Sunday, 21 March 2021

A Quick Start to Mission Karmayogi Dr. Sameer Sharma

Simply, the goal of Mission Karmayogi is to transform civil servants into catalysts of change. The challenge is how to quickly transmute the existing training wherewithal (e.g. course material, physical infrastructure) of different training institutes to fulfill the core principles set out in the mission.

One core guiding principle of Mission Karmayogi is to create an ecosystem of shared training infrastructure, including that of learning materials, institutions, and personnel among training institutes. This requires the unification of capacity-building programmes being organized by training institutes of different services. The means to do this is the Integrated Govt. Online training (iGOT) platform.

The iGOT is conceived as a continuous online training platform, which would allow all civil servants to undergo continuous training, depending on their areas of domain specialization. The structure of the iGOT should be in the form of a hub-and-spoke with the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) acting as a hub. The training academies of different services would be the spokes. The hub would provide the best-of-its-kind courses and evolve into a vibrant and world-class marketplace for content, where carefully curated and vetted digital e-learning material would be made available. The hub would also create the content, and organize remotely proctored self-assessments. Some of the key features of services provided by the hub are given below:

  • Simple e-learning modules of short duration - not more than of 30 to 45 minutes.
  • Use state-of-the-art Moodle Technology to develop modules.
  • Create a hierarch of modules - common modules for officers of all services, particular modules for different services, and basic and specialized modules for functional areas.

Another core principle is to provide an opportunity to all civil servants to build their competencies in their self-driven and mandated learning paths. For this, the bespoke approach would be used to impart skills and knowledge. There are two distinguishing characteristics of the bespoke approach - self-learning and self-assessment.

Self-learning allows officers to acquire knowledge and skills at their own pace depending on their position on the learning curve in key areas linked to their job profiles. This takes care of the diversity in knowledge, backgrounds and experience of officers. On the other hand, self-assessment would be done through mock tests and assessment tests. Self-assessment reduces the fear of taking examinations, as well as allows learners to test themselves at a pace they feel comfortable at.

One more core principle is to create and deliver learning content relevant to the identified framework of roles, activities, and competencies of positions in different organizations and services. For this, the flipped classroom method holds much promise.

The first “flip” is to ask learners (officers undergoing training) to assume the role of a teacher and teach practices to peer groups in the classroom. The instructor manages the process as a guide. In this, the passive elements (e.g. lectures) become homework, and active elements (e.g. assignments) become classroom learning. The learner-teachers are evaluated on the “teaching performance - ability to answer questions and think on their feet”. The instructor acts as a student and steers the group to understand which theory works best for what kind of practice. Another flip is that students are graded on the relevance of questions asked, not on the answers given.

For the flipped classrooms, training content would primarily be in the form of accounts of practice (e.g. case studies, narratives, vignettes).

The aim of accounts of experience will not be to provide learners with universal rules and generalizations, but to give insights into processes of decision-making in messy problems involving values, judgment, multiple interpretations, administrators’ particular identities, and personal and group agendas. Learners obtain answers to the question - How did the conventional practices and decision-making come about, and how have these have been modified in response to the social, economic, political and cultural orders?

The accounts of practice would be rich in history or process (contextual).

The depth of contextualizing detail provides the “toolbox” to learners to draw on understandings or ideas developed in another context to the current decision setting, and determine what is unique to a particular time and place, versus what is more general. The deep situational understanding is expected to empower learners to deal with new problems and circumstances.

Some ways of providing a head start to Mission Karmayogi have been spelt out. The proposed roll-out is expected to morph civil servants into change agents who possess “a set of capacities, sensibilities and perspectives that bridge common divide between theory and praxis and also the multiple divides between disciplines and professions that are necessary to decide in uncertain, unstable settings containing value conflicts found in the unique Indian environment”. 

(Author has a PhD from USA and a DLitt from Kanchi University. The article is based on his research and practice and views are personal)

Sunday, 14 March 2021

What has made e-commerce such a hit in India

The lack of evenness between the vertical and horizontal trade had two effects. First, a highly skewed ratio between cities and villages emerged. For example, Johnson (in the 1950s) found that in India, on an average, there were 468 villages for every town. If the inter-urban hierarchy of settlements was not skewed and the ratio was the same as in the United States, then India would have had 47,000 towns; instead, she had less than 2,000.

