THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING A POLICY IMPLEMENTER.
The Directive Principles of the Constitution define India as a welfare state in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. Formulated on the triad of 'provision of equality, opportunity and equitable distribution of wealth along with social responsibility of those not able to provide for themselves', it runs concurrent with how Marshall (1950) identified welfare state as a distinctive combination of democracy, welfare, and capitalism. To promote 'inclusive growth', Indian policymakers have tried to bridge the ever widening income inequality gap by improving social protection of the poor through policy prescription. India currently spends approximately $60 billion per year on welfare (Economic Survey, 2015). Being a resource challenged country, the allocative trade-offs of this welfare and its opportunity costs are rather high to other avenues of governance.
The Government of India in enabling and enacting MGNREGA, a flagship rural employment guarantee scheme in 2005, fulfilled a longstanding demand of the agricultural sector and the social activists. MGNREGA design made it obligatory for the government to provide on demand, one hundred days of unskilled, manual employment to one adult member of a registered household seeking employment, at the then starting minimum wage rate of INR 100 (roughly $1.50) per day--currently linked to the cost of living index. Thus, creating a social safety net via an employment option that would stave off economic distress (Hirway, 2006). MGNREGA also hoped to prevent migration to urban centers by rural population unable to find sustenance in villages during lean agricultural seasons. It hoped to usher in social equality in the rural landscape mired with caste and gender inequality. It aimed at strengthening the environment as well as the resource base of agriculture. To do this, it provides basic manual works that can be undertaken for the purpose of creating wage employment for unskilled workers. It was designed as a 'bottom up' policy with the guidelines coming from the top and democratic implementation from the bottom (Ravallion, 2008).
Extending social protection on equity, empowerment, economic, social and cultural rights as a transformative social policy (Devereux and Sabates-Wheeler, 2004), MGNREGA has received critical scrutiny for the promises it made and the extent to which they have and have not been realized. Being a rural scheme, it faces challenges because both implementers and beneficiaries confront political and power obstacles. The complex mechanics of the scheme, involving the central, state and three tiers of local government, encourages its decentralized implementation (Rabbe et al, 2010). The three tier local administrative divisions of India are a nested hierarchy of subdivision of districts, blocks and villages. States are divided into Districts which are sub divided into blocks. Blocks are the next level of rural subdivisions after the districts and are followed by the village. Blocks are administered by Block Development Officers (BDO's) who work for the state government. The village level governance units (Village (Gram) Panchayat) is an elected body at the lowest democratic level and controls five or six villages. Village Panchayat heads are elected and are called Village Panchayat Presidents (VPP). A smaller body of panchayat and non-panchayat members constitute a 'Gram Sabha'. Every village with a population of 200 or more has a Gram Sabha. It consists of all the eligible voters living in the area of the Gram Panchayat. Gram Sabha has the highest importance quotient as its members elect the members of the village panchayat. Dependent on the requirements of the village, the Gram Sabha helps in planning the works to be undertaken under the MGNREGA scheme. Along with the district, block and village, it is an important stakeholder in MGNREGA's decentralized implementation process (MGNREGA Operational Guidelines, 2013; Jain, 1997).
Policy implementation often interrupts achieving policy objectives and delays its impact (Pressman and Wildawsky, 1973). Many well designed policies meet their nemesis at the implementation stage. This study has tried to unravel the importance of implementers on policy implementation. The literature on implementers primarily identifies them as: top-level leaders-policy designers and framers (Brugha and Varsovsky, 2000, Hupe and Hill, 2007; Sinclair, 2001); mid-level managers and implementers (Tadlock et. al.2005); and frontline workers or street-level workers (Lipsky, 1980).
Policy framers and designers were seen by Top Down theorists as central actors, doling out proactive advice (Matland, 1995) that required and emphasized consistency in behavioural patterns. The assumption inherent was that of a self-implementing policy. However, designers started to take refuge in legality of words and put too much emphasis on the administrative process, often at the expense of political immediacy (Berman, 1978; Saetren, 1996). Bottom Up theorists credited the target population and service deliverers and providers with a better grasp of the implementation process (Cline, 2000). Dividing policy implementation into macro level (central actors) and micro level (local level), Berman (1978) pointed out that policy implementation variations arose due to 'local contextual factors' that policy designers were unable to control. Lipsky (1980) coined the term 'street-level bureaucrats' and emphasized their importance in micro implementation, using this term for 'schools, police, welfare departments, lower courts, and legal service officers'. Further, Hupe and Hill (2007) opined that the street-level bureaucrats were the most suited for the policy implementation process as they had the discretion of choice making and found ways to manage work. In between the stakeholder-ship of the policy framers and the street-level bureaucrats were the mid-level implementers. Tadlock et al. (2005) focused on the role of effective mid-level leadership in implementing welfare schemes and examined demographics and the contextual factors affecting it. While they found the leadership skills of mid-level managers affecting project implementation success, May and Winter (2007) observed that politicians and managers play a limited role in comparison to the street-level bureaucrats or the case workers in implementing employment policy reforms.
