Indian Institute of Technology, Madras today announced the establishment of the Centre for Technology and Policy (CTaP) at its campus. CTaP has been established to explore the interaction between technology and public policy to better address India’s pressing development problems.
CTaP will play a significant role in the design, promotion/advocacy and assessment of public policies impinged by technological and scientific innovations, and identification of key technology gaps in meeting development goals in the identified areas.
CTaP, established as an action-oriented centre, will support research to improve our understanding of the way that policy affects technology innovation and scale. The research here will focus on building this understanding in order to identify key policy initiatives that can encourage innovations and technology interventions to meet public goals. CTaP’s objective is also to provide feedback to technology innovators on how their work could be made more effective in a given policy setting. CTaP will draw on IIT Madras faculty expertise as well as Centre’s research staff. In addition, it will enable extensive consultation and networking with policy makers, industry, investors and other stakeholders.
“The Centre will strive to provide hitherto unavailable analyses and strategy options to the national policy making bodies, by leveraging IIT-M’s cutting edge research activities in the areas of water, decentralized solar energy systems, telecom and IT, online education and human healthcare technologies. The proposed Centre will aim to cast new light by taking a strongly inter-disciplinary approach involving the engineering and social science faculties as well as the incubation centres of the Institute”, said Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Director, IIT Madras, during the launch of the Centre in Chennai today.
“CTaP is uniquely positioned at IIT-Madras to carry out research on alternative strategies to meet developmental challenges in a manner that is fully informed by both the technological and socio-economic imperatives and constraints”, said Professor V R Muraleedharan, Professor In-charge of CTaP, IIT Madras.
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Given the 12th Five Year Plan focus, the Centre will focus developing policies and strategies, including identification of key technology gaps, in the following domains:
1. Energy: Given the rapid change in solar photo-voltaic technology and systems, including dropping prices, the policy options, the technology adoption roadmap, and the technology gaps in deployment scenarios ranging from large solar farms to decentralized micro-grids will be analysed. The pathway to large-scale adoption including financing, seamless integration with the electricity grid, etc. will be delineated.
Key Policy Objective: To enhance the availability and reduce costs of delivered power
2. Water: A plethora of technologies for water purification for drinking purposes, including nanotechnology-based systems and ranging in scale from domestic to community-scale, are coming to the market regularly. Urban and rural water-supply systems, as well as irrigation needs are being assessed and large schemes for addressing deficiencies are being launched. Key technology, economic and social acceptability issues that impact scaling and success will be studied, and technology gaps and policy options that ensure all three will be determined.
Key Policy Objective: To improve governance and management of water to ensure availability of water for various purposes, and to improve water utilization particularly by decentralized waste water treatment systems.
3. Human Health: The cost of treatment of a burgeoning population with increasing lifestyle disease burden will make it very difficult to provide healthcare to our population. Technology gaps in design and manufacture of biomedical devices, with particular emphasis on screening and disease prevention,
Key Policy Objective: To improve access to affordable healthcare.
4. Education: Use of low-cost tablets and other devices for intervention in the pedagogic processes at all levels of education in order to achieve specific learning outcomes. The emerging online education framework and its potential to address India’s shortage of teachers and infrastructure.
Key Policy Objective(s): to enhance access to, and cost and quality of education at various levels of learning;
5. Telecom and IT applications: While India has broadly achieved the tele-density targets; broadband connectivity is the next important target. This is all the more important because of its criticality for all the other sectors discussed above. The electronics and telecom policies have to be tailored to ensure broadband penetration and development of high-impact applications.
Key policy objective: Deep broadband penetration into urban and rural areas, as well as effective IT applications for agriculture, education, and healthcare.
Once the unique approach taken by the Centre is established and the Centre discovers new pathways to thinking about policy making in technology-impacted areas, new areas such as built infrastructure, transportation, manufacturing, etc. where the Institute has strength will also be taken up.
The original motivation for the proposed Centre is derived from the 12th Plan document. The 12th Five Year Plan of India (2012-17) identifies two related challenges with regard to science and technology in India: (a) How to enhance the “Indian S&T landscape” and improve our ranking in terms of quality and quantum of S&T activities among the competing countries; and (b) how to “ensure S&T become an integral component of national developmental processes”. The Plan document then specifies four priority areas (namely, Food, Water, Energy and Healthcare) in which we “need to evolve delivery mechanisms for innovative deployment of technologies and business models of financing deployment of innovations.”
IIT Madras is uniquely placed in making substantial contributions to national policy making processes in the priority areas of energy, water, healthcare, telecom, and education. The faculty in the relevant technology areas has a proven record of technology development and introduction of products, systems and processes in the field. While doing this, they have grappled with the complexities alluded to above and have personal experience in assessing the trade-offs. The social science faculty in the Institute has grown in recent years, and includes people whose research work is in these very areas. The inter-disciplinary teams of social science and engineering faculty at IIT-Madras are thus in a unique position to carry out research on alternative strategies in these areas in a manner that is fully informed by both the technological and socio-economic imperatives and constraints.
Besides the inter-disciplinary faculties of the Institute, there has also been a healthy tradition of participation by students, not just as researchers, but as entrepreneurs who have incubated companies in these spaces. IIT Madras has incubated companies and collaborated with start-ups in the telecom, IT, healthcare, and solar energy sectors. These youngsters often bring a fresh perspective to the problems being addressed that result in breaking of long-standing barriers in our thinking. The Rural Technology and Business Incubator (RTBI) at IIT Madras have been particularly successful in incubating a large number of companies addressing specific rural markets and business models.
Several groups at IIT Madras are working on a range of technologies that could help address public policy challenges. They include broadly, Energy, Medical Devices and Healthcare, Water, Built Environment, Transportation, Telecommunication and Information Technology, Environmental Pollution, Smart materials, and Synthetic materials/processes.
Engineering and Science Faculties working in these domains have enormous potential to collaborate with social scientists and contribute to public policies with specific focus on national priorities and developmental challenges.