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Improving policymaking with Big Data

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Tucked away in the statement put out by NITI Aayog after the third meeting of its governing council on Sunday was an innocuous phrase. The Aayog, the statement said, has partnered with top-ranking institutions “to nurture evidence-based policymaking”. That seems like it should be a given. Surely, all policy is or should be based on solid data. But it became a guiding philosophy of policymaking globally only in the 1990s. It has evolved since then as technological advances have allowed more data to be captured and analysed. To say evidence-based policymaking (EBPM) today is to say policymaking guided by Big Data.

Governance in India, starting with the United Progressive Alliance and continuing into the Narendra Modi administration, has been trending in this direction. The Aadhaar programme, with its hundreds of millions of data points that can be mined for policy formulation and implementation, is a prime example. So is the Centre’s push, kick-started by the currency-swap initiative, to reduce the size of the shadow economy and widen the tax base. The actual amount of black money netted by the initiative might still be a matter of conjecture and debate, but the entire exercise has generated data that can make it tougher for individuals to evade taxes in the future. Geo-tagging of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme assets is another case in point.

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