A scan of the MGNREGA literature (too huge to document here) reveals that is has diffused to micro studies and geographic area specific work on gender, wages and income factors. Studies of MGNREGA have focused heavily on its effect on incomes, migration, wages and gender equality, environmental convergence, leakages of the scheme, corruption, and beneficiary profile among other issues. Literature has also focused on micro level implementation in various geographical areas of India.
Macro challenges facing MGNREGA implementation and evaluation studies (documented below) on MGNREGA can be broadly categorized into three: governance (administrative), planning, and resource utilization. The governance challenge--defined in terms of administration ability and the role of implementers--is felt in numerous ways, such as the absence of 'sufficiently large number of trained support staff' (Hirway, 2006; Raabe et al. 2010). The vacant posts of Program Officers (Districts) who were intended to helm MGNREGA implementation illustrate this shortfall (MGNREGA Operational Guidelines, 2013). Most of these posts remain open and the work is being done by junior level Block Development Officer (BDO). The BDOs are already implementing multiple state- and center-sponsored welfare schemes and their workload affects program results. Research has also documented how structural deficiencies and procedural lapses affect ground level implementation by gram panchayats and program outcomes (Chakraborty, 2014).
A major implementation hurdle cited in the literature is the beneficiary demand expectations versus the implementers' provision of work (Chopra, 2014). This echoes 'major problem cited in implementation is the matching of the demand for work to supply of work' (Hirway, 2006; Chakraborty, 2007). The assumption that 'all those who need employment will come forward, get work within fifteen days or receive an unemployment allowance in lieu of work, [and] will get wages paid every week on a regular basis' requires 'quantum jump in planning and administrative commitment' (Hirway, 2006).
'Low organizational capacity, low funds utilization, low existing institutional arrangements in smaller poorer low performing states paradoxically get pushed back even more as the budget outlays are based on planning and implementation outcomes and low performing states in need of better planning and resources get significantly less of these' (Chakraborty, 2007). States in need of better planning and resources are caught in a vicious circle because their budgets are determined by their already low performance and relatively poor implementation outcomes, while better planned states appropriate a larger share of the MGNREGA funds. Planning is inextricably tied to resource usage as better planned states appropriate a larger share of funds, thus creating a vicious cycle of sorts. The role of proper planning in ensuring the success of MGNREGA found echoes in many studies (Hirway, 2004; Chakraborty, 2007; Raabe et al. 2010).
Not much work has been reported on the role of implementers in implementing MGNREGA other than the literature cited (Hirway, 2006 and Rabbe et al. 2010), and this paved the way for this study which was to assess the importance of the implementer and the factors important to them in the implementation of the MGNREGA.
The initial impetus for this research came from Tadlock et al. (2005) which studied implementation of social welfare schemes and role of the implementer, in rural Appalachian region of Ohio, in the United States of America. This was significant to our study of the rural welfare scheme MGNREGA's implementation issues and the role of the implementer. While Tadlock et al. 2005, focused on power devolution and leadership issues, our study focused largely on policy implementation issues. Implementation issues concerning MGNREGA have been largely ignored barring a few studies mentioned earlier. A 'hands off' attitude of policy designers leads to almost no importance accorded to the implementers, assigning them to the background as administers, akin to 'cogs in wheels' (Nakamura and Smallwood, 1980), expected to do their jobs mechanically. However, an implementer's attitude, vision and creativity in implementing a scheme can lift a mediocre one to excellence or mar a well-designed policy. Thus this article focuses on implementation issues and anchors on the role of implementing officers of MGNREGA.
The study was conducted in three steps and crossed over three disciplines; qualitative, ethnographic and empirical. The first qualitative step focused on policy implementation literature and helped to unravel constructs and variables from extant policy implementation literature which were used to develop a conceptual quantitative model, the MGNREGA Implementation Factor Model (MIFM) and the questionnaire to be used for primary data collection. Though very robust and extensive, implementation and policy process research has been largely western in its outlook (Araral and Amri, 2016). This presented the first challenge; to ordain variables from literature with western sensibilities and to test it in Indian surroundings. Ethnographic study, the second step of the research, involved visits to the Director in-charge of MGNREGA implementation in TamilNadu, Block Development Officers, Village Panchayat Presidents, beneficiaries and a small sample of rural non-beneficiaries of the scheme. This culminated with visits to the MGNREGA worksite in TamilNadu. Additional interviews were also conducted with subject and domain experts. This step helped to align the questionnaire to Indian titles and governance organizations and to understand the context of stakeholders in MGNREGA implementation process. It also led to the identification of the BDO as the unit of analysis and provided qualitative data for analysis later (in the section titled "Goal Alignment, Implementers and Implementation: The Disconnect"). The third and last step yielded the statistical output for inferential and model fit validation of this research. The contribution of this paper is based on the primary data collected in the third step of the study, and the empirical and qualitative implications drawn from that data. Primary data collected was analysed by combining a factor and path analysis technique, an extension of the generalized linear model called the Structural Equation Model (SEM) (Kline, 2011). SEM's advantage over other traditional regression techniques is that it offers to test multiple dependent variables and explains many relationships through model building (Hair et al. 2006) and leads to discovery of significant paths of the model (Bollen, 1989). The process is explained in Figure 1.
