Thinking in silos

With 1.2 billion people, there is no denying that India is a powerful player to contend with in the world. However, the rich dividends from this demographic strength can only be reaped if there is a shake-up in the current bureaucracy and policy makers begin to think outside of their restricted silos. My analysis of the inability of most bureaucrats to think strategically stems from a selection process that is part of our inherited legacy and was designed to make ‘civil servants’ rather than people who would think and question. Amongst other legacy based systems that we are seeking to change, it is imperative that this one receives high priority. It is also interesting to see that the UK, from where we inherited the legacy has long since moved on, having recognised the importance of selecting people from different walks of life, and the importance of cross pollination of ideas to create effective policy makers.

Especially in subjects like defence or security, it is critical that the people making the policy have a strong sense of changing trends that can lead to possible risks. We have a long way to go in India’s training academies where there is no single institution that aggregates trends and points out areas of synergy. In some senses, the thinking in silos is also symptomatic of poor institutional design, leading to replication of efforts, lack of transparency and creation of power centres, not to mention policies that are not holistic in nature and therefore are bound to fail.

As the world changes and access to information through social media and use of internet increases, the risks that a government faces are bound to increase. There are also other changes that can have an unforeseen effect on internal security. For e.g. climate change, resulting in large scale migration to already over crowded cities with creaking infrastructure that further exacerbates the divide between the haves and have nots, resulting in possible catalyst for unrest and conflict.

Policy think tanks also tend to specialise in specific areas and are unable to expand their understanding to the impact due to seemingly uncorrelated events. In a world where information spreads at the speed of light, the butterfly effect that chaos theorists predicted is a reality. The only way to counter this is to create an ecosystem of institutions that are dynamic and flexible and speak to each other. Then, there is of course, the larger challenge of recruiting and creating a cadre of bureaucrats who are strategic thinkers. That is a tougher battle for India today.

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