The first visible step in reforming the civil service, since the Royal Kasho, is creating a pool of researchers within the civil service. The idea is to train 108 researchers, equip them with skills to conduct professional research and send them back to their agencies.
The vision was clear, implementation, however, was not. The initiative nearly hit a wall when lack of clarity, poor coordination,often cited as a symptom of inefficiency in the bureaucracy, and perhaps a clash of egos, led to many dragging their feet to take part in the reform, rather than welcoming or renewing a sense of urgency.
There is some clarity now which should help both decision-makers in the civil service and those nominated earlier without knowing what they would be doing for four years at the Centre for Bhutan Studies. The initial resistance was because they were not convinced of the purpose. It was not they didn’t want to be a part of the reform, but because of lack of information or perhaps, research too, to see who would be most appropriate or relevant or even interested in rigorous training in the research field.
Notwithstanding the confusion, the initiative is most appropriate and timely. Research, especially evidence-based are crucial in decision-making, making informed choices or simply put, coming up with rational policies. We are already well into the information age. There is a demand for crucial information and crucial information can be made available through reliable data that in turn could be generated through good research.
If we have data, statistics and information, we will not repeat the mistakes in our planning process. Planning and priorities need not be based on pleasing voters or a constituency. Information is power and if there are reliable information through researches, people can question policymakers even at the planning stages.
In our context, after decades of planned development, we are tackling the same issues. From issues of food self-sufficiency to managing the traffic or the stray dog problem, for instance, there are no good solutions because we have not found one through research. We have, since we transited to a democracy, been building farm roads. There is no research to see if they had been beneficial if they are put to good use, usable or if has lifted people out of poverty. There is a general consensus that farm roads have helped villagers. Farm roads still top election agenda, central or local.
Our priorities could change if research findings can guide decision making. The expectation is when the 108 researchers return to their agencies, they will conduct researches in their own fields, in their agency or ministry. This is expected to build the bridge between research and policy-making. This could happen if each ministry or department has a research unit given priority or importance. Research, as we see it today, is not receiving that importance.
Another important initiative after the research is using them in decision-making. It is not that we didn’t do research at all. The problem was the gap in research and policy. If we cannot communicate research findings to decision-makers, or decision-makers cannot read through voluminous research findings to sieve what they need, the purpose of research is defeated. There are researchers and research done on many issues in the country. How much of that was used in decision-making is not known. Quite often, after the report is published it is forgotten on the shelves of agencies commissioning the research.
The renewed interest and focus on research is therefore welcomed. What will matter is the outcome of the initiative. If trained civil servants are forgotten after the training, the whole vision is lost.