Unit of Analysis: The Implementer
Individual officers translate the behavior of the organization by performing on its behalf. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the 'individual views on issues will be a function of their organization roles' (Ring and van de Ven, 1994). Individual officers occupying 'important (strategic) positions would be more knowledgeable about the strategic aspects of inter organizational exchange relationships' (Paulraj et al. 2008).
As a part of second stage of study, an in-depth interview with the Director-in-charge of MGNREGA Implementation, Department of Rural Development (DoRD), TamilNadu revealed that the Project Director at the District level and the Program Officer at the Block level were the conduit point of the top down and bottom up implementation. The Program Officers provide the actual administration and consolidate the planning exercise undertaken by the Gram Sabha at the individual village level. Their importance in unraveling policy instructions to the village level administrators and directing information upwards to district level officers is important to MGNREGA implementation and rests on the networks that they build. To arrive at an impartial selection of the implementing officer to be the pivot point of this study, an initial assumption was made that MGNREGA implementation success depended on the ingenuity of the Village Panchayat President (VPP) and his networking with the authorities and his knowledge of local issues. Hence, three VPP's were interviewed and the observations noted. Focus interviews were also conducted with five BDO's; two face to face interviews in TamilNadu, a telephonic interview with one BDO's from Bihar and three BDO's from Punjab answered questions sent through emails. From this exercise the following could be gleaned: The Project Directors at the District level were providing the macro-managerial view but were not overseeing the day to day implementation. The post of Program Officer at the block level was either not created or not staffed in the blocks of TamilNadu. At the block level, the day to day implementation was being taken care of and overseen by the Block Development Officer. The Village Panchayat Presidents did not have much clarity and were simply following orders from the block officers.
Thus these interviews amply demonstrated that Block officers were indeed in charge of MGNREGA implementation and in control of the day to day administration of the scheme and were adjudged to be the pivot point of implementation. Taking forward the concept of 'key informant as sources of data as standard practice in strategic management research' (Venkatraman and Ramanujam, 1986), this study relied on the BDO as the key informant to provide responses to the survey items.
This entire exercise also led to some modification of the survey instrument. A very important outcome of the field visits and interviews with the BDO's was the alignment of the key variables of this study to the policy implementation literature. Since it was understood that the data was going to come from the rural implementers with vastly different viewpoints from the western literature, it was considered imperative that the variables were understood by them. The variables were thus identified by the BDO's and used in the questionnaire. Further, this process and analysis lead to the identification of a construct heading 'Administration factors' to encapsulate implementers accountability, power devolution to the implementer and process clarity to the implementer, as seen fit in categorizing the variables given the job specifications of the BDO's. In addition, the personal views of the implementers were also solicited by an in depth question section where they could share their experiences. This yielded information on which the section titled "Goal Alignment, Implementation and Implementers: The Disconnect", of this paper is based.
Data collection was facilitated by the Department of Rural Development, Government of India. The final questionnaire was administered to the 389 BDOs in 31 districts of TamilNadu implementing the MGNREGA. According to Hair et al. (2006), adequate sample size requires a minimum of 5 cases for every item. Since the final scale had 45 items the study required a sample of 225 cases. Of the 389 questionnaires administered and returned, 311responses were complete in all aspects. The response rate was recorded at 80% (311/389). Thus, non-respondent bias was ruled out. Additionally, the initial 110 responses were put through statistical tests to re-establish validity of the constructs. The statistical tests substantially validated the constructs. Analysis on which conclusions of the study are drawn is from the entire sample of 311 responses.
Demographics of the Implementer: the Block Development Officers
The age profile of the 311 block level implementers (BDOs) sampled ranged from 38 to 58 years. 92% were locally domiciled from the blocks. 78% of the BDOs were male. 76% of the local domiciled were males. 14% of the BDO's have a master's degree, 60% of the male BDO have a bachelor's degree, and the remaining 26% have a high school diploma. Whereas, 1% of women BDO's have a master's, 65% a bachelor's degree and 34% have a high school education. The average experience of the BDOs was found to be between 2-3 years, with about 35% of the BDOs having one year of experience.
The interviews conducted with the implementers yielded a perception of the state of TamilNadu slowly turning into a welfare state, given the slew of schemes for the poor doled out by the various local governments in power. Additionally, a study on efficiency benchmarking of MGNREGA implementing states showcased 16 efficient states, one among which was the southern state of TamilNadu (Natesan and Marathe, 2015a). This paved the way for conducting primary data analysis in TamilNadu.
