Meeting report of a webinar to discuss the Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy 2020.
A webinar was organised by the Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on the latest science document policy, the Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy 2020 (STIP 2020) on 11th March, 2021. The idea behind the meeting was twofold: to understand how practicing scientists and science studies scholars saw the policy and to use some principles of policy research to help students and researchers read and interpret a science policy document.
Prof. Dhruv Raina from JNU, in his opening remarks, emphasised the need to see the STIP 2020 in tandem with the National Educational Policy 2020 (NEP). Both policies pertain to the landscape of research and knowledge production and communication, and hence it would be important to see how the policy recommendations of one interlink with that of the other. Before the presentation by practicing scientists, Prof. Rajeswari Raina from Shiv Nadar University discussed how a policy document can be read: a ‘policy document’ being only one of nine ways to change policy. A positivist reading of the policy document entails checking for the conventional components (the policy goal, choice of policy instrument(s) and the policy implementation mechanisms), and identifying when, by whom and how it is produced. Even by a (Lasswellian) post-positivist reading, it is not enough to distinguish between the policy process and policy intelligence parts of the document, or explore how the contextual-configurative analysis of the policy problem/solution is presented, because these do not reveal the ideological or political choices underlying the policy process. When reading a science policy document, an ‘interpretive policy analysis’ framework helps us to check for reflection and learning. Here, the practitioners/scientists are already governed by the internal norms of institutions of science. In addition, there are the institutions of development and other pragmatic pressures that shape policy processes and policy intelligence. The reader of the document must ask ‘how the document does what it does’; seek the explicit and implicit values/ideologies that lie behind the assumptions and recommendations evident in the document.
The discussion that followed this presentation was chaired by Prof. Dinesh Abrol from Institute for Studies in Industrial Development/JNU. Prof Abrol’s recent commentary on the STIP 2020 was circulated to all the participants (Abrol, 2021) and formed a sort of focal point for the ensuing discussion. The first speaker was Prof. L. S. Shashidhara from IISER Pune/Ashoka University. In his presentation, he said that the STIP 2020 is not a perfect document and there are many shortcomings. He himself was involved in the process that led to the drafting of the document. He pointed out that, while a lot of the state funding for science is focussed on short-term deliverables, the focus group’s discussion on the theme of ‘Governance’, sought to find a way to smoothen the many bureaucratic hurdles that influence long term science policy goals. He pointed out that the document does not have any implementation strategy and that one of the reasons why science policy does not receive attention is because science is not a priority for the political class.
Prof. Sneha Sudha Komath from JNU spoke next. She made it clear that she is speaking as a stakeholder of the policy and at the outset identified the positive changes the document seeks to bring about like spousal hiring, tackling fake journals, inclusivity etc. But she pointed out that there was a marked shift in focus from discovery and invention to innovation in the document. The future of science research in the policy was purported to produce marketable products and research would have to be tailored towards innovation. She also pointed out that the document had no clear indication where the funding for research would come from and the only place where there was clarity on funding was on research which would lead to ‘S&T enabled entrepreneurship’. The shifting of ends towards entrepreneurship, she said, would mean that more and more funding would come from the private sector and as someone who is based in a public university this was a worrisome sign.
Prof. N. Raguram from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University was the next speaker and he argued that the distinction that is being made in the policy document between the funding of pure and applied research is unclear and meaningless since the overall state funding for science is very low. He also raised concerns about the timing of the policy, saying that we are living through a pandemic and there was no reason to hurry through with a policy at this point in time. He pointed out that while the document raises the issue of atmanirbhar, curiously enough, there is no discussion about the public sector. The final speaker was Prof. Arvind from IISER Mohali who made it clear that his views were those of a practicing scientist. He said that he would have liked to see how the document views science, technology and innovation both as distinct entities and their interconnectedness. He felt that the document is not sensitive to the diverse structures existing in Indian society. Nevertheless, he felt, a policy document ought to address four issues- the Indian reality, S&T community, Industry and Diversity. Pointing to another lacuna, he said the term atmanirbhar keeps coming up in the document but there is no elaboration as to what it actually means. Even though traditional knowledge systems are mentioned, again there is no elaboration of the concept. He concluded by identifying the need for deeper reflection into concepts like sustainability, which are also connected to questions of economic policy.
After the four presentations, there were two short responses by research scholars. The first was from Dr. Abhishek Lakkad from Central University of Gujrat who reflected upon the presentations and argued that the STIP 2020 voices many goals and aspirations but is silent on the implementation and evaluation of measures taken. He also linked it with the presentation on how to read a policy document. The second response was from Nistha Bharati from IIT Delhi who opted to use the framework of `future making’ from within science and technology studies to understand the STIP 2020. She argued that within the document the future is articulated with a sense of optimism to create a particular scientific and technological trajectory without any commitment to define priorities and without specifying mechanisms to do so. The document she argued stayed away from a reflective assessment of the past while at the same time was trying to remove past obstacles to issues of inclusivity and equity.
The meeting ended on a note to deepen the discussion of the document in the future by focussing on some of the points raised here in tandem with related themes impacting scientific research and higher education from the NEP 2020. Furthermore, drawing more scientists, science studies scholars as well as those involved in policy research into the debate would enrich our understanding of the long-term consequences of the STIP 2020.
Abrol, Dinesh, ‘Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy 2020: Neither Transformational, Nor National’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 56, Issue No. 6, 06 Feb, 2021
Siddharth Gautam is a Research Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Ritesh Gupta is a Research Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Omprasad is a Post Doctoral Fellow at Gujarat Institute of Development Research, Ahmedabad.
Update: This article was was updated on 17-April-2021 to correct a typo in the spelling of the name of Dr Abhishek Lakkad.