Sunday 22 December 2013

The LRB phenomenon....

In the IIMA classrooms, LRB deliberately cultivated a tough, no-nonsense image. He had an acerbic wit and did not tolerate looseness. A student commented, "On the whole, do we affectionately remember Labdhi? I doubt we had such emotional involvement. Some of us, who have been victims of his ruthless massacre hated to love him." In 1987, the PGP batch published, in jest, a case on the "Labdhi Bhandari phenomenon" in the weekly campus magazine. It was republished a year later, after his death. It makes amusing reading today. 

The need for deification - A case study of the Labdhi Bhandari phenomenon.

At the outset, the author would like to make the following points clear.

1. This paper is an academic exercise concerned with issues and concepts and not personalities. The author, therefore, analyses Labdhi Bhandari (henceforth called LRB) as a concept and not a mere personality.

2. The author has high regard for the professional abilities of LRB. Thus a discussion of the positive attributes (as perceived by the author) should noir be construed as sycophancy and a reference to the negative attributes (as perceived by the authors) as a criticism or LRB.

Some hypotheses and definitions:

1. There is an organic need for deification in every human being.

2. Idol is what people aspire to become but cannot become.

3. Leader is man of masses - with whom everybody can identify. Idol, in contrast, is not a part of the masses. People hope to ape him but realize that such is not possible.

4. For the idol to maintain its mysticism, a deliberate attempt to be enigmatic is essential.

5. The more the brilliance of X, higher would be his reverence for Y, provided he is convinced that Y is better than him.

IIMA ethos:
1. The bulk of the students at IIMA come here after a successful stint in academics. They are ambitious and believe themselves to be the 'chosen people'. Some of them might also think that the entire earth is somewhere near their navel.

2. Aggression of IIMA students reflects the desire to prove to themselves and to others that they are the best. Armed with modern techniques many have the following attitude - "We have the solution; where is the problem?"

LRB Phenomenon:

State 1 (1986-87)
PGP II : What? LRB is teaching you? Lucky guys!!

PGP I : Why?

PGP II : You don't what LRB is? You must be dumb (PGP I turns red). He is the highest paid consultant in India. He has launched......he is good! Second batch of PGDM! His thesis was the best in USA. Don't make arbit CP in his class - he will chew you.

Stage 2 (1986-87, Marketing I)
Enters LRB. Smartly attired - polished shoes, matching socks, neat appearance, pin drop silence. Devotees are having their first darshan. Agnostics and atheists are visibly impressed.

LRB sits on the table. The class begins.

CP (class participation) kings are quiet.

Arbit CP and you have had it. Perfect accent, modulated voice, rigorous logic.

Yes, what PGP IIs say is true. Nobody dare argue with him. He seldom smiles, and what a sense of humor!

Why the deification?
Answer is obvious. They would want to be like him - brilliant, respected, dreaded, a cut above the rest, successful and enigmatic.

We don't love him, we idolize him. He is the ultimate. He satisfies the inherent need for deification (Hypo 1). Societies feel secure when they have a beacon to guide them. Further the concept of omniscient and omnipotent god imparts stability to society for it keeps the egos of the constituents in check. LRB is very helpful on this count.

If LRB becomes accessible, this respect might turn into adoration. Familiarity breeds contempt. Elusiveness reinforces the halo (Hyop 4).

What he says is "Vedbakya". Nobody dares disagree with him. Given the cutthroat competition amongst the students anybody who can cross swords with him, becomes different from others. This is unacceptable to the mainstream. Iconoclasts are viewed with suspicion if not outright contempt. Hence is deification has an egalitarian influence on IIMA students.

Absolutism is inimical to development. Growth is a dialectic process, be it the Hegelian or Marxist way. Excellence has no limit - it is like our shadow. The more we try to reach it, the further it goes. LRB phenomenon should enthuse us to improve - continuously. It should not set a limit to our search for excellence.

Saturday 21 December 2013

LRB meets with David and Fran Korten

In December 1975, LRB was nearing the end of his PhD at Columbia University. He had completed his research, and expected to finish writing his thesis in a few months. Around this time, he met with David and Fran Korten, who were then on the faculty at Harvard University. David worked at the Harvard Institute for International Development on a Ford Foundation project to strengthen the organization and management of national family planning programs. David and Fran, fortuitously for us, summarized their meeting with him in December, 1975 in a 5-page report for what seems some kind of newsletter.  This note is historically very rich from the perspective of the Reconstructing LRB project. It gives a nice summary of LRB's research, shares impressions of LRB and provides an invaluable insight into the future directions LRB hoped to take this research after returning to India, especially in terms of writing cases and possible future collaborations. The note is interesting in one other respect - it makes no mention of the Emergency that had been declared in India a few months ago - an event (and regime) that would leave a permanent scar on family planning in India. 