After a small pilot study, the questionnaire was administered to the 389 BDOs of the 31 districts of TamilNadu implementing the MGNREGA. Of the 389 questionnaire administered, 311 responses were returned, complete in all aspects and the response rate was recorded at 80%.
The Model and Statistical Inference
Aligning policy implementation literature (Natesan and Marathe, 2015b) to MGNREGA implementation, the variables adopted for this study were 'administrative factors', 'governance factors', resources, planning understanding, planning adequacy and strategic communication. Administrative factors encapsulated accountability of the implementer, the perceived power under his/her control and understanding of the process of implementation. Workload and attitude were assigned as 'Governance factors'. This factor measured the vision of the implementer and empathy for the beneficiary. Planning measured the understanding of the local area requirements by the implementer and its adequacy in arranging the works to be done on a day to day basis. The importance of networks in implementation has been the subject matter of much research (O'Toole, 2000; Lecy et al. 2014). The demographics of the implementer and implementation networks were built into the model to understand their moderating effect on MGNREGA implementation (Tadlock et al. 2005).The selection of the outcome variables was done to assess the impact of the MGNREGA as a catalyst; a change agent, in transforming the lives, the livelihood and the ecology of the villages upon implementation. As such socio-economic, infrastructural and environmental factors capture those trends. Figure 2 presents the conceptual MGNREGA Implementation Factor Model (MIFM).
The data collected was sufficiently supported by statistical tests and results obtained validated the model on which the findings of this paper are anchored. The ratio of CMIN/DF (Chi square test statistic/ degrees of freedom) was 2.34; less than 3.0, the recommended value for a model fit to data (Hair et al. 2006). Other values CFI=0.960, GFI=0.945, RMSEA=0.079, RMR=0.016, were also within acceptable deemed values (Chin, 1988; Hooper et al. 2008). Thus the statistical values mentioned above indicated model validity. Additionally, administration [[beta]=0.65, p<.01 (*)) and resources ([beta]=0.222, p<.05 (**)) were found to be statistically significant to the BDO's in the implementation of MGNREGA. Here [beta] measures the significant of the path in the SEM analysis.
Implementers, Implementation and the State.
The study statistically determined that in the state of TamilNadu the age of the implementer (age group of 50-55 years) positively affects implementation. Table 1 depicts normalized strength of association between two variables (only when the statistically significant associations are mentioned). Older implementers' effect on administrative factors was significant as was the impact on planning adequacy, thus implying that that older implementers affect planning adequacy and administrative factors more. Gender (male) effect on administrative factors was significant and was found to be the highest among the moderators studied. Education however, has a limited affect localized to planning adequacy. Domicile has a small yet significant effect on planning understanding and resources, and affects administration factors the most. Time (in years) spent in a block significantly affect implementation outcome and experience of the implementer affects the planning adequacy significantly. It was also found that networks affect planning understanding.
Administrative factors are significantly affected by age, gender and domicile. Domicile was considered to mean the permanent place of residence. In a society still governed by caste and creed, local domicile of the implementer and the understanding of local requirements and the empathy it creates are sharply visible. Older, local and male implementers, with perhaps increased understanding of the requirements and the process, coupled with personal responsibility, intuitively control implementation better. Though there is a moderating effect of education (bachelor's degree) and experience (less than 2 years), the most important significant effect on planning adequacy is from gender (male). Interestingly, planning understanding is moderated by domicile and networks, leading us to conclude that perhaps a local implementer understands the requirements of his block and is able to work through the networks and with other top and bottom level implementers to get the 'shelf of projects' in order.
Thus, the following trends appear in the southern state of TamilNadu: administrative factors are affected by age, gender, domicile and experience of the implementer; planning adequacy is affected by age, education and experience of the implementer; planning understanding is affected by domicile and networks; and resources are affected by domicile and years of domicile.
It was empirically found (Table 2) that the scheme has a significant impact on socio-economic outcomes (0.58), the environmental outcomes (.72) and infrastructural outcomes (.82). This is a positive re-affirmation of the scheme impact on the objectives set by the government. It also validates this study's variables and larger hypothesis of inputs positively affecting the outcomes. The trends in socio-economic outcomes have further shown that MGNREGA does indeed 'provide a safety net' for rural households, one of its major objectives.
IMPLEMENTATION OUTCOMES AND ANALYSIS
The announcement and implementation of MGNREGA changed welfare from entitlements to work. Unlike other schemes, the onus was placed on 'bottom-up' governance of 'top-down' policies thus creating a democratic form of implementation. However, rural economies face challenges far removed from those faced by urban centers and dealing with a low base effect require more robust and far sighted implementation methods. This section presents the analysis of the factors important to the BDO's in the implementation of MGNREGA.
The output supported the significance of administrative factors--accountability, power devolution and process clarity on implementation. The BDOs implementing MGNREGA in TamilNadu seemed very cognizant of the expectations placed on them and their interpretation of the factors that they hold important to implementation.
