The successful aspects of the Karnataka Jnana Aayoga can be used for setting up Knowledge Commissions across the country.
The Karnataka Knowledge Commission, which was set up in 2008, became the first state level Knowledge Commission in India that served its full term of four-and-a-half years. It was created on the lines of the National Knowledge Commission with a mandate to transform the state of Karnataka into a vibrant knowledge society. It was named Karnataka Jnana Aayoga in the local language, Kannada. The terms of reference of the Aayoga, derived from those of the National Knowledge Commission, were broad in scope and called for reforms in various sectors to increase Karnataka’s competitive advantage. Given these broad guidelines and an ambitious mandate to transform a state, the Aayoga adopted a flexible and consultative approach and took on a role above and beyond that of a recommendatory body and has set a precedent for other states to set up their own state level knowledge commissions.
At its inception, the Aayoga identified six sectors for its activities that were aligned with Karnataka’s vision document for the year 2020. Like the National Commission, Karnataka’s Jnana Aayoga was led by a Chairman and consisted of a core team of members. This core team, headed by a Member Secretary, comprised of experts and specialists in their fields with many years of experience working in Karnataka. The core members consulted a group of eminent experts selected by them to act as think tanks for each of the six sectors. In line with its mandate to lay the groundwork to reform the knowledge sector, the Aayoga submitted eighty-nine recommendations to Karnataka’s Chief Minister at four different points in time during its tenure. The Aayoga, however, did not stop with only generating policy ideas but went beyond its advisory role to implement thirteen recommendations as pilot projects, initiate three statewide initiatives to promote inter-sectoral interaction and commissioned ten innovative research studies in an attempt to fill the gap in knowledge in the state in some sectors.
Four aspects of the Jnana Aayoga model in particular offer many insights to a future state knowledge commission. First, the Jnana Aayoga turned to a multitude of sources to generate ideas for its recommendations. In addition to the ideas proposed by its own members and groups, it selected recommendations made by the National Knowledge Commission, picked up on innovative ideas from other parts of the country as well as those within the departments of the government Karnataka that were not being implemented due to various constraints and customised them to Karnataka’s present context.
Second, the Jnana Aayoga was flexible and adopted mid-course corrections based on feedback from stakeholders. After its three-year term, the Jnana Aayoga’s term was extended by eighteen months and reconstituted based on its experiences and lessons from its first phase. The reconstituted Aayoga was leaner and adopted a more focused approach. The six broad focus areas of its first phase were narrowed down so that the recommendations of the Aayoga have more impact. In addition, a taskforce on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) was constituted with the specific goal of evolving a roadmap to institutionalise GIS applications among various departments of the Government of Karnataka.
Third, besides submitting a roadmap for implementation of these recommendations, the Jnana Aayoga also picked up a select few ideas recommended by the experts to implement as pilot projects. These pilot projects often required coordination between various departments and the Jnana Aayoga, which worked under the aegis of the Chief Minister’s Office, was able to leverage its position to effectively facilitate cross linkages between departments within the Government of Karnataka and also with external stakeholders.
Finally, the Jnana Aayoga recognised the fact that reforms are difficult to implement and are often held hostage to immediate political concerns. Hence, the Jnana Aayoga prioritised the recommendations it gave both by their importance for the state and their implementability. It then chose to support and energise those recommendations with the most potential for positive impact.
The National Knowledge Commission brought the urgent need for reforms in the knowledge sector into the national discourse and engaged with state governments to implement initiatives at the state level. The Karnataka Jnana Aayoga was successful in bringing this discourse to the state and district level in Karnataka and has set a wonderful precedent for other states to follow. Other state governments could pick up these four elements of the Jnana Aayoga which were most successful. They could then set up a high level body that is responsible for reforms in the knowledge sector, is positioned to facilitate cross-linkages between administrative departments that often work in silos, brings in innovative ideas from expert stakeholders into the government system and, most importantly, accepts feedback from stakeholders.