Diana Jue-Rajasingh

Risk or Perceived Risk?

Posted in Fulbright, India, Traveling by Diana on December 29, 2012

Something I’ve been thinking about lately is whether or not IAS officers actually face real risk. A few weeks back, after I brought up my ideas on risk to my research adviser, he asked me, “But what do they really have to fear?” And then I was talking with a retired businessman (amazingly, he led the Microsoft India initiative), and during our discussion about public administration, he brought up the same point. In his opinion, it’s not that officers have much to fear. They just think that they do.

I contrast this view with some of the officers I’ve been speaking with – particularly the one who did end up in trouble with his political bosses. Some, but not all, think that being an IAS is particularly difficult because of all of the watchdogs and the centralized, hierarchical structure that, in my understanding, seems to strip away true authority and space to act. For them, being an IAS officer is like running a marathon in shackles. The public might be demanding that they do something, but for some reason or another, they cannot.

Now, is there real risk involved in taking decisions, or is there just the perception of risk? How do I even figure this out? I think that a lot of things must go on without my or the public knowing about them. And if there is no real risk, then why do so many officers think that there is? Where does this understanding come from? And how have those officers who have “stood up for what they believe in” done so? Did they just have an above average amount of bravery, or did they see something that others didn’t see? Were they privy to information that others weren’t?

I want to believe that there’s real risk involved and that this risk can be mitigated by granting more authority through decentralization and by letting IAS officers innovate through their positions by implementing risk management. I want to believe that a system can be created in which officers can be rewarded for doing something (despite the outcome) and punished for doing nothing (the system currently works the other way around). If there is no real risk but rather the perception of risk, then the problem and solution become different. We then focus more on the leadership capabilities of individuals – their management skills, ability to see opportunities, self-initiative, and courage. Then, I think, the process of becoming part of the IAS needs to be changed significantly.

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