Accountability was characterized by tracking funds usage and return, ensuring audits and monitoring worksite timings. 67% of the BDOs strongly agreed that tracking funds was an important factor in implementation. 72% strongly agreed to the importance of monitoring worksite and its timings in implementation. 64% of BDOs surveyed strongly agreed that vigilance and social audits are done on time, and 79% strongly agreed that unutilized funds were routinely returned. 69% of the BDOs strongly agreed that beneficiaries routinely complete 100 days of work, an important requirement of the scheme.
Power devolution as envisioned by the policy designers, moved much of the responsibility of the finer details of implementation to the mid- and street-level implementers, i.e., the Blocks, Gram Panchayats and the Gram Sabhas. Power devolution was characterized by fiercely defending the scheme and maintaining its outcomes. It also placed the burden of understanding the requirements arising from the new legislation of policy and hence its implementation on the BDO's. 75% of the BDO's surveyed, supported the MGNREGA legislation and the shared responsibility of its implementation. However, only half of them liked the new authority it gave them. This in part can be explained by the underlying factor of extra work involved. 63% of the BDOs' surveyed viewed their inability to override the decisions regarding 'measurement of work' undertaken by the 'Junior Engineers'; the junior officers evaluating the physical outcomes, as contrary to the requirements of power devolution.
The ability to implement is also interrupted by the time given to learn new processes and the understanding of accountability required from the BDO. 55% of the BDO's surveyed described the process of implementation as smooth, while 76% strongly agreed that they exercised control over the general direction of implementation. Process clarity for the implementer is of paramount importance. 81% of the surveyed BDO's help the beneficiaries to obtain unemployment benefits and register complaints using the process provided.
Overall, the result points to the importance implementers give to good administration. The ability to be in control of implementation and take decisions suited for making spot decisions based on local area requirements seem an important requirement of the officer. In context of the rural areas where the BDO is stationed, it also shows the importance that this factor brings with it to the job and the power it creates. Process clarity further brings benefits to the beneficiaries and enhances the prestige value of their implementer's position. In addition, since the majority (90%) of the BDO's have local domicile, this importance translates into empathy for the local and hence, known beneficiaries. This could also hint at subtle targeting and selection of beneficiaries. BDO's viewed their loyalty to beneficiaries and integrity to fund management and adherence to process as important. However, their hesitation in taking independent decisions to exercise autonomy affects implementation, specifically in situations where spot decision making is important.
Defined operationally as consisting of workload and attitude of the implementer, governance factors were not found to be significant to the implementer. Of the BDO's surveyed, 66% agreed that MGNREGA was a difficult scheme to implement. However, they saw themselves as followers of the order in letter and spirit rather than leaders of implementation. Workload and attitude of the implementers can go a long way in affecting implementation. 49% of the BDO's disagreed with the hypothesis that increased work load affected implementation, 48% did not want more help in implementing the scheme while 42% of the BDOs' surveyed strongly agreed to being tired of implementation. 55% of the respondents strongly rejected ever diverting from stated policy to achieve results. Surveyed BDO's strongly disagreed that the beneficiaries were lazy (56%) and put the reasons to them being old and therefore unproductive (60%). With around 90% of the BDO's having local domicile, this empathy for the beneficiary is not surprising. 78% of the BDO's reported that they go out of their way to make sure that benefits reached the beneficiaries.
77% of the BDO's did not agree that workload affected implementation. This is perhaps reflective of the cultural mindset of the respondents and one reason could be existence of power circles and the 'perceived inefficiency' in the immediate supervisor's eyes of the BDO's ability were they to have this perception. This significantly contributes to our governance factors being not accepted as contributory to implementation impact.
The structural bottlenecks experienced by rural areas preclude welfare from being effective--the biggest bottleneck being planning. Planning was studied as planning understanding and adequacy. Though both are extremely important in policy implementation and outcomes literature (Najam, 1995) they have come up statistically insignificant in this study.Only 45% of the BDO opined that the local issues were not understood in planning the projects while 48% of the respondents strongly agreed to the importance of the local issues in planning. Over all, there was a clear agreement among the surveyed BDO's that work required for MGNREGA's implementation was adequately planned. However, looking at the numbers emanating from the variable 'planning understanding', 63% strongly agreed to being active in local economic development planning, 42% of them found the time given for planning sufficient. In a question that centered on the adequacy of planning, half of the BDO's strongly agreed to its importance. Further 50%, 53% and 58% strongly agreed that work planned incorporated flexibility, planning was controlled by Gram Sabha and that the state policy makers understood the 'local area needs' of the TamilNadu districts, respectively. The implementers' indecisiveness to accord importance to planning has been one puzzling aspect of this study. However there are two points to ponder over:
* There is a majority of BDO's (50%+) who do think that planning issues are important.
* The qualitative responses point out to 'dilution of authority and control over planning' of the 'shelf of works' for the scheme as the 'biggest bottlenecks' to implementation.
Clearly, the BDO's claim of 'local area needs' of the rural sector of TamilNadu not being understood by state and central planners does hold firm.
