualitatively in the week coming up. In the age of Whatsapp and Tiktok, you’ll probably also hear how and why we were a terrible government that did no work. The truth is somewhere in between and tilted towards the former! So, instead of telling you Whats, I thought I’ll share four Whys and key Hows from five years of city governance across a host of different departments, functions and outcomes.
Decentralise funds and devolve powers
Decentralisation of funds to small-scale and local projects has meant rapid scale-up and delivery of these projects. Devolution of powers and influence to non-state experts and citizen groups has also supported the take-up and implementation of such projects by bringing ownership of these projects to communities. Examples include legislator-led work on infrastructure and roads, creation of small lakes and water bodies, installing rooftop solar, planning the metro system, cluster buses and a network of mobility as an ecosystem, implementing community engagement and oversight on waste burning, dengue and health care, schooling and hospital maintenance; all of which point back to the Gandhian principle of ‘Swaraj’ or self-governance.
Key lesson learnt: For the development and implementation of plans and policies which truly reflect the needs of society, a participatory approach to identifying needs, designing policies and their thorough implementation is crucial. With engagement and support from the citizens that these activities affect throughout the process, implementation and positive results from such activities can be magnified.
Innovate as a stack: Solve for needs, then wants and then desires
We adopted the ‘stack’ approach towards public problem solving to first addressing the needs, then the wants and subsequently addressing the desires of the community. This approach, therefore, incorporates global best practices and innovations but solves the community’s problems and issues first and foremost. This approach also allows for additional ideas to be added to solve further problems. For example, in the power sector, solving the fundamental issue of electricity access and tariff for the population was the first priority. Once reliable electricity was achieved through governance improvements, the subsidy was provided through prudent budgeting and planning, which when paired with the administrative crackdown on corruption and infrastructure investment, made it possible for the government to make energy plans for the longer term.
Clear commitments to solar energy targets were laid down; first being that any new Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) would be a solar PPA, second shutting down fossil fuel power plants and third enhancing solar projects for energy production on rooftops, farms and water bodies. When taking this ‘stack’ approach, it was more likely that activities and plans be fully supported by stakeholders across the state, market and society. Over the five years of the Delhi Government, despite numerous conflicting and wild developments in the renewable sector, financial markets and oil and gas industry, Delhi’s electricity requirements have been fulfilled with clean, cheap and reliable energy, a unique success story across Indian cities.
Key lesson learnt: Identifying the issues that need to be addressed and addressing those issues as a priority is key both in terms of public perception and therefore buy-in to plans and policies. It takes care that the ‘wants’ and ‘desires’ can then also be considered. Delivering positive results in the short-term will also lead to increased buy-in and support for the implementation of further projects, plans and policies in the same area.
Transparent governance gathers strategic allies
Delhi government has taken a transparent approach to governance with clear accountability. For example, each of the 70 points in the manifesto from Delhi Dialogue had individual promises all of which can be mapped to work updates, budgetary allocations and governance outcomes and outputs.
To achieve this clear and accountable governance, a number of key steps were taken by the government:
Step 1: Increase the number of problem solvers through awareness, creating an inclusive and participatory process and prioritising sustainable development through strong political leadership and integrated governance arrangements.
- Step 2: Set the agenda for long-term plans with clear key performance indicators (KPIs), Outcomes and Outputs that continuously evolve through citizen feedback and become departmental procedure in institutional memory instead of outlier exercises.
- Step 3: Partner with allies to evolve a long- term, multi-sectoral perspective that has funded mandates with a clear path of implementation.
- Step 4: Monitor and evaluate progress through local monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems through academia and civil society to ensure that implementation remains on track, and support the development of local capacity for more responsive and accountable governance.
Key lesson learnt: A transparent governance approach can help with gaining support from other government departments, civil society, the private sector and other stakeholders. Such an approach enables the government to keep track of plans, policies, projects and promises that are going well, and those that might need to be altered to improve delivery results. An honest measurement and transparent approach also allow allies of principle to align themselves accurately through their currencies of exchange whether it is knowledge, prestige, status, media, manpower or capital. This can be bolstered by backing government commitments with a clear accountability system which enables the monitoring and tracking of progress and outcomes.
Partnerships are necessary for scale
When working with experts and co-creating solutions, internal discord often reduces, and it is possible to gain buy-in and support from a wider team. A host of non-profit organisations, researchers and technologists who supported in the development of the Delhi Dialogue manifesto have helped to implement this on the ground. This process of co-creation has therefore led to co-production and a higher success rate than would have been seen without partnership working. When non-state stakeholders lead, with government support, a far better outcome can be achieved.
Key lesson learnt: Working with a wide group of stakeholders to identify issues and come up with ways to solve those issues is often better and achieves superior results than if issues are focused on in silos. Involvement of multiple stakeholders from the beginning of the planning process through to delivery supports implementation and facilitates greater results.
From a tiring but fulfilling manifesto to nervous smiles at the start of Delhi governance to confident and high-pressure representation of Delhi’s plans at the C40 World Mayors Summit in 2019, this has been quite the journey. I’ve learnt that being truthful does have an opportunity cost and being ethical does have some Olympic hurdles. However, I’ve also found hope when there was none in stock, light when it was too dark, friends when it was too lonely and support from unknown quarters of this city, India and the world.
The Government of Delhi has a clear focus on public engagement in decision-making and outcomes in budgeting. Partnership arrangements have been established within government agencies and with non-government organisations to overcome traditional governance challenges. These enable the effective delivery of services to the citizens of Delhi.
Sustainability has been brought to the forefront through innovative governance arrangements, green budgeting processes and investment of political will. This has enabled transformational climate actions to be implemented in the sectors of water, energy, environment, public infrastructure and mobility. All of this change whilst the government has invested 40 percent of its budget and a large corpus of its political machinery and mass outreach around health and education. Public appraisal under heavy ecosystem challenges lies ahead in a week or so. I can only hope that Delhi’s citizens can see the city they’ve begun co-creating with some common citizens.
The author has been a volunteer with Aam Aadmi Party and advisor in the Delhi Government since 2014. He holds two graduate degrees in public policy and engineering from Stanford University and was formerly an RA with MIT JPAL.
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