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Redefining Impact

Town Halls at Samagra are an opportunity for teams across engagements and states to share their work, interesting insights, achievements, challenges, and best practices. Town Halls also act as forums where the organization discusses its growth plan, impact assessment, its current state and evolution in the near future. At my first Town Hall, I was introduced to Samagra’s mission statement – to become a preeminent, impact-driven, top-tier, Indian governance consulting firm.

Having  worked for around 4 years prior to joining Samagra, I was of the opinion that vision and mission statements are only meant to be displayed on the company website and reception walls. I did not imagine them to be topics of discussion among the employees of the organization. Additionally, based on my experience with consultants before, I viewed them as professionals who synthesised information and presented PowerPoint-based solutions.  Consequently, this coloured my perception of impact as these PowerPoints only. At the end of that first Town Hall, I assumed the same about Samagra. As I complete 9 months at Samagra, I have never been happier to admit that I was wrong!

These 9 months have gone by in the blink of an eye. On my way home after another eventful day at the Department, I pondered upon my journey over  these last few months with one word on my mind – Impact. I’m marvelling at how its definition has changed for me over these months! From a clichéd oft-repeated term, it has evolved to become a drive, a mission, and a sense of responsibility. A responsibility that every individual at Samagra feels. A responsibility to improve quality of life of people and to not stop at anything before that.

In my time at Samagra, I have worked to diagnose and design multiple solutions for a new sector that Samagra ventured into, Skilling. I would probably take another 200 words to touch upon a very important instance that has helped me understand my responsibility.

As part of the engagement diagnosis, I visited numerous districts. and interacted with many vocational education instructors and students. During one such interaction, a student exclaimed that the questions I was posing would have to wait to be solved. At that moment, those students didn’t even have access to basic sanitation and drinking water facilities. Another student informed me the institute didn’t have sufficient instructors. As a result, students frequently spent an entire day sitting without instruction. However, at the same time, one of them sitting in a corner stood up to tell me that this was the first time someone had even  visited their institute to ask these questions and that he hoped that, this visit might lead to a change.

It was this faith entrusted upon me – that I am here to bring change – which helped  me identify my responsibilities to create impact. It was this trust that pushed me realize that the situation has to change and I  can’t wait for someone else to do it. It is this belief that drives me every day and it is those faces that ensure I try until I succeed and that it can never be a one-off thought but has to be the part and parcel of my  day-to-day work and life, at large. It dawned on me that it is not about those PowerPoint presentations or Excel files that we make every day; it is about those students who saw some hope in me. This now defines impact for me.

Working in governance is about this responsibility. The responsibility of impacting and improving the lives of millions of people, being an active contributor to this impact journey that each of us has embarked upon. It is about identifying challenges and converting them into opportunities. To be the creator, leader, and writer of your impact history. And this is what I do. There is a long way to go and a lot of ground to cover, however, those faces would always keep me going.

My first field visit at Samagra reinforced my faith in governance

Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things”. When hope meets an informed plan and an urge to #ImpactAtScale, then there’s action and even a hope for transformation. This is what I witnessed first-hand during my field visit to Jind.

 

The visit

After two days of interacting with people on Whatsapp groups and calls, the field visit was a welcome break even if it meant the day extended for over 16 hours. It gave me a chance to interact with a lot of people, see the district administration in action and gain new perspective on the power dynamics in the government system. During the day, I visited the DC office at Jind, a public library being reviewed by an SDM, the Tehsil office, Antyodhay Bhavan, CM Window applications and the new Saral centre. I also visited the Sanitation park, DRDA in the city and the DEEO office and interacted with various officials over there. I felt at home when I visited a Senior Secondary School in Ghimana village and couldn’t help comparing it with my classroom and school. At Ghimana, I also visited an Aanganwadi centre and interacted with members of the local panchayat committee. All these visits were possible with the help of Shubhi Kesarwani, CMGGA at Jind and the careful planning of Ankit Jain.

After a couple of days, If I sit back now and think of what this visit did to my beliefs and world-view, four major themes stand out to me. These themes give me renewed hope that change is possible, and we need to get our hands dirty to make it possible.

 

Empowering women and youth

Spaces such as the Library, schemes such as Saksham Yuva, and initiatives such as CMGGA have been instrumental in shifting the male bigotry in a very subtle but definite way. The way the SDM wanted Renuka, apprentice at the library to be seen as an authoritative figure for all the youth in the library so that respect for her and the library increases; the way Anju, an employee as part of Saksham Yuva with the help of three other friends ran survey campaigns and other tasks far from their homes all by themselves; the way the response to Shubhi, CMGGA changed from “What can a women do, Madam” to “Madam, you give suggestions to the CM, you’ll get things done for sure”. Though these are a few instances, I’m sure these will create ripples.