Surprisingly, networks are significant only to planning understanding. Once again this, perhaps, highlights the low degree of importance assigned to networks in the implementation process. Given that literature is replete with use of governance networks in successful implementation of large scale projects (Lecy et al.2014; Natesan and Marathe, 2015b), it is strange that MGNREGA operating through one of the biggest public administration networks, is not using them adequately to get better implementation and thus an efficient impact of such an ambitious scheme.
Resources for the scheme have been dedicated and are significant on the implementation of the scheme (0.22). Being a scheme with budgeted financial resources, BDO's agree to returning unutilized funds. Half of the BDO's put personnel, management of information systems and technical knowledge of the implementation process as strongly important to implementation. 80% of the BDO's ascribe financial responsibility as the most important factor important to implementation. The process of implementation also ensures that unspent funds are returned as part of the accountability of the BDO's.
However, the issues obviously go beyond financial outlays and accountability and require a closer look at the pace of fund utilization and the leakages to the system, if any. Additionally, BDO's want the post of Program Officer created for MGNREGA implementation to be filled in and the quality of Management Information Systems (MIS) for the manpower resources to be improved.
Strategic communication, an important policy implementation variable in the literature, has also tested as not significant to MGNREGA implementation in our statistical analyses. On a closer look, 97% of the respondents claimed to communicate information on setting up of the worksites with the beneficiaries on a timely basis. Though strategic communication should definitely expect to test significant on the implementation of the scheme, it perhaps is indicative of the dissemination of worksite information by people known to supervisors (street level implementers). Field trip interviews with the supervisors of the work sites bear testimony to the fact that they control who gets to know about the work site. This, once again, could also be a subtle indication of targeting of the scheme. Other factors that may have affected the result could be the diffidence and hesitation on the part of the respondent of the survey to share information which they perceive to be 'in conflict' with higher authority. Probably a more structural reason could also be that using Western policies processes and their implementation theories may not be prudent in countries with and democratic processes grappling with 'constitutional choice processes' (O'Toole, 1994).
GOAL ALIGNMENT, IMPLEMENTATION AND IMPLEMENTERS: THE DISCONNECT
The decision to enact yet another welfare scheme was met with resistance by the three tier rural administrative system. To the already overworked implementer, MGNREGA implementation was an additional responsibility and work load. The challenges faced by the implementer converged (as recorded by the percentages), even though the respondents were divided by geographical boundaries of districts and blocks. A study of these challenges helped to understand the BDO's perspective. The challenges require a great deal of thought and perhaps a change in the policy design. However, this is out of scope of context of this study.
Block officers understand the importance of this scheme yet feel helpless and constrained in their ability to implement it. Though administrative, field and technical training was provided to a majority of implementers, there are some who were either left out or chose not to participate and therefore do not feel in control of the process of implementation. Effective training before appointment to the post of officers in charge of implementation would help tremendously.
A large number of implementers expressed empathy for the beneficiaries based on same local domicile. This empathy translated into keeping a benign eye on the old and women beneficiaries of the scheme. However, BDO's also agreed to certain weariness from implementing the scheme. Assurance of work for the old people of a village allows them to join the work force, but brings productivity down. Supervisors find it very difficult to extract work from such beneficiaries. Many BDO's agreed that the age of the beneficiary hindered implementation.
There was confusion expressed over the interaction and communication between the different levels of implementers resulting in information not flowing from the center to state. The BDO's also expressed displeasure over changes in guidelines not being reported to the Blocks. This, as expected, led to differential implementation giving rise to an unknown 'black-box' of implementation (Thomson and Perry, 2006). Field interviews support this viewpoint.
"As there are many processes, it requires more transparency and strict adherence to rules."--MGNREGA Official, TamilNadu.
Populated by too many stakeholders on the implementer's side, MGNREGA has become a policy whose implementation process and approvals go through many layers and power circles. Though it is understandable that a policy commanding such huge resources should have many checks and balances, it can also be counter argued that this clutters the process and leads to sluggish implementation as both fatigue and ennui sets in.
"Only BDO's should implement the scheme, it will be a success under them. They have the patience to talk to the beneficiaries about what is expected out of them. "- MGNREGA Official, TamilNadu.
'It lights up the life of the rural poor'; the reason for MGNREGA given as providing dignity through work was not understood by all, though they came close in identifying the scheme as being pro-poor aiming at rural poverty reduction. Other reasons given were to 'prevent migration,' 'create durable assets,' 'empower rural women,' and 'a totally political one,' yet the main objective of 'moving welfare from handouts to right to work' was missed by almost all. This perhaps is a worrisome point, because if the implementer is not aware of the 'why' then the 'how' may not follow smoothly. Without adequate power in the hands of the implementers creativity in implementing the MGNREGA seems a substantial step forward. Officers however, concur that the beneficiaries border on being unproductive and that the increased work load affects their performance. "People want to work less and earn more; they should realize that if the scheme is withdrawn then they alone will be losers." BDO- TamilNadu.
