July 13, 2009

As part of its endeavor “Creating Intellectual Capital and Changing the Climate of Opinion: Building Institutional Mechanisms,” Alternate Solutions Institute has initiated a series of well-concerted consultative meetings. The first meeting of this series was held in a local hotel in Lahore on June 16, 2009 which focused on the issue of “Informing and Influencing Public Policy and Public Discourse.”

First Consultative Meeting
Lahore June 16, 2009
Informing and Influencing Public Policy and Public Discourse
Brief Report of the Meeting
As part of its endeavor “Creating Intellectual Capital and Changing the Climate of Opinion: Building Institutional Mechanisms,” Alternate Solutions Institute has initiated a series of well-concerted consultative meetings. The first meeting of this series was held in a local hotel in Lahore on June 16, 2009 which focused on the issue of “Informing and Influencing Public Policy and Public Discourse.”
A number of selected social scientists participated in the meeting which was addressed and moderated by Dr. Tom G. Palmer, Vice President Atlas Economic Research Foundation, and Senior Fellow, Cato Institute, Washington D.C. Leading experts from the fields of political science, philosophy, sociology, economics, and public policy belonging to various institutes participated.
The meeting deliberated on the linkages between social sciences and public policy, and more broadly, with the public discourse at large. The discussion led to an identification of a broad roadmap to institutionalize the practices of informing the public policy and public discourse through sound and clearly communicated research.
Strategic Issues
The meeting identified five broad areas of work: i) training of researchers in empirical and theoretical social research; ii) financing arrangements for funding; iii) linkages with media and other research organizations; iv) reviving of professional associations of social scientists; and v) stock-taking of the on-going research.
It was agreed that each of these areas should be pursued under a broad-based framework with clearly defined goal of informing and influencing public policy and public discourse through impartial and empirical social science research.
On almost every issue identified above, the opinion was diverse, just as the background of the participants was. For example, on the issue of research training status in Pakistan, the opinion varied from ‘non-existent’ to ‘fair quality.’ However, it was agreed that there is a need to seek ‘technical assistance and expertise,’ possibly from international experts who would then train empiricist researchers in Pakistan. The financing and funding issues of research were thoroughly discussed for which many participants stressed the need of endowments. However, there was concern that endowments may reduce incentives for performance and accountability.
The meeting was informed that the Higher Education Commission has recently approved a budget of Rs.30 million for social science research at public sector universities.
It was also suggested that research firms should address the demands of the corporate sector by using the proceeds to help social research grow and strengthen.
On behalf of the Alternate Solutions Institute, it was announced that the Institute would try to organize research training workshops also.
The issue of linkages caught the attention of all and it was pointed out that research linkages with the world outside academia remain weak. If research were to inform public policy and public discourse, it ought to create harmony with the media, which has undergone a revolution in Pakistan over the last few years. The climate of opinion can only be changed if solid research based on arguments and facts are carried by electronic media which continues to suffer from ill-informed impressionistic debates. Research not only gets prominence and relevance, but also becomes lively when it has a public face. Ultimately, a research has to run on a profit-model and must compete to gain access to resources, much in the manner of business enterprises which compete for market share.
It was also pointed out that in order to make these deliberations meaningful, we need to focus on a more fundamental question: what type of society we want to have in Pakistan, and for this materialize what institutions we need to develop in Pakistan.
Conceptual Notes
Unlike physical sciences, social science research is directly affected by social facts. Therefore, importing frameworks for social research, whether in economics, politics or sociology, run the risk of becoming irrelevant when social facts change. As explicated by Dr. Palmer, during his formal talk, the social scientists need to caution while using frameworks based on conceptualizations in diverse social settings. Giving examples from his extensive experience in different countries, Palmer said that while nepotism is pounced upon in a merit driven society like North America, the same factor may become part of ingrained culture while working on democracy in Iraq. The mere fact that who knows who may not be entirely equated with moral corruption, as means of information exchange may well be limited otherwise.
Elaborating social facts in Pakistan, it was pointed out that evidence and facts may lose value in a society, which is governed by patriarchic relations. For example, if the transfer of party leadership is managed through law of inheritance, then public policy research can do little to change this. However this rather sadistic note was euphemized by referring to the case of ‘Theory of Monarchy’ which could be used to explain the dynamics of policy while rationalizing it under a well-known framework.
Referring to the experience of the West in institutional development, while drawing from Hernando De Soto, Tom Palmer presented the view that ‘social order’ may emerge spontaneously and while it is easy to say what happens when institutions do not work, it is rather difficult to investigate the origin of institutions in local contexts. Distinction was drawn between ‘institutions’ such as property, rule of law etc. and ‘organizations’, physical entities organized to achieve certain goals. Organizations like ‘The Economist’ weekly, Institute of Economic Affairs, London and the American Enterprise Institute were mentioned as examples of organizations, which influence both policy and discourse.
Reference to the role which religion has played in the emergence of a certain public discourse and even public policy in Pakistan, several factors were mentioned. Underscoring the importance of ideas, the case of modern political Islam was presented as historical evidence. It was argued that ‘Islam is a complete code of life’ is historically a novel idea, which caught the attention of Muslims across the globe, and a conservative, politically active and resourceful constituency of Muslims was created. Similarly, it was argued that in an ideological state, all answers to the questions of public policy are based on the Ideology. These factors hamper the intellectual freedom, which stands as precursor to development of well-informed public discourse and public policy.
At the end, it needs to be mentioned that during 2 and half hours of deliberations, there was no mention in any manner that government should do this or should do that to help create intellectual capital. That amounts to the strengthening of this robust initiative of the Institute.
Report prepared by
Ali Salman
Repor reviewed/revised by
Khalil Ahmad
List of the Participants
1.      Tom G. Palmer, Vice President International Relations Atlas Economic Research Foundation, USA and General Director Atlas Global Initiative for Free Trade, Peace and Propsperity
2.      Dr. M. Nizamuddin, Vice Chancellor, University of Gujrat, Gujrat
3.      Dr. Saeed Shafqat, Director Center for Public Policy and Governance,
F.C. College University, Lahore
4.      Dr. Tahir Kamran,
Chairman, Department of History, G.C. University, Lahore
5.      Dr. Sajid Ali, Chairman Department of Philosophy,
University of the Punjab, Lahore
6.      Dr. Khalil Ahmad,
Executive Director, Alternate Solutions Institute, Lahore
7.      Iqbal Haider Butt, Senior Partner, Development Pool, Lahore
8.      Ali Salman, Managing Partner, Development Pool, Lahore
9.      Raheem ul Haque, Research Fellow, Center for Public Policy and Governance,
F. C, College University, Lahore