Once More, With Feeling … Dr. VSA

CSTEP is nine years young, and prospering, not just in the number of analysts it is able to attract, but in the kind of challenging problems it pursues. The mandates for Think Tanks are not well-defined and appear narrow. Academic problems are for the pursuit of colleges and universities; short-term projects are for consultancies. Between these, Think Tanks must look for projects that are relevant and with a good impact potential. CSTEP is successful on this count. For almost seven years, CSTEP is pursuing projects on energy issues. The scope of these projects is broad and rich: from energy efficiency studies to predicting national and regional energy needs. There are also specific ones such as studies on the viability of renewable energy systems including those that are coupled. The relevance and importance of these can be gauged from the fact that these are supported by funds from the European Union and an Indo-US joint programme.

How do cities grow and prosper? How can we make them smart, safe and clean? These are important questions, and the country is planning to build a number of "smart" cities. CSTEP is already pursuing projects, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, on public hygiene. We are collaborating with a number of institutions in developing public toilet systems that are hygienic, environmentally clean and amenable for large-scale adaptation.

We live in a world of complex systems where solutions to problems are not simple but have many facets. In fact, there may not be a single or unique answer, but a set of answers with several conditionalities. How do we then choose the appropriate ones, mindful of the compromises the solutions invoke, from the plethora of options? CSTEP is engaged in building a decision making computer system (we call it DARPAN, the mirror) and looking eagerly for support from donors. It was the mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace who famously proclaimed that to be worth it, must be countable. DARPAN is designed to provide this asset to decision makers.

There are many such projects that CSTEP can report of pursuing in 2014, with each one bringing a tale of its own. All these have been made possible by the unstinting support we are receiving from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the OAK Foundation. These, along with the project supports from a number of institutions are sustaining our pursuit.

It was the Persian mystic who warned “Traveler, Beware. There is no road. Make one”. CSTEP, as in the past years, is engaged in this pursuit, and is growing.

VSA

Dr. V.S. Arunachalam, Chairman

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Dear Friends,

I am happy to say that the last year has been a year of satisfaction for all of us at CSTEP. It has been a year of considerable achievements and hard work, which is to be expected because we are a young and growing organisation. I say this with satisfaction because I believe we are on track to achieve our vision and mission of being a high quality policy research organisation. Every year at this juncture, we re-visit ourselves and ask the questions where are we going and what are our core values?

In that sense, I can think of three basic core values which are the pillars of CSTEP: one is research quality. I believe we should aspire for the highest standards in research quality and to me research quality means four levels: quality of work, quality of our writing, quality of presentation and quality of engagement with our stakeholders. I am happy to see that last year we spent considerable time and effort to put in processes to ensure highest quality of research. For instance, we have a rigorous peer review system. We want to strengthen that, but it is work in progress and I am happy at the way we are progressing.

The second core value at CSTEP is developing outstanding policy professionals. Our aspiration is that CSTEP should be known by not one or two people, but by a large number of people who are experts and outstanding respected professionals in their respective domains. I am happy that last year we had requests from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, NITI Aayog and the Government of Karnataka to help prepare important reports and analyses, which were all done by my young colleagues.

The quality of a Think Tank is as good as the quality of its research staff. Therefore, it is inevitable for us to invest and help them develop and blossom as outstanding policy professionals. We also realised that people have different talents. Therefore, we feel that CSTEP should be a platform which allows them to develop and realise their talents, and blossom. For instance, some people will be very good in publishing research papers – they like to generate new knowledge, some people like to manage projects, there are others who like to write proposals and participate in fundraising, whereas there is one more category who likes to engage with policy makers and go for policy engagement. We would like CSTEP to be a platform where a person with whatever talents he or she has is able to utilise and develop them to the fullest possible, and this could be a combination of one or more of any of these attributes.

We undertook a very important initiative, which was, to strengthen the skills of the staff. Most of them come from different backgrounds; some are scientists, while others are engineers, economists, etc. We believe that policy research is a serious discipline and everybody in CSTEP should have a common set of skills which is required for this. Therefore, we organised a course in policy research skills, which spanned over 3-4 months. It’s also heartening to note that this course was conducted internally, and our colleagues in CSTEP spent the desired time and effort to deliver the lectures. The lectures were very well attended and everybody participated with a lot of enthusiasm and spirit.

The third important issue in CSTEP is engaging with our stakeholders. I can say with satisfaction that this year, two of our donors, the International Development and Research Centre (IDRC) and OAK Foundation, which provide very crucial core grants to us, have renewed their faith and trust in CSTEP. Also, some of our funders who provide us with project-based funding, have come back and supported us with new projects. This is an affirmation of their faith in CSTEP and this is very important because at the end of the day, we are dealing with public money. And for somebody to come back to us and say that we are entrusting you with public money is a strong support of faith in our abilities. It also places an onus on us because we have to deliver to society knowledge and goods, which are much more in value than the money given to us, and that’s something we try to imbibe – a spirit of humility.

So, this my friends has been the journey of CSTEP in the last one year. There have been significant successes. Of course there has been a share of disappointments and failures as well, which is, as it should be in any organisation. But on the whole, we are on track in making CSTEP a well-respected, high quality policy research organisation with a spirit and a character.


Dr. Anshu Bharadwaj, Executive Director
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