With regard to the perception of the implementer as to who and what was negatively affected by the scheme, the answers were unanimously 'agricultural productivity due to shortage of labor'. Those near commercial centers also surmised that the shortage of labor due to MGNREGA implementation had affected industrial production. Among the positive impacts, the implementers cited land development and improved water storage as primary with improved economic condition of rural women and child health taking a close second position. Some asset creation on the rural landscape, better child health, and lower school dropout rates was also noted with positivity.
On the supply of labor, by the beneficiaries of the scheme, the BDO's felt that the outcomes of the scheme were impacted as the work was found to be too tedious at the prevailing wage rates. Since the MGNREGA plantation work could take up to three years to complete, implementers report a growing sense of boredom on the part of the beneficiary in completing the work. Citing too much pressure to implement from the top with no initiatives for local implementation, the scheme according to some was fast becoming a 'target satisfying' one.
A majority of BDO's reported that they did not deviate from stated policy to achieve results. A repeated observation of many implementers was the disregard shown by policy framers for local issues and requirements. With very specific guidelines, there isno flexibility in implementation. Work selection should be made area specific to bring into prominence local area requirements. The responding officers want importance assigned to local micro level selection of work.
"Local area issues should be addressed; guidelines are general but there is too much pressure to perform. " - BDO, TamilNadu.
"The policy makers should study the difficulties, problems and needs of every village at grass root level before implementing project or scheme. "- BDO, TamilNadu.
"The success of the scheme depends upon the guidance of the government. "- BDO, TamilNadu.
With missing focus and no attention to monitoring, MGNREGA is being bundled with many other schemes for implementation. However, higher program outcomes with other schemes are not taking place and since it was getting spread over many layers, there is no motivation to improve it. Insisting on transparency of implementation also was reported as a major factor for implementation breakdown. Additionally, missing attention to planning is a basic problem with the scheme with most of the implementing officers unhappy with the way the scheme was being planned and administered. It was felt that village committees should participate in the planning of the shelf of work for the MGNREGA along with the Gram Sabhas as well monitor the maintenance of the finished projects.
"Micro level planning is needed and should be contextual from state, to district to village. " - District Project Director, TamilNadu.
"A big problem is no regard for specific planning and no planning for maintenance of assets created under MGNREGA."-District Program Director, TamilNadu.
Accountability and power devolution were found to be important in implementation.
"There are approximately 18,000 MGNREGA worksites operational in TamilNadu on any given day; this requires a great deal of administrative and planning effort and an efficient MIS reporting system for proper documentation of the beneficiaries." -Director of Rural Development, in-charge of MGNREGA, TamilNadu.
MGNREGA designed as a democratic scheme, aimed to be a synthesis of Top Down and Bottom Up policy. However, this study has revealed it to be more of a 'top-down' scheme. Policy directives come from the top and the mid-level and street level implementers fulfill those directives. There is a big need for power-devolution to be passed on to the implementers so as to take 'local area requirement' requirements into account. This also adversely affects the flow of communication between the networks and organizations and the officers manning them. The implementing agencies are the state and local rural bodies. Multiple organizational bodies combined with the complicated process of implementation along with the existence of power circles are being used as an excuse to follow top -down directives instead of taking the initiative to monitor and implement better.
"Implementation is spread over many layers and no one has the motivation to improve it. "- BDO, TamilNadu.
Implementing networks are not clear and lack of process clarity compounds the problem even more. The mindset of the implementer is still synchronized to following orders and obeying a chain of command. Fractured networks do indicate that this chain is perhaps not the best conduit for creativity in implementation.
"MGNREGA is bunched up with many others for implementing, yet convergence is not happening. (Due to this), it also does not get the importance it deserves. "--District Project Director, MGNREGA, TamilNadu.
LESSONS FROM MGNREGA IMPLEMENTATION
Despite the fact that BDO's are crucial in implementation, not much focus has been directed at them. They have reacted and voiced their opinions in many ways. Some have taken the challenge to provide the best implementation for their block while others have carried out their work with a sense of resignation. The extent to which the BDO's understand the design and welfare measures affects the implementation process which can drastically alter the lives of many. The implementers are aware of the problems and have pragmatic solutions to offer.
The message that the officers want to share with the policy makers and designers runs along expected lines. To start with, since MGNREGA guidelines insisted on hundred percent labor powered projects, not only do they become unproductive (cleared land run over by weeds and bush in a matter of months), but they also impact on availability of labor for other sectors of the rural and semi-urban economy. The implementers want the labor component reduced and the material component increased to seventy percent from the current forty percent.
In the context of labor and the difficulty of work, the implementers also want to increase the daily wage rates, reduce the quantum of work and let the work requirements be less stringent in scope though exact in measurement. To implement with certainty, the implementing officer needs to understand the process and handle the impediments of structural bottlenecks. Both these requires a greater commitment than is present currently. Concurrent to the number of days worked and wages earned, the implementing officers also want to reassess the Below Poverty Line (BPL) beneficiaries to implement the policy efficiently. Other suggestions that have been made and which point to the contextual factors that may improve implementation include: scrapping unemployment allowance; improving the interaction between the administrators and beneficiaries; better and more efficient monitoring; extending the scheme to poor and marginal farmers and their land; and removing targets for enrolment as it makes the scheme a waste of money since all and sundry of the village are enrolled for the sake of numbers.