Second, the spatial pattern of Indian cities and villages in space evolved in a different way. The Indian system acquired a dendritic form in which the major port cities represent the head of the dendrite and the strategic cities and local marketplaces constituted the tail. During the same period, settlements in the West arranged themselves in the form of the asymmetrical honeycomb (hexagonal) because a hexagon is the most efficient distribution of habitations in space. In this arrangement, strong economic links existed between settlements and investment, both private and public, leading to the best development outcomes.

A well-ordered habitation pattern arises when trade between the vertical and horizontal value chains is balanced among settlements at different levels – global, nation state, district, city and village.

The conventional way to address asymmetry in spatial patterns of settlements is to identify the gaps in the hierarchy of settlements and focus on the growth of high potential intermediate settlements. This strategy was suggested by the National Commission on Urbanisation (NCU) in 1988. The NCU noted that markets in cities were isolated with weak linkages to hinterlands. In order to address the gaps in the urban network, the NCU recommended retrofitting of intermediate towns. Specifically, the NCU identified 329 cities, called Generator of Economic Momentum (GEMs), and 49 Spatial Priority Urban Regions (SPURs) for redevelopment. The development of GEMs and SPURs would lead to an ordered network of market- places in the way given below. Traditionally, retail stores selling cheaper, frequently purchased goods (e.g. groceries) are found in small towns and these are called “low order goods”. On the other hand, departmental stores (or malls) selling expensive, less frequently purchased goods (e.g. watches, jewellery) are located in large cities and these are called “high order goods”. People living in small towns visit large cities in order to purchase high-order goods. In a well-ordered hierarchy, towns selling different orders of goods are arranged in a way so that consumers have to travel the minimum distance to purchase goods and services. Digital technology has opened up avenues for addressing the gaps in urban networks without waiting for the development of intermediate towns.

E-commerce is a digital platform that connects consumers with producers (or intermediaries) without the intermediation of a physical marketplace. E-commerce delivers goods and some services at the consumer’s doorstep so that they do not have to physically go to out- lets. The size of settlements in terms of markets selling different orders of goods loses meaning. The lack of continuum from the villages to the metropolitan cities ceases to matter. Nations do not have to go through the slow and costly process of developing missing settlements. In practical terms, a virtual network of markets is created, which substitutes for missing brick-and-mortar stores in a skewed settlement pattern of marketplaces. This is what has happened in India and has led to an explosive growth of e-commerce. There are potential benefits for domestic supply chains too. Imagine if e-commerce companies start buying farm products directly from farmers and sell to households in India or to any place in the world. Farmers will get a higher price and consumers will be able to buy reliable farm produce at cheaper rates. There will be large-scale employment generation in villages, small towns and large cities. A large-scale digital network will develop, which will enable routing of subsi- dies directly to the farmers.

Most importantly, an adverse colonial legacy will be reshaped to India’s benefit. (Author has a PhD from the USA and a DLitt from Kanchi University. The arti- cle is based on his research and practice and views are personal Imagine if e-commerce companies start buying farm products directly from farmers and sell to households in India or to any place in the world. Farmers will get a higher price and consumers will be able to buy reliable farm produce at cheaper rates.

Monday, 8 March 2021

On Nanomaterials and Phase Diagrams

The famous lecture of Richard Feynman in 1959 to the American Physical Society titled There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom gave birth to the vast field of nanoscience and nano- technology. Feynman talked about the staggeringly small world out there and gave the exam- ple of how all the 24 volumes of Encyclopaedia Brittanica can be written on the head of a   pin, by demagnifying 25,000 times! It took several decades for the concept to develop into a full-fledged interdisciplinary field covering materials science, physics, chemistry, biology, mechanical and electrical engineering and medicine.

The prefix nano stands for nanometre (nm). Typical microstructural size ranges like ultrafine grain size have the lower limit of  ~0.1 µm (1000 A˚  or 100 nm), whereas the atomic dimensions like a lattice parameter lie in the range of 3-10 A˚  (0.3-1 nm). Between these two ranges lies the nano range: 10-1000 A˚  (1-100 nm).

The influence of particle size on the location of phase boundaries of an equilibrium phase diagram was known for a long time. Significant shifts of the boundaries occur, when the particle size decreases to the nanorange. Examples of recent experimental results on this shift are discussed below, comparing it with calculated variations.

