As ‘Ideas for India’ enters its 10th year, Editor-in-Chief Ashok Kotwal reflects on its growth as a credible, ideologically neutral, and accessible platform for evidence-based policy analysis, and presents the vision for the future.
Nine years ago, in July 2012, a group of economists at the IGC launched ‘Ideas for India’ (I4I), as a new voice to deliberate on issues of growth and development pertaining to the Indian economy. Today many would say that I4I is among the dominant voices that people turn to when they want to ensure that they are getting reliable information and sage commentary on policy developments in the country. We have grown considerably in readership – from 260,292 website sessions during July 2012-June 2013 to 759,715 in July 2020-June 2021, and in contributors – from 157 in July 2013 to 1,455 as of June 2021.
Our core mission has been to build a bridge to the ‘island of academia’, that is, to bring academic ideas to the society at large. Various leading policy stakeholders have noted the unique value-addition of I4I as a knowledge source, which can be quickly drawn upon as and when particular policy issues become centre-stage. As we proceeded, we learned that there are different ways of gathering knowledge. Researchers learn quite a bit while doing fieldwork, say about the local context or details of the institutional setup, which they may miss when just working on their computer. This led us to introduce ‘Notes from the Field’, based on the ground level experience.
It also occurred to us that often someone who has thought about a problem for a long time develops some interesting insights on it. An economist may have pertinent views on a new policy issue (for example, demonetisation in November 2016), informed by their body of work in general, rather than a specific research study. And so, we also created space on I4I for opinion-based ‘Perspectives’, which enables the portal to be responsive to the changing policy landscape.
Over the past years, we have added several new features including the Hindi section to enable deeper dissemination of evidence-based content (hopefully this is the first step and we would go into other regional languages in the future); infographics and author videos to further enhance engagement with a wide, lay audience; and explainers to deconstruct complex policy matters. All of these features have attracted a diverse group of readers as well as contributors to I4I.
As the country, and indeed the world, goes through shocks such as Covid-19, we tap many experts to analyse these events. In recent times, we have had fairly comprehensive coverage on topics such as the impact of the pandemic on the economy and on vulnerable populations, and understanding the controversial new farm laws. We have hosted debates, e-symposia, podcasts, video conversations, and panel discussions, on other similar crucial topics. In the era of unreliable information misleading the public, I4I provides useful and timely service.
The scope of topics covered and its appeal to a wide variety of readership has expanded over time. The readership now includes the lay audience, graduate and undergraduate students, academics, professional economists, government officials, media, and civil society. In other words, our regular readership consists of people interested in economic and social issues in India and having varying degrees of training in economics. Graduate students as well faculty members often include their I4I articles in their CVs – this has not happened by design but through serendipity.
Looking ahead, we would like to keep experimenting with new features that will further widen our readership and contributor pool. As economists, we do not only analyse the policy here and now but also like to discuss ‘big think’ issues and to speculate about the future. We often have conversations on topics such as a futuristic world where most ‘productive work’ is performed by machines. What will humans do then? Will we be able to ward off such a future forever? What will be the most effective way to minimise inequality in such a world? Will this then be dystopia or utopia? Many believe that conversations of this nature are futile but I do not agree. 1990 was not that long ago. Think of how different it was without a laptop on every lap! In the near future, we intend to launch a new feature titled ‘Conversations’ to prepare ourselves for the new world. Last month we reconstituted the Editorial Board to make I4I more dynamic. The Board Members would be actively involved in organising and hosting these conversations in the form of video/podcasts, in their respective areas of expertise. I hope that our readership will appreciate this and that it will add to their experience of following I4I.