The mid-level implementer requirements for implementation point to a strong and deep desire to hold a leadership position with actual transfer and devolution of power. Mid-level implementing officers' clamor for leadership can be analyzed through the importance given to accountability and thus power devolution, as a significant factor in implementation in this study. The implementers are hesitant to take independent decisions and exercise autonomy in implementation. "Needs local thinking and a conscious and responsible officer willing to take decisions. " - MGNREGA Officer, TamilNadu.
The perception of legislation of MGNREGA being created for political purposes has been gaining ground. On the policy designer's side, it should result in greater commitment to local planning, needs and local administrators, and on the implementer's side a commitment to carry out the policy's vision and implement it in letter and spirit.
The requirement of a good strong leader to implement a scheme carrying forth the vision as envisioned by the policy framers seems the most important factor that is inhibiting implementation. In the end, the implementers themselves appropriate the blame, if any of the lackadaisical performance at their own doorsteps by factoring in the integrity of the implementer as the most important requirement for successful implementation. To sum up, local area planning, flexibility in following guidelines and effective power devolution to the implementing officer are factors that complement policy implementation.
This research documented (state level) implementation evaluation using a conceptual model based on policy implementation literature. This has provided a platform on which to present holistic findings on the implementation challenges in a standalone sample showcasing the factors important to the implementer. This platform lends itself for deployment in any local area and will align local Indian policy implementation challenges with the broader implementation literature. It will also provide local contextual factors and help to design better policies in the future. The research led to the assessment of demographic factors as being important to implementation wherein male implementers were found to implement the schemes better in of TamilNadu. In addition to bringing to forefront the growing need to understand the social and gender inequality that still persist in Indian villages and find ways to break the logjam, this finding also highlights the need to perhaps provide better training to the female implementers. In addition, there must be a focused effort to increase the number of implementers. The position of Program Officer, created at the block level, should be staffed quickly. The insights obtained from the survey research can be imparted to the officers' incharge of implementation through proper training and will facilitate and strengthen program delivery. At the same time, deployment of new Program Officers will free the BDOs for other work issues. Increased staffing must definitely be accompanied by adequate power devolution to ensure a higher level of outcomes.
This study has also highlighted the inadequate use of networks to implement MGNREGA. To make it a truly democratic scheme, the accent should shift from top down instructions to building 'collaborative networks' (Thomson and Perry, 2006). Collaborations between implementers at different levels will encourage team building spirit and oneness of ownership of the implementation results.
Program administrators and designers should appreciate local area problems and needs, tailoring prescriptions appropriately. Resources allocated for work should include implementer training in addition to implementation costs. Central government should encourage utilization of regional resources.
LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY
With governments assuming social responsibility of their populations, policy making and implementation are here to stay. Governmental directives are supplanting the invisible hand of the market with visible hands of both micro and macro policy. Policy implementation research seems to be gaining a similar momentum. Being a rather new area of research in MGNREGA, this study faced the following limitations. Firstly, the empirical results are based on data provided by BDO's. The inherent bias in reporting positive results and the bigger problem of power circles influencing responses can prejudice results. However, this is a minor limitation as data was collected on the condition of maintaining the anonymity of the respondent. A second limitation arose from the survey being carried out only in the blocks of TamilNadu. Though, doing a comparative study on two or more states would definitely have added rigor to the research, this is also a minor limitation as the variables for the study were obtained from policy implementation literature.
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SARABJEET DHODY NATESAN
S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research Mumbai, India
RAHUL R MARATHE
Indian Institute of Technology Madras Chennai, India
Table 1 Significant association amongst study variables Variables and Age(50- Gender Education Paths 55) (Male) (Bachelor) Domicile Admin Fac. 0.661 0.918 - 0.708 Planning Adequacy impact 0.317 - 0.368 - on implementation Plan Understanding - - - 0.177 impact on implementation Resource impact on implementation - - - 0.228 Yrs of Variables and Domicile Experience Paths (40 (< 2 years) Networks years) Admin Fac. - 0.014 - Planning Adequacy impact - 0.765 - on implementation Plan Understanding - - 0.414 impact on implementation Resource impact on implementation 0.549 - - Blank cells represent a weak association between the two variables. Table 2 Parametric estimates: Standard regression weights Paths (outcome variables) [beta] Estimate p value Socio-economic outcomes 0.580 (***) Infrastructural Outcomes 0.820 (***) Environmental Outcomes 0.720 (***) (***) Significant at p<.001
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|Author:||Natesan, Sarabjeet Dhody; Marathe, Rahul R.|
|Publication:||Public Administration Quarterly|
|Date:||Dec 21, 2017|
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