CALPHAD-type and other theoretical modelling of phase diagrams of nanomaterials have been attempted (Q. Jiang and C.C. Yang, Curr. Nanosci., 2008, 4, p 179-200; G. Garzel, J. Janczak-Rusch, and L. Zebdyr, CALPHAD, 2012, 36, p 52-56; A. Kroupa, T. Kana, and A. Zemanova, 4th Int. Conf. NANOCON 2012, Brno, Czech Rep., 2012, p 60-65; J. Lee and K.J. Sim,CALPHAD, 2014, 44, p 129-132). The main improvement is to include a surface energy term to the usual description of the Gibbs energy G:

G = Gref + Gideal + Gexcess + Gmagnetic + Gsurface

Thermochemical data for the energy of the reference states, magnetic energy and excess energy (to account for the deviation from ideality) are well documented for bulk materials. Estimates of the surface energy term have been made from the following equation:

Gsurface = 2CγVm/r

where γ is the specific surface energy, Vm is the molar volume, C is a shape factor and r is the radius of the particle. For a spherical particle, the shape factor C is unity. For a nanowire of cylindrical radius r and length l(l  r), C turns out to be 0.5. For a nanofilm of thickness t and surface area much larger than t, t/2 substitutes for r and C = 0.333. (Garzel et al.) However, an additional term γ´ comes into picture in the case of nanofilms, due to the interfacial energy (including energy of the interface stress) between the film and the substrate on which it forms. Gsurface is inversely related to the radius of the spherical nanoparticle, to the cylindrical radius of a nanowire or to the thickness of a nanofilm.

Experimental data on phase equilibria in nanomaterials are scarce. Production of nanopowders and their characterization with respect to the particle shape and size distribution remain a challenge. For phase equilibrium studies, the standard experimental techniques such as XRD, EPMA and SEM have to be supplemented with transmission electron microscopy and three- dimensional atom probe. Additionally, accurate surface energy measurements are required.

In typical examples below, the calculated phase diagrams are compared with available experimental data. Figure 1(a) compares the calculated melting points of pure gold for nanospheres and nanowires with experimental data. (Jiang et al.) There is a depression of the melting point with decreasing size, the depression being less pronounced for nanowires. The decrease of the critical transition temperatures in the nanorange for magnetic transitions (Curie and Neel temperatures), superconducting transitions and glass transitions in polymers were calculated from theoretical models by Jiang et al and compared with experimental data. Figure 1(b) from Lee et al. depicts the Ag-Au isomorphous binary phase diagram calculated for bulk material and in the nanorange. The available experimental data on the depression of the melting points in the nanorange for pure Ag and Au are plotted on the axes, showing satisfactory agreement. Similar phase diagrams were computed by Jiang et al for other isomorphous systems such as Cu-Ni, Ge-Si and Al2O3-Cr2O3. Figure 1(c) shows the calculated Au-Cu phase diagram with a congruent melting point. In the nanosize range, this point shifts downwards and also to Cu-rich compositions (G. Guisbiers, S. Mejia-Rosales, S. Khanal, F.Ruiz-Zepeda, R.L. Whetten, and M. Jose-Yacaman, Nano Lett., 2014, 14(11),

Fig. 1   (a) Depression of the melting point of gold nanospheres and nanowires as a function of the spherical or cylindrical radius r (Jiang et al.), (b) Ag-Au phase diagram in the nanorange (Lee et al.), (c) Au-Cu phase diagram in the nanorange (Guisbiers et al.), and (c) Ag-Cu eutectic system in the nanorange (Garzel et al.)

Fig. 2 Ni-Sn binary phase diagram (a) for bulk material, and (b) for nanoparticles of radius ~5 nm (Kroupa et al)

p 6718-6726). Figure 1(d) shows the calculated Ag-Cu eutectic system for bulk material, nanospheres of radius equal to 5 nm and for thin films of thickness equal to 10 nm (Garzel et al). The energy of the interface between the film and the substrate was not considered by Garzel et al. In the nanorange, a shift of the eutectic composition to the left towards Ag-rich compositions is seen.

Calculations have been reported for binary systems with several intermediate phases and invariant reactions. Figure 2 shows the Ni-Sn system for bulk material and for nanospheres (r = 5 nm) (Kroupa et al). The depression of both the stability regions of the intermetallic compounds and the invariant reactions to lower temperatures is evident. The invariant reactions remain the same. No experimental results are available for comparison.

In conclusion, the all-pervasive influence of the nano phenomenon on the phase equilibria in materials is well established. Experimentation and validation of the experimental results by computer calculations are daunting tasks. Production of nanocrystals and their characterization in terms of size and shape are by no means easy. Phase equilibrium studies require additional tools for reliable measurements in the nanorange. Theoretical modelling will surely undergo further refinements in future. This vast emerging field offers an excellent opportunity for the ‘‘brave’’ to delve into!

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