Shaping academia for the public good



There are people, instit­utions that are levera­ging their unique compet­encies to addres­s societ­al proble­ms


The writer is a columnist based in Lahore and can be reached at durdananajam1@gmail.com

A college reunion is not only about reuniting with friends and faculties or tying new relations. It is perhaps about walking the path that one had left behind while growing and reaching for new academic and career heights. It is perhaps going back in time to see if one had since grown or stagnated. The reunion of the students of Centre for Public Policy and Governance (CPPG) at the Foreman Christian College, Lahore, on December 11, 2019, was one such evening. For those gathered in the lawn of Public Policy Research and Resource Centre to reunite, it was an occasion to recount the strength from which the CPPG has grown to the destination that it seeks to reach under the leadership of its Founder and Director, Dr Saeed Shafqat.

The CPPG began its journey in July 2007 with the introduction of an ambitious MA Executive Programme, Faculty Seminar Series, and Research and News Quarterly Publication. Each of these activities has been designed to understand how governments work and to interpret the framework involved in conflict resolution, institution building and human resource management. The research infrastructure of the centre is composed of a director, research collaborators, graduate students and research coordinators.

A country’s transition into a modern and civilised society is contingent upon a relationship between the researcher and the decision-makers. The nexus has evolved from knowledge-driven model in which information flows in a unidirectional manner from researcher to decision-maker to problem-solving model in which decision-makers commission research to the interactive model in which researcher and decision-makers are actively engaged from the initiation to the application of research. It has been learned that an early and ongoing engagement of decision-makers in the research process is the best predictor of whether and how its result will be used. Just as the involvement of decision-makers is ensured, care is also taken to align the interests of the researcher with those of the practitioners, in-charge of intervention that address policy concerns.

With a masterful blend of interactive research model and a two-pronged engagement framework, the CPPG has been successfully affecting the social determinant of policy-making in nearly every area of governance. At the first level, it engages with the stakeholders of governmental agencies. Drawn from different areas of public administration, the representatives of these agencies help overcome limitation that a lack of specialised knowledge could pose in the interpretation of policy analysis. Called intersectoral partnership, the engagement has resulted in the creation of policy papers on urbanisation and migration, civil service reforms, demography, governance and democracy, human rights, religion and foreign policy. At the second level, the centre is engaged in a partnership with organisations that operate in the public space such as, private organisations, state institutions and not-for-profit organisations. Research produced under this broad category comprises energy, industrial policy, media and ICT, informal sector, electoral violence, environment and climate change, irrigation and agriculture, and police, prosecution and criminal justice.

Other than the interdisciplinary voyage, the CPPG has been actively involved in creating awareness in lawmakers about their responsibility to implement laws because unless properly implemented the benefits of the legislation do not trickle down to the poor section of society. In this regard, after the passage of Punjab Local Government Act (PLGA), 2019, the CPPG collaborated with a development organisation from Germany, the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, “to engage diverse stakeholders to facilitate and improve the implementation of the new PLGA 2019.”

Further, the CCPG in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development and the Urban Unit of the government of Punjab prepared, through a series of consultative seminars, the Lahore Vision 2035, in 2014. This comprehensive research-based governance framework for Lahore was developed after extensive debate on five different sectors: transport planning, water supply, sewerage and waste management, governance and urban management, real estate market and trade friendliness. The study was meant to assist the Punjab government and the City District Government Lahore in setting developmental goals and establishing institutions that deliver inclusive, equitable and sustainable services to the residents of Lahore.

The significance of such research is that it creates an enabling environment for the promotion of evidence-based research. This was precisely the vision that Dr Saeed Shafqat had when the centre was established.

This pursuit of “more” and/or “better” resulted in the development of a resource hub — Research and Resource Centre — for the provision of latest and specific academic literature to policy analysts, public officials, development consultants, entrepreneurs, academia and students.

The Master’s/Doctoral degree programmes at the CPPG provide for the fermentation of ideas that eventually find their place in the policy circles of businesses, parliament, academics or policy-making bodies. These programmes were started in response to a fragmented view of the politicians, elites and policy-makers towards policy and governance issues.

For a firm grounding in the contemporary issues carrying governance implications, a close watch on the development and evolution of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was crucial. Coupled with extensive exploration, a plenty of position papers have been floated, from the platform of the CPPG, to advise the government on the best way to this giant, but extremely important project.

Dr Shafqat views the Belt and Road Initiative, inclusive of CPEC, a unique opportunity to help India and Pakistan attain peace in South Asia. In his latest position paper titled Changing Dynamics of China-India Relations: CPEC and Prospects for Pakistan, he has given four broad recommendations to allow both the countries to reap full benefit from this project.

One, drawing on the Chinese-Indian experience of border management, Pakistan should build relations with India on similar lines. Two, through a people-centred approach towards the BRI, allow the people at both sides of the border to benefit from the employment and entrepreneurial opportunities of the project. Three, India should take CPEC as a “business model that is apolitical and regional,” because with increased economic interdependency, both India and Pakistan would have more reasons to collaborate then divide. Four, view CPEC as an economic opportunity rather than a strategic challenge or threat to anyone.

The reunion at the CPPG was indeed a time to remind oneself that, not all is lost in Pakistan. There are people and institutions that are leveraging their unique competencies to address societal and governance problems more effectively.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 19th, 2019.

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