Arunachal Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Maharashtra, Nagaland.
At first glance, there is not much that seems common to these states. However, each of them is experimenting with a governance model that holds the potential to bolster state capacity significantly.
All these states are running a Chief Minister’s Fellowship that engages young professionals to work with the bureaucracy to support research and/or implement the state government’s priorities.
The truth is that starting a fellowship is easy, but a lot goes into making them effective and outcome-oriented. Over the last few years, several fellowships such as those in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh have had to be discontinued. Even if one were to test existing fellowships on actual outcomes, few would stand up to scrutiny.
The Chief Minister’s Good Governance Associates (CMGGA) Programme, a collaboration between the government of Haryana and Ashoka University, co-designed and co-managed by Samagra, is currently in its fourth year and stands out as a successful state fellowship programme.
The increasing popularity of state fellowships
What has spurred the growing popularity of fellowships across Indian states?
First, many chief ministers see value in engaging young qualified professionals with the governance process given the skills and perspective they bring with them. Second, these professionals can work directly with the district and block level administration and support them, a part of the government machinery that faces significant capacity constraints. Lastly, running a fellowship also lends state governments the reputation of having a positive, forward-looking perspective on governance and administration.
On the demand side, the buzz around public policy has generated significant interest among graduates and post-graduates to work with central and state governments. It’s an attractive career path. Additionally, fellowships are a unique opportunity to work with the system for those who are either undecided or don’t want to go through the traditional Civil Services route.
Why some fellowships fail
So, what determines the success of a fellowship?
First and most critical is how well the fellows get embedded in the administration. If they are seen as ‘outsiders’, working in parallel rather than in conjunction with the machinery, they cannot be effective. They will have restricted access to information, resources and a difficult working relationship with government officials. Ensuring the entire system, from the state leadership to block level officers, see them as a useful resource, requires the visible backing of the chief minister with appropriate messaging.
Second, many fellowships flounder because they are not designed and structured to provide fellows specific objectives to chase. Many times, after the fellows are recruited, it is left to the government official and the fellows to figure out what the latter’s role should be. Given that government officials are already inundated with responsibilities, they have little or no bandwidth to work with the fellow. In such cases, the fellows either end up doing nothing or acting as assistants to the official, carrying out largely unproductive tasks.
A third related factor is the absence of strong mentorship and support mechanisms. The government machinery is complex. Without adequate guidance and handholding, the fellowship experience can quickly become frustrating and demotivating.
The CMGGA programme
The CMGGA programme in Haryana recruits 22 young professionals every year and places them in the 22 districts of the state to drive the CM’s priorities. Applicants go through a rigorous, four-step selection process including interviews by a panel of academicians, consultants and practitioners.
The programme has a two-tiered structure. At the state level, there is a programme team that works with relevant government departments to implement the CM’s priorities and manage the associates. The associates themselves work at the district level with the deputy commissioner, or DC (referred to as district collector in some states). From the government side, the Fellowship is overseen by a project director, who is a senior IAS officer in the Chief Minister’s Office.
The year-long fellowship follows a pre-defined curriculum of sorts. In the first few weeks, the programme team works with the project director to identify key governance challenges that need to be solved on a priority basis during the year. The programme team then does preliminary research and diagnosis based on interactions with principal secretaries of various departments. Next, a diagnostic module for CMGGAs is rolled out. Fellows are expected to do a detailed diagnosis of the problem by shadowing citizens, analysing relevant data sources and talking to officials at district and block levels. Information collected by all CMGGAs is collated and a state-level synthesis is done.
Next, recommendations to be made to the chief minister are drafted. After a consultation with the CM, the team gets into implementation mode. At the district level, CMGGAs start working on the implementation module of the programme, which includes stakeholder interactions, field visits, ensuring progress at district and block level is regularly monitored through reviews by officials, among other things.
The action items within the implementation module vary according to the domains they work on such education, service delivery, grievance redressal, etc. At the state level, the programme team works with departments to put in place requisite policy and procedural enablers.
In essence, the programme is designed and structured in a manner that almost 90 per cent of a fellow’s time is spent achieving specific objectives. This leaves 10 per cent time for the fellow to either develop innovative governance reforms that she would like to pilot in a district or work with the DC on other projects.
The chief minister conducts regular reviews and meetings with the fellows and state functionaries, which signals their credibility within the system.
The programme team is in constant touch with the fellows through weekly progress calls, communication over Slack channels, and fortnightly calls with an assigned “buddy” from the team. The idea behind ensuring free flow of information between the fellows and the state team is to give the former a mechanism to share feedback and overcome challenges. Every two months, the entire cohort comes together to reflect on progress achieved and participate in skill-building and problem-solving sessions.
Bringing in real-time change
Since the programme began in 2016, CMGGAs have been the catalysts of on-ground change in Haryana. For example, CMGGAs work closely with district and block education officials to build capacity as well as strategise to improve the academic performance of students under the flagship Saksham Haryana campaign of the state government. They analyse student performance data to identify weaknesses and develop detailed block and district level action plans for improvement.
Another case in point is the domain of public service delivery, where the state government has opened 115 Saral Kendras (service delivery centres) across Haryana, which offer more than 500 government-to-citizens schemes and services from 38 departments in one central location. CMGGAs monitor these Saral Kendras and ensure service delivery within Right to Service notified timelines, timely resolution of grievances and best-in-class experience for citizens visiting the centre.
Besides driving the implementation of the Chief Minister’s priorities, CMGGAs are also encouraged to pilot innovative governance reforms in their districts. For example, in the 2nd year of the programme, a CMGGA piloted the use of a pothole grievance redressal app in Hisar district. Seeing its utility and effectiveness, the Haryana government decided to implement it across the state.
Fellowships provide an invaluable opportunity for young professionals to understand governance and work with government. For states, fellowships are a way to tap into a pool of talented, committed individuals looking to make a difference. However, the potential that fellowships hold can easily be offset if they are not designed and managed well with requisite political backing.
Gaurav Goel is the Founder & CEO of Samagra | Transforming Governance, a mission-driven governance consulting firm. Samagra is working with the Government of Haryana on multiple governance reforms. Views are personal.
This is the fourth article in a four-part ThePrint-Samagra series that delves into complex governance challenges facing India and how they are being solved.