Meeting with Labdhi Bhandari

We met for about 2 hours with Labdhi Bhandari, a doctoral candidate at Columbia in the marketing area working under Farley. His thesis, based on data collected in India, seeks the application of marketing research techniques to the design of family planning program strategies. The purpose of our meeting was to outline a series a cases that might be developed from his thesis research. We were very impressed with him and see his research as representing a major breakthrough in the use of research for the design of family planning persuasion campaigns. His both bright and committed to working in family planning, both in India and elsewhere.

His research uses techniques developed at UCLA for generating value hierarchies and influence patterns. He decided that of the various methodologies, this was the best one available for cross-cultural use as it uses open-ended questions and does not force pre-established categories or assumptions on the respondent.

To determine the value valence of various objects, he asks questions such as "What is a good thing that can happen to you?" Many variations are possible such as " your children?", " your work?" etc.

To get at influence patterns he tasks the answer to one of the above questions and ask, "Who is likely to bring this about?" In rural India this elicits a lot of responses about God. Or he asks, "If this happens who is likely to approve?", "Who is likely to disapprove?"

He eventually begins to relate valued outcomes to family size by questions such as the following. "You say that a good thing that can happen is to have children who turn out to be worthy. How does having many children relate to this outcome? Help? Hinder?" In this general manner, he eventually gets to attitudes and practices related to family planning.

The analysis of the interview responses requires the organization of the responses into relevant categories. He was concerned that the groupings reflect the categories which were meaningful to the people he was interviewing rather than his own categories derived from a Western educational experience. (He in fact was from the area he was working in and knows the local language.)  Thus he used local people to group together the responses which they saw as being essentially similar. He observed that their groupings were quite different from those he would have used and found this in itself a rather powerful insight into the value patterns of the culture.

For purposes of relating his data to the design of program themes, he segments the population into four groups:

1. Those currently contracepting.
2. Those who do not practice, but have an intention to.
3. Those who do not intend to practice, but who do approve of family planning.
4. Those who do not approve of contraception and do not intend to practice it.

He is not particularly concerned with group 1. For group 2, he concludes that an information-oriented message relating more to birth control than to family size is appropriate. While knowledge of their values would be used as a backdrop, knowledge of value orientations is less important for this group.

He suggests that messages for group three should be derived from their values. This is the group to which values oriented messages would be directed. In this group the ideal family size is lower than actual family size and the idea of a small family is OK in their view. The also feel it is okay to do something about it. But they may feel that the methods are anti-religious. They tend to have a strong religious-moral orientation. Or they may be concerned that the methods weaken the body. This is often a concern with tubectomy and vasectomy. There is a belief that those who have had the operation are unable to do hard physical labour and are more often ill.

Group four does not approve of any effort to limit fertility. They do not want to fool with God at all.

He finds attitudes cluster around two subjects--family size and birth control methods. The target group can be differentiated as to whether their resistance relates to one or both of these cluster or concerns. Generally the non-users generate a whole cluster of values much more strongly oriented to the traditional than do the users.

Bhandari noted that often the bad associations with sterilization arise from the poor administration of the progress of the program reflected in inadequate training of personnel and very limited follow-up. The operations are performed and the people forgotten. You only need a few causes of peole getting infections or even dying and you have real image problems. He commented, "One doctor who was doing sterilizations told me himself that he was not well enough trained to do the operation."

In general when people in groups three and four are asked to relate birth control and many children to other outcomes they see only the negative associations with family limitations. They don't connect with the positive valences. The important need is to build positive relationships within the context of their particular value system.

When they talk about the good things that can happen they want to own a house or make progress on their farm. Progress on their farm usually means to have land of their own. Less than a quarter of those from the negative group who mentioned this saw achievement of this aim as related to having fewer children. For group four the number one value is progress in their occupation--on their farm. Actually the negative associations with this group are mainly with the method. In fact, children as such are on the whole not seen as either helping or hindering with achievement on their aims. Only 19% of the fourth group saw having more children as negative. But on the other hand, only 23$ saw it as positive. Thus for most likely there was simply no association between family size and welfare.

His research indicates that there are two major economic arguments in the literature (the one that children are seen as an expense and the other that they are seen as an economic asset) are both myths. At least among the groups studied, the thinking about children is not in relation economic welfare.

The relevant values that do come out very strongly are concern for the welfare of the children. Family harmony is very highly valued. They are concerned about health and about meeting family responsibilities in terms of taking good care of both their children and their parents. They are very interested in having a good agricultural year. It is not a good life or getting ahead kind of thing. It is a matter of survival. And it is largely in the hands of God. Another very important value involves seeing that the children are married of well.

