(Article) CSM - June 2013: India Backbone Implementation Network

India Backbone Implementation Network

India has many popular movements uniting citizens against what they do not want: of which corruption is a principal element. The country also needs movements to unite citizens for what they want in their habitats and their lives, and to enable them to work together to create it. The nascent IBIN is a movement for co-creating our worlds.

India is a country with no full stops, Mark Tully observed. And in India, no decision is final, the finance minister lamented at the Planning Commission’s meeting to approve the 12th Plan. During the Planning Commission’s consultations with stakeholders for preparing the Plan, citizens had said they were fed up with foundation stones strewn across the country by political leaders yearning for the limelight. They  want more ‘finishing stones’. The sputtering of India’s economic growth rate has rung alarm bells for economists and rating agencies. India must attract more private investments in infrastructure and industry. Though attracted by the potential of India’s market, investors are turned off by the difficulties of getting things done in the country. Projects are stuck in tardy processes of approval and snarled in inter- epartmental wrangles.

Consequently, India remains towards the bottom of evaluations of countries for ease-of-doing business. The FM has urged Indian PSUs, who have large balance sheets, to get on with capital investments to kick-start revival of the economy. The chiefs of India’s PSUs say they have intentions to invest but cannot implement them. Recently, they met the PM and explained their difficulties. Their projects are stuck in ministerial red tape at the Centre and lost within jungles of uncoordinated processes in the states. Very poor coordination amongst agencies, poor implementation and leaky delivery systems are also the root causes of the unsatisfactory state of India’s health, education and other public services.

There is a widespread need in India to convert confusion into coordination, contention into collaboration, and intention into implementation. Easier said than done, many say. It is our ‘culture’ to be argumentative, they explain. And democracy makes it difficult to get people to work together, they add. If only we had a dictator for a decade to get growth going and then we can get back to democracy, some wistfully dream. Of course, they have no solution for how a widely-accepted dictator will quickly and peacefully emerge! There has to be a democratic alternative to dictatorship for discipline. In a highly diverse as well as democratic country, such as India, consensus is required for all stakeholders to move together, forward and faster. This consensus cannot be commanded. We need another mechanism specifically designed to bring people with different perspectives together: to listen to one another, to distil the essence of their shared aspiration for their habitation or their organisation, and adopt the critical principles they will adhere to in the work they must do together. A model of a process for rapidly improving a nation’s capabilities to get things done systematically and democratically is available in the Total Quality Movement (TQM) in Japan. In less than two decades, Japan, that had a reputation for poor quality and low-cost products, became the international benchmark of quality in many industries and several of its public services too.

IBIN has been modeled on the very successful Total Quality Movement in Japan which in the 1960s and 70s transformed the capability of Japanese organizations in the private and public sectors to deliver results. The TQM movement provided to teams within organizations, and to interorganization teams, techniques and tools with which they could make rapid improvements of processes thereby transforming Japan into the hallmark of quality internationally. The Planning Commission has studied best practices for coordination and implementation in other countries also, such as Korea, Malaysia, Brazil, and Germany. The architecture of IBIN is along similar lines as the TQM movement of Japan. Experience of other countries, such as South Korea and, more recently, Malaysia, which have systematically improved capabilities of coordination and implementation, has also been considered while developing IBIN to fit India’s conditions. The tools and techniques that will be deployed by the IBIN movement will be in some respects similar to TQM, but updated and customised for the objectives of IBIN, with its emphasis on techniques and tools for collaboration, coordination and implementation. They are described in the 12th Plan document now awaiting the approval of the National Development Council. Like TQM in Japan, it will be formed by a network of many leaders across the country, in the states and in many sectors. Critics say the change IBIN seeks will take a long time, and so it may. But if we had started such a movement, say, 10 years ago, we would have been in a much better place now. Therefore, the sooner and more vigorously we start now, the faster we will shape the future we want. This is a time to lead and to act. If not this, then what? If not us, then who? If not now, then when?

The essence of the TQM movement was the deployment, at several levels in many organisations: especially the ‘shopfloor’ levels, but higher levels also, even to top management, of simple techniques for systems thinking, cooperative action and continuous improvement. These techniques were developed by experts in companies and universities and disseminated in the country through industry and other institutional networks, and through radio, pamphlets, competitions and other means of connecting with the public.

The ‘movement’ grew as a network: it was not a centrallymanaged government programme. There was a principal node in the network: a non-governmental body, the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (Juse), in which many persons from industry and academia, and also government participated to provide a facilitative leadership to the movement. Within the 12th Plan is the description of a similar transformative process to improve capabilities in the country to get things done. This process, described as the India Backbone Implementation Network, or IBIN, can improve results in many sectors of the economy.

The purpose of IBIN is to improve implementation of policies, programs, and projects, which the 12th Five Year Plan has located as the critical necessity for accelerating more inclusive and faster growth. An analysis of projects and schemes has revealed that the major causes of bottlenecks in implementation are contention amongst stakeholders, and poor coordination amongst agencies. These bottlenecks are at many levels in the system, at the center, in the states, and in districts and cities too. They cannot be relieved top down by the Planning Commission. They require collaborative action by stakeholders and agencies at multiple points. The IBIN movement will disseminate techniques and skills for collaboration, coordination, and better planning through a network of agencies in the country. The partners in the expanding network already include more than two dozen institutions such as the Administrative Staff College of India, the Indian School of Business, SEWA, WISCOMP, UNDP, GIZ, the World Bank, FISME and other business associations. The functions of a node will be to bring together providers of the skills and techniques and the agencies that need them, and to continuously distil good practices and disseminate them widely.

R K Seth