March 21, 2019

Case study

Investing in a robust public engagement and communications plan for India’s Public Affairs Index 2018

[This article was originally published in the On Think Tanks 2018 Annual Review. ]

The Public Affairs Index 2018 uses data to rank Indian states on governance. 2018 was the Index’s third year; it was bigger, more comprehensive and more rigorous, including 10 broad policy themes, 30 subjects and 100 indicators.

The Index is an important data-driven social accountability tool to assess the quality and adequacy of public services. We, the Public Affairs Centre’s Policy Engagement and Communication (PEC) team, could see the Index’s potential and carefully planned a robust communication and dissemination strategy for it – what’s more, we were involved in the design and production of the product from the outset.

We have seen that a planned and focused intervention can lead to effective policy engagement outcomes. As the Index has evolved each year, it has occupied a position of eminence among national level studies of comparative governance in Indian states. It has attracted the attention of political leaders, policymakers, developmental economists and concerned citizens. We also tripled media interest from 2017.

We had had two main communications goals: visibility and creating space for effective policy advocacy. Here’s what we did:

  • Audience mapping. Early on, the team came together to identify who would be interested in the index, and why and how they would access the information.
  • Feasible communications plan. We set clear objectives and devised a plan, well in advance, to produce timely and targeted outputs and dissemination, including a launch event and media release in English and regional languages.
  • Clear timelines and responsibilities. We developed a timeline for all the key activities and made sure people knew who had ownership of each task. For example, the relevant researcher was tasked with the technical review, while the PEC team did the editorial review.
  • Researcher – communications collaboration. Internal communication between the researchers and the policy engagement and communications team was open and transparent.
  • Launch event. At the launch, we identified well-known and knowledgeable speakers to attract our target audiences, including government, private sector, academics, NGOs and donors.
  • Press release, policy briefs, op-eds, blogs, podcasts and presentations. Post launch we produced a package of outputs to leverage the product with different stakeholders.

Taking time to meet with stakeholders has proved to be important. It has ensured that today PAC works with diverse stakeholders to foster data-driven decision making across government units, through similar frameworks. We are currently developing a national human rights index for the National Human Rights Commission and have developed a district-level good governance index for the state Government of Himachal Pradesh. We are also partnering with the state Government of Kerala to develop a district industry-friendliness index.

We are proud to have created the Public Affairs index as part of the Think Tank Initiative (TTI) supported by the IDRC, which has now become the standard to assess the quality of public governance in India.

About the authors:

Annapoorna Ravichander:  Head of policy engagement and communication at Public Affairs Centre in Bengaluru, India, and On Think Tanks Editor at Large for South Asia.

Varsha Pillai:  Programme manager with the Public Affairs Centre and OTT-TTI young leader 2018.

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