 

State-of-the-art delivery of Govt. services

If analytics firms can provide the best packaged solutions to complex interconnected problems for private businesses, why can’t Governments provide similar solutions to its public? The answer I think lies in the conceptualization of Saral, making it easy, transparent and quick for all citizens to avail all Govt. services or schemes in one place on one portal. There was a different feel to the aura in the recently renovated space for the Saral Centre, it looked professional, meant to remove the unorganized queues and the long waits of the public outside the present day Antyodhay Bhavan, Tehsil office and the likes.

 

Collective action

For someone who has always seen and heard the severe lack of infrastructure in Govt. Schools across India, it was a pleasant surprise to visit Government Sr. Secondary School at Ghimana which as its Principal, Mr. Krishna Singh Nehra proudly claimed has won the most beautiful school award Twice in the last four years! I wonder how they missed the award the other two times! With a fully functional science lab, computer lab, a well-stocked library, clean toilets, running water in taps, RO purified drinking water and a huge, huge playground, it looked like a place that I would want to go to for studying or teaching. All this was possible with the help of generous donations from the locals, retired teachers and other concerned people. If this can be done in a tiny village in Haryana, imagine what can be done if people came together in all of India.

 

Shift in mindsets

From conversations around infrastructure or lack of it, lack of funds, resources, teachers etc., maintenance of records, admin work and focus on rote learning, the leadership in the district education boards have shifted conversations to focus on learning outcomes, honest assessments, prioritizing remediation and achievement of grade level competency, skill-based holistic learning and student choices. My conversations with Mr. B.P.Rana, Dy DEEO of Jind and Mrs. Sudesh Siwach, BEO for Alewa felt like a page out of a fairy tale themed in education. If one block, one district, one state can be transformed a time, truly, one nation is not far away.

There was no doubt an inescapable aura of positivity and hope throughout the day. However, observing how things get done in a government set up, how compliance is achieved and how new initiatives and delivered, I could not but help go back to a few burning questions in me – Is fame, name/shame the way to work within the Govt. system? Can we empower all the stakeholders across the hierarchy and build in ownership and accountability? Is there a way to make everyone feel important and respected and then make them love what they do? Or is sometimes brute force absolutely necessary?

– Gurudutt Ramachandra

How the Government can implement its programmes better

#LeaveNothingToChance – Review & Monitoring System

 

India is a diverse land. With a population of over 125 crores spread across 29 states and 7 union territories, it faces a unique challenge – one of implementation. The central and state Governments launch hundreds of programmes/schemes every year, each catering to a different group of people, and solving a different problem. But, hardly any of them get implemented properly.

 

How implementation works

Let us take a step back here and understand how implementation actually works in a government setup. It usually starts with a government department being given ownership for the implementation of a scheme/initiative. The department in turn draws up a plan of action – who will be responsible at the district level, village level etc, how will the funds flow from one place to another, which sections of the population will receive the benefits, how will they be tracked etc. Once the plan is in place, the department communicates the process to all citizens and thus the initiative/scheme is now in motion.

 

The problem with the Govt. Department

So, then what’s the problem? One is that the department responsible for implementation of the scheme is responsible for hundreds of other things as well, and there is no clear demarcation with respect to how much time should be allocated where. Second is that the head of the department is liable to be transferred at any point of time. This basically means that there is no stable leadership for the department. Even if the department heads were to figure out exactly what needs to be done and somehow start excelling at it, there is no telling how long this would continue. It is worth noticing that both the challenges mentioned above are unique to the government setup. A multi-national firm would never allow work ambiguity or instability to seep into its system.

 

What is the solution?

Not only is our government department burdened with work, but also increasingly unstable. What the department needs is guidance and support. It needs to be continuously evaluated and told what is expected of it. And, even when the top leadership changes, the processes need to continue. No one can be expected to perform without clear guidelines and communication. Everything mentioned above comes under the broad head of “Review and monitoring”.

