On 12th June, #STIP2020TownHall became a trending hashtag in the virtual world, accompanied by a lot of buzz about the new Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP) 2020. The STIP 2020 Secretariat launched its public consultation process through the Science Policy Forum (SPF), an open independent online platform that aims to facilitate stakeholder engagement in STIP. It was a unique opportunity for the larger set of stakeholders to interact with three eminent thought leaders – Prof. K. VijayRaghavan, The Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA) to the Government of India; Prof. Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology (DST); and Dr. Akhilesh Gupta, Head, STIP 2020 Secretariat. The virtual meet engaged about 2000 participants from India and abroad. The interaction began on a lighter note with a Mulla Nasruddin anecdote, shared by Prof. Sharma, about a man searching for his lost keys in the wrong place, signifying ‘how we invest our energy in the wrong places’. Apart from various themes and topics, the encaptivating discussion can be broadly summed up under the following highlights.
“Evidence driven, inclusive and bottom up approach” constitutes the heart of STIP 2020. Dr. Akhilesh Gupta mentioned that “sound policies are key to inclusive, equitable, sustainable and disaster-resilient development”. He gave an elaborative picture of the formulation process spanning 6 months, which involves more than 15,000 stakeholders – 130+ global experts, 96 ministries, 36 State/UT governments – the three key necessities being ‘speed, accuracy and intensity’. A clear shift from the previous wisdom-based approaches to an evidence-based one is one of the distinct characteristics of STIP 2020. “The most important stakeholders in STIP2020 are the citizens of India”, stated Dr. Gupta. He highlighted various innovative initiatives to engage the society, including webinars, targeted surveys, interviews, open letters, radio podcasts and ideathon that will nurture creativity and add value to the policy making process. They attempt to make the policy formulation truly citizen centric, inclusive and bottom up right from the start. These initiatives are also planned in regional and local languages.
“The power of abstraction comes from native language that should become the language of research”, pointed Prof. K. VijayRaghavan. He stressed on the need for an inclusive STI ecosystem that makes scientific teachings and quality literature available in native languages starting from primary education. Emphasising on the need for a fair system that will allow anyone to think independently in their native language, he said, “A combination of strength of purpose and confidence can steer start-ups. The past was about divergence, working in silos; the future is about convergence and integration of technology.” The discussion also highlighted how STIP 2020 aims to recognise and promote inclusion and diversity, not merely in terms of language, but also across socio-economic status, gender, geography, age, marginalised communities, persons with disability, to name a few. Prof. Sharma asserted that there is a need to break stereotypes, create a level playing field and gain from the diversities for bridging gaps in the STI ecosystem.
“Knowledge is power” and it is crucial to balance knowledge generation systems with knowledge consuming systems. In order to be globally competitive, seamless connection of such systems should be built upon. Prof. Sharma drew attention to the current disconnect between the research conducted in labs and the problems faced by the community. Both Prof. VijayRaghavan and Prof. Sharma stressed on the need to foster science communication at every level of scientific training. Answering questions on accessibility of knowledge, Prof. VijayRaghavan vouched for a nationwide, open access policy. Outcomes of public funded research should be available to everyone, enhancing democratisation and transparency in scientific knowledge. As a firm believer of ‘transparency at all levels’ Prof. VijayRaghavan assured that the STIP 2020 policy documents would be made available to the public with an aim to facilitate holistic and transparent policy dialogues,creating an environment for participatory policy making.
“Together we can achieve great things” was a call by Prof. VijayRaghavan that inculcated optimism in the audience. There is a need to evolve from a competition model of science to cooperation, with strong linkages across the knowledge ecosystem. The recent success of developing a ventilator at IIT Kanpur in less than a month, is a classic example of how ‘necessity is the mother of invention.’ Prof Sharma stressed on the need to scale up ideas by connecting grassroot innovations to local entrepreneurs, facilitating prototyping mechanisms and focussing on converting ideas into businesses. In his words, “industry should be involved from the beginning for optimal directions.”
“There is no free lunch” was reiterated to draw attention to the need for sustainability. The ‘new normal’ has reinstated the fact that we cannot have isolated and disconnected policy structures. Prof. VijayRaghavan stressed on how COVID-19 has shown that global supply chains can be strongly affected if we operate in a business like usual scenario. Carrying forward with this view, Prof. Sharma stressed on the need to link traditional knowledge and cultural systems with technological innovations. This is possible by transforming mindsets to nurture genuine curiosity, removing barriers by increasing porosity between disciplines and facilitating convergence of different technologies. Balancing invention with innovation can meet the twin ambitions of Atmanirbhar Bharat (self reliant India) and global competitiveness. Responding to a question on start-up funding, Prof. VijayRaghavan said, “Startups face the challenge of scaling up. There is a need for developing more enabling structures. STIP 2020 will focus on converting ideas and entrepreneurship muscle power into businesses.”
“Leapfrogging to Pole vaulting” Prof. Sharma motivated youngsters to find innovative solutions to grassroot problems, saying “lack of resources cannot be used as an excuse.” Prof. VijayRaghavan, took pride in the fact, “India is one of the few postcolonial countries that has not only invested in the development of its people but also in Science and Technology. We must take up big missions, be ambitious and move past leapfrogging to pole vaulting.” Increasing the porosity in our present structures and intermingling of people from different research institutes and universities, is a challenge that should be addressed. Both of them clarified the misinformation regarding reduced research funding and said that the gross investment into research and development (R&D) has not gone down. Being scientists themselves all three of them agreed that ‘research and innovation’ is not just about the availability of resources and funds, rather its contribution in terms of cultivating scientific temper, improving capabilities and creating solutions to address societal challenges.
The enthusiasm of the participants, speakers and moderators only grew with time, as the interaction lasted for over two hours. Altogether, the STIP-2020 Town Hall Meet brought together stakeholders across sections and at all levels to engage(virtually), seek clarifications, introspect and discuss possible ways towards a holistic STIP2020. The depth of knowledge of the speakers,with sharp-witted humour, truly made it an evening that was invigorating, insightful and inspiring for all.