Course Overview

Public systems across sectors in India are inadequate, and the lack of accountability is a binding constraint. The government attempts to deliver on its commitment to a transparent, decentralized and well-functioning state. Still, public authorities seem to lack both - the capacity (technical and administrative) and ability (political and institutional) to deliver public goods, characterizing India's state capabilities as weak. This cavity in the system leaves a significant need to enhance the competency of administrative structures and human resources.

''Understanding State Capabilities' places state capability at the front of the debate on governance and accountability. By focusing on the capability gap in the governance structure, the course equips participants to understand the root causes of administrative failure.

This knowledge should enable them to find answers to the question of what can be done to improve state capability in India and design interventions to acknowledge the holistic need to address state capacity in design and management.

The course dives into the following themes:

1) Theory of decentralization and its influence on India's governance model.

2) Tools of public administration, which will explain the workings of Indian state bureaucracy, particularly at the level of implementation.

3) Tools of public finance, which will constitute learning about plans, budgets, and fund flows in key social sector programmes.

4) Tools of social accountability and how their effective application can strengthen the people's voice to demand accountability from the government.

By the end of the course, the participants will be able to:

  • Build a nuanced understanding of government structures.

  • Learn why state capability matters in service delivery implementation.

  • Assess weaknesses and gaps in service delivery implementation based on the foundation of their understanding of state capability.

  • Learn about the importance and relevance of social accountability.

  • Apply a systems thinking approach to building state capability at the frontline.


  • Who should participate?

    This course is likely to benefit you if you are a young professional in the development sector or a student interested in knowing more about the Indian state.

  • What is the format of the course?

    The course is entirely online and delivered in English. It is self-paced.

  • What is the duration of the course?

    The online course can be completed in approximately 20 hours (4 hours a week for 5 weeks is ideally recommended). You can complete the course within 3 months from the date of access.

  • What is the pedagogy of the course?

    It adopts a pedagogical model that focuses on reflection and application of concepts discussed in the modules. Through the tools of voiceovers, quizzes and assignments the course aims at enabling students to generate links between their existing knowledge and the content of the course.

  • Is this a certified course?

    Yes, if you participate in a full course, you are eligible to receive a certificate from the Centre for Policy Research.

  • Who is the course developed by?

    This course is developed by the team at Accountability Initiative, who collectively have in-depth understanding of state capabilities and accountability systems by tracking the planning, budgeting and decision making structures of social welfare programmes. Conceptualised and developed by: Rajika Seth, Aamna Ahmad, Mallika Arora Supported by: T.R. Raghunandan (Advisor, Accountability Initiative), and the Accountability Initiative's Research team.

Course curriculum

  • 1

    Module 0:Introduction

    • What is Understanding State Capabilities about?

    • Introduction to Government and Government Functioning

    • What does the government do?

  • 2

    Module 1:Decentralisation

    • What will you learn this week?

    • 1.1 Introduction to decentralisation

    • 1.2.1 Understanding Theory : Forms of Decentralisation

    • Review Quiz 1

    • 1.2.2 Understanding Theory: Assigning functions

    • 1.2.3 Understanding Theory: Deep Dive into Political and Fiscal Decentralisation

    • 1.2.4 Understanding Theory: Why Do We Need Multi-Level Governments?

    • Review Quiz 2

    • 1.3 Will Decentralisation Work? How Can it be Made to Work?

    • 1.4 How Can Decentralisation be Designed Better?

    • 1.5 Assigning Functions for Decentralisation

    • 1.5B Assigning Functions in Decentralisation: An Example

    • 1.6 India's Commitment to Decentralisation

    • Review Quiz 3

    • 1.7 Decentralised Structure of India

    • 1.8 Decentralisation in India: Reality Today and Way Forward (In Conversation with TR Raghunandan)

    • List of References

  • 3

    Module 2: Public Administration in India

    • What will you learn this week?

    • 2.1 Who are Bureaucrats and Why is it Important to Understand Them?

    • 2.2 Important Theoretical Concepts

    • Review Quiz 1

    • 2.3 The Structure of Public Administration in India

    • 2.4 Bureaucracy and Motivation

    • 2.4.1 What Motivates Bureaucrats to Join the Public Sector?

    • 2.4.2 What Motivates Bureaucrats on the Job?