 

Introduction to review and monitoring

Review & Monitoring is process/mechanism through which a management team is able keep track of the progress, receive and provide feedback at the right time to the right person in order to further the objective. Any Review & Monitoring set up has three elements:

  1. Defining clear roles & responsibilities
  2. Monitoring key performance indicators
  3. Regularly reviewing progress and giving feedback

 

Defining clear roles and responsibilities

The government doesn’t work on guidelines and frameworks. It works on letters, orders and meetings. It is not enough to just define a ‘programme’. It needs to be explicitly discussed what is expected out of each individual in the government. Somewhere around 2015, Haryana government introduced the academic monitoring system in the state. As a part of the system, the block level monitors were required to visit eight government schools per month and report the issues being faced by the schools. These issues were then to be entered on an online platform and sent to the concerned government officers for resolution. The ambitious scheme aimed to have all schools of Haryana visited at least twice in the entire year. However, for the first few months, the compliance was terrible. The problem was that while the guidelines and orders had been issued, no one had been explicitly told that they are supposed to visit schools. Due to lack of accountability, no one really prioritised this. It is only recently the education department started emphasising this. Compliance was regularly tracked through an online report and shared with the officers. The officers who were performing were appreciated and the slackers were pulled up. What this mechanism basically did was reducing the whole ‘Academic Monitoring System’ to a compliance report. It was now clear what the monitors were expected to do. They had to ensure that their compliance report was always at 100%, i.e. they were visiting all the schools that they were required to.

 

Monitoring of key performance indicators

Many a times government systems track data that is either not possible to obtain easily or is subjective and hence not designed for quick analysis. Once the officials are given specific tasks to carry out, it is imperative that tracking of the progress takes place in a systematic fashion. These can be meetings to be held, data points to be filled, technology systems to be updated, people to be registered etc. Monitoring of key performance indicators helps in understanding how the initiative is progressing and consequently plan for tweaks to be made. This constant flow of data helps the top management in guiding the machinery in the right direction.

For instance, in the state of Haryana, the government has setup a 3 tier review structure for monitoring the grievances received through CM Window. CM Window is a technology based grievance redressal system of the state. By monitoring very specific metrics such as time taken for redressal of grievance, number of pending grievances in a district/department etc. the government was able to improve the redressal by several percentage points.

 

Regularly reviewing progress and giving feedback

Based on the data that flows in and the objective of the initiative, the top management should also hold regular (at fixed frequency) reviews to evaluate the progress of the department and provide feedback to the officials working on the field. This is important to maintain the focus of the officials on the initiative, promote best practices and also push forward those that are lagging behind. The reviews allow for course correction, motivation and planning forward. The review meetings also provide field officials to raise their concerns and have them sufficiently addressed. This entire process helps in building a trust equation between all the levels of the machinery thus ensuring its smooth functioning.

Until 2014, the Himachal Pradesh Education Department We facilitated the initiation of a similar system to improve the quality of education in government run schools of Himachal Pradesh. Within a year, over 50% of the schools were visited by government officials. Each one of them provided specific feedback to the department and 90% of them have already been addressed.

Thus a strong review and monitoring system can and has ensured effective and efficient implementation of schemes/initiatives. We at Samagra believe that any government system is capable of delivering high quality results if guided in the right direction through the right mechanisms!

Nikhil Nadiger

How Himachal Pradesh became the first state of India to deliver textbooks on time

2 months into school; still no textbooks.

This is the story of every government school in India. But last year, Samarth team changed this story by distributing free textbooks to all schools in the state of Himachal Pradesh, way before the commencement of the academic session.

The initiative saw a great success- more than 16 lakh books were distributed to ~5300 winter closing schools in the state right at the beginning of the academic session commencing in February 2016. Additionally, more than 40 lakh books were distributed to summer closing schools before the start of the new academic session in April. With extreme weather conditions, regions cut off during winters, rough terrain and with two separate academic sessions, Himachal Pradesh is the first state in the country to achieve this feat.

So, how did the Samarth team achieve such a massive logistical; distributing 50 lakh textbooks to almost 6 lakh eligible students across 15,000 schools?

They ensured an earlier delivery of textbooks at Himachal’s 24 Book Distribution Centers across the state by preponing the release of the tender for textbook printing and communicating strict deadlines to printers. Technology played a key role as a facilitator for them to achieve its aim of on-time textbook distribution. Be it real-time stock reports for HPBOSE to efficiently manage its depots, online demand collection and electronic-indents issued by the Directorate through its website, or the online monitoring dashboard or the real-time updates on the Whatsapp group, the Samarth team smartly used technology as a facilitator for the structural and management changes made to ensure on-time delivery of textbooks. A special telephone helpline was created at the state level on which 500+ block officials could call to get information or solve issues related to textbook distribution in their block.

This way it was proved that by using technological solutions, the government can bring speed, efficiency, transparency and real-time visibility into the system.

Aneesh Mugulur