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CSTEP: World-class research meets policy and decision making

[Editor’s Note: Last month, I had a meeting with Dr. S.S. Krishnan, Principal Research Scientist and Energy Efficiency category lead at Bangalore-based CSTEP. This post is based on our conversation and subsequent research.]

CSTEP (which expands to Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy) is a non-profit research corporation registered under Section 25 of the Companies Act 1956. CSTEP was founded in 2005 by the eminent Dr. V.S. Arunachalam who served as Scientific Advisor to the Defence Ministry under five Prime Ministers and has been awarded the Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan.

The pedigree of CSTEP’s Director, Dr. Anshu Bharadwaj, is indicative that CSTEP isn’t just a research organization. Dr. Bharadwaj trained first as an engineer, then obtained an MBA from IIM-Calcutta and later did a Ph.D (in Engineering & Public Policy) from Carnegie Mellon University. After a 15-year stint with the Indian Administrative Services (IAS), he joined CSTEP to make an impact through science, technology and policy.

Focus Areas

CSTEP’s 60-person organization conducts interdisciplinary research in the areas of energy, next generation infrastructure, new materials (think batteries), communication, and security technologies. I’ve short-listed some of CSTEP’s research projects that better illustrate the kind of problems they are attempting to solve:

  • Action Research on Homelessness in Bangalore City: In collaboration with leading Bangalore NGOs, an exhaustive report on homelessness was created. This report identified gaps in national surveys and census, in essence rendering the homeless as invisible and thus depriving them of virtually all fundamental rights.
  • Agricultural Supply Chain: A simulation-based game built on a model of agricultural supply chains and fine-tuned with data from recent mango season, being done in collaboration with a Dutch NGO.
  • Materials Genome project: Available experimental data as well as results of ab initio calculations are mined in order to predict new materials. CSTEP wishes to emulate the human genome project and hence calls this the “Materials Genome” project. By contrast, traditional methods depend on costly and time-consuming experimental work followed by modeling dictated by current theory and prediction of new materials there from. The new method speeds up discovery and applications and is widely applicable. The initial plan is to focus on battery materials.
  • Energy Policy Games: A simulation-based paper game where participants play the roles of government decision makers from different ministries negotiating for funds to build additional power plants to attempt to reach Planning Commission goals. The game highlights tradeoffs in policy and has been played with private sector firms active in the energy space as well as academia.
  • Rural Energy-Livelihood Linkages: Completed pilot study of rural energy-livelihood linkages in three districts in Andhra Pradesh. In collaboration with Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP), a team of energy engineers, a sociologist, and CSTEP staff conducted in-depth interviews with households.

Fundraising

CSTEP has raised funds from the following sources:

  • SSN Education and Charitable Trust, Oak Foundation, and ClimateWorks Foundation (for Energy vertical)
  • Jamshetji Tata Trust (for Next Generation Infrastructure Lab)
  • Bureau of Energy Efficiency, Indo-US Science and Technology Forum, Next Generation Infrastructure Foundation (Netherlands), Govt. of Karnataka, USAID, DRDO, Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), ONGC, NTPC, Wipro, and GE (for project-level funding)