    • 2.5 Recruitment and Capacity Building

    • 2.5.1 Recruitment and Capacity Building

    • Review Quiz 2

    • 2.6 Transfers in the Bureaucracy

    • AI Hacks: Engaging with the Bureaucracy

    • Review Quiz 3

    • 2.7 A Day in the Life of a Bureaucrat

    • 2.7.1 A Day in the Life of a Bureaucrat

    • AI Hacks: Engaging with the Bureaucracy

    • 2.8 Communication in the Bureaucracy

    • Review Quiz 4

    • 2.9 Complications in the Public Administrative Structure

    • 2.10 What are some of the key institutional challenges that the bureaucracy needs to address: TR Raghunandan Answers

    • 2.11 In Conversation with TR Raghunandan on the Indian Bureaucracy Today

    • 2.12 In Conversation with Yamini Aiyar on the 'Way Forward for the Indian Bureaucracy: Challenges and Reforms'

    • 2.13 Additional Reading: The Second Administrative Reforms Commission

    • List of References

  • 4

    Module 3 : Modalities of Public Finance

    • What will you learn this week?

    • 3.1 Centre-State Fiscal Transfers in India: Where Does the Government Get its Money From?

    • 3.2 Centre-State Fiscal Transfers in India: How Does the Government Spend its Money?

    • Review Quiz 1

    • Why is Fiscal Federalism Important in India?

    • 3.3 Centre-State Fiscal Transfers in India: Institutional Set-Up

    • Activity: Imagine that You are the Finance Commission Chair!

    • 3.4 Centre-State Fiscal Transfers in India: Impact of COVID19

    • 3.5.1 Centrally Sponsored Schemes: Theory vs Reality

    • Why is Fiscal Federalism Important in India? More Examples

    • 3.5.2 Centrally Sponsored Schemes: Planning

    • Review Quiz 2

    • 3.5.3 Centrally Sponsored Schemes: Releases

    • 3.5.4 Centrally Sponsored Schemes: Expenditure

    • 3.5.5 Centrally Sponsored Schemes: Reasons for Low Expenditure

    • 3.5.6 Centrally Sponsored Schemes: Can Governments Do Better?

    • Review Quiz 3

    • 3.6 Introduction to Budgets

    • 3.7 Why must You Look at Budgets?

    • 3.8 Key Terms and Processes in the Budget

    • Review Quiz 4

    • 3.9 Union and State Budget Processes

    • 3.10 Why do Budgets Matter to You?

    • 3.11 Challenges of Working with Budgets

    • Review Quiz 5

    • Exercise: Reading the Budget

  • 5

    Module 4: Planning and Impact on Service Delivery

    • What will you learn in this section?

    • 4.1 Introduction to Planning

    • 4.2 History of Planning

    • Review Quiz 1

    • 4.3 Planning in the Era of the Planning Commission

    • 4.4A The Planning Process: GPDP

    • 4.4B The Planning process: Planning Under a Scheme

    • Review Quiz 2

    • 4.5 How does planning impact service delivery

    • 4.6 In Conversation with TR Raghunandan: Are there any examples of good planning?

    • 4.7 In Conversation with TR Raghunandan: What are some key challenges in the planning process?

    • 4.8 Impact on Service Delivery

    • Review Quiz 3

  • 6

    Module 5: Citizen Participation and Social Accountability

    • What will you learn in this section?

    • 5.1.1 Citizen Participation

    • 5.1.2 The Relationship between Citizens and State

    • 5. 2.1 What is Social Accountability?

    • 5.2.2 What is Social Accountability

    • 5.3 Social Accountability Movements: Examples from India and the World

    • 5.4 Social Accountability: The Story So Far

    • Review Quiz 1

    • 5.5.1 Social Accountability: The Story So Far (In Conversation with Nikhil Dey)

    • 5.5.2 Social Accountability: The Story So Far (In Conversation with Sowmya Kidambi)

    • 5.5.3 Social Accountability: The Story So Far (In Conversation with Avani Kapur)

    • 5.6 Doing Social Accountability Differently

    • Review Quiz 2

    • List of References

  • 7

    Signing Off

    • Congratulations for completing Understanding State Capabilities course

    • Feedback Form: Let Us Know What You Thought


Step 1

Signing up for this course is a 2-step process. Register for the course using this form.

Fee Payment

Step 2

The online course is priced at ₹7045 (including GST). We are currently offering a 30% discount to all new learners, thereby bringing down the total price to ₹5000. If you are a student, we have further scholarships available. Send us your student ID at [email protected] to avail the scholarship.

Hear from our Alumni

Let's bring out the change!

Kaustubh Varat

Great course with great content and great use of multimedia! It is a great amalgamation of theory and practices that the government institutions follow in their daily life. The real-life examples make it easy to understand the different dimensions of the issues that are pertinent for decades. The course talks about the gaps in the existing system and how one could work around it to make it better.

Engaging learning experience

Tanya Rana

As a student of public policy, this course was useful to me in more ways than one. The examples used throughout the modules, from education to health, were relevant, igniting debate and reasoning of my own to grasp the systemic development challenges of our country. It substantiated why understanding grassroots' needs are critical to planning - for funds, devolution of power, and designing of appropriate schemes, necessitating an institutional mechanism that is binding for those in the process of delivering public services at all levels, thus deepening social democracy.