All of this means that one must understand the intricacies of family values to be able to approach the family meaningfully. The people who write the mass media and guide the field motivators have to be better trained in the nuances. Most of the prevailing approaches are based on assumptions regarding who the people think and what they value. The concerns about providing food and hospitals for the growing population are concerns of the national administration. Appeals to these concerns have no meaning for the common people unless they have developed an identification with national needs. Now what does have tremendous meaning for this is the division of land. They see it and they can understand it.

Bhandari noted that there are implications in this type of analysis for the kind of people you assign and for the type of training you use. Also for the methodology of the work. One part of the training of the field workers might involve getting them to categorize the statements collected from such interviews and have them compare their groupings with the groupings actually made by the local people, as a means of developing understanding of the local value system.

In India it is almost universal that the health post staff are not local. Even the janitors tend to commute to work.

The field work was done in Jodhpur, the western most large city in Rajasthan. The rural sample was collected in 8 villages in the region, including a mix of agriculturally well off and agriculturally poor. During the course of the research, Bhandari learned a lot about the program and how it works and how it was perceived by the people. When he gets back he will attempt to get the results to the local officials. He might also develop a project at Ahmedabad. He is getting copies of the messages being used in the program and will work on how they should be adapted, at least for this area.

Another concern he has is with how the program could be more marketing strategy oriented. He has a lot of information pointing up how the family planning effort simply does not use a marketing approach. Nirodh is completely administrative  separate from the rest of the program up to the very higher national level. Thus though the clinics have Nirodh, it is not their program. It is not part of their targets and they don't push it, even though they know that their own product is not well received. The religious perceptions vary by method. The concern is against tampering physically with the body. This is what is anti-religious in their view. Not taking a pill.

IT is interesting that villages have said to Bhandari quite unprompted, "If only there were a pill that we could take." The economists calculate that sterilization is the most cost effective method, ignoring the issue of acceptability. If the program were looked at as a marketing problem there would be more concern for product mix and with how attitudes toward the product are influenced by values. IT is also necessary to learn to think of the price in terms of what the consumer gives up align with the direct costs to the government. Another problem is that since the system has no accountability to the consumer, consumer acceptance is given much less concern.

More attention needs to be given to the dai. The dai are extremely influential in India on all birth related ailments and on female illnesses. At present India has auxiliary nurse midwives coming in from a different culture. They are perceived as an economic and social threat by the midwives, who as a result do everything in their power to make them ineffective. Bhandari commented, "Now obviously you wouldn't appoint someone without influence in the community to sell Chevrolets. Why do it to sell birth control?"

Being from outside the area the ANM's don't understand the people, even if they know the language. They don't know the nuances. He was in a village with an ANM where the villagers were making fun of the ANM with nuances in the language she couldn't understand.

He has data on sources of information relied on by the villages, but not on the actual social structure and organization of the villages. He would like to develop this when he gets back to logk further into the issues of how to use these structures.

We discussed three case themes which he hopes to develop in the near future base don the data and observation described above.


The directly reflects the theme of his dissertation and would probably be the first case to be completed. To simply clearance, the case will probably be written from his point of view as a researcher. Once he gets back to India and tries to sell his concepts it might be possible to add an actual decision maker perspective. The case will briefly explain the methodology and purpose of his research and will summarize the relevant findings. It will also present data on the themes currently being used in Indian family planning mass communication campaigns in the area he studied. HE must evaluate the adequacy of the existing themes, based on his data, and make recommendations for appropriate changes. We might actually want to follow it with a short B case presenting his own recommendations which can then be used as a basis for review.


This second case would focus on the issues related to the various field workers and the person-to-person contacts at the village level. IT would be oriented to issues of the selection and training of field workers, to the way in which they make contact with the village, whom they approach, what messages they communicate, and how they might work through village social structures. Much of this can be built from the data Bhandari already has. His research finding would be an important input, but this case would also require much more contextual data on the community and the field workers than would the mass communications case. He would probably need to develop some additional data on the village social structures and might want to make more observations on field worker contacts. A first cut at this case could be usefully done before returning to India with a plan to fill in some of the gaps after his return.


While this isn't the right title, it reflects the thrust of the anticipated case. Essentially the case will be an overview of the Indian national family planning effort providing the data required for an overall program analysis from a marketing perspective. It would probably be used follow the previous two cases and would bring in issues of product mix, market segmentation, selection of distribution channels, coordinating mass communications and point of contract promotions, and a whole range of related marketing concerns. He intends to write a brief conceptual note describing the basic marketing concepts and their applications in other settings which would provide guidelines of the case analysis. While this can be outlined before he returns to India, it will probably also require more field work. A more interesting decision-maker focus might also be introduced if he is successful after his return in getting some top-level attention for his concepts.

Action Issues: We think that we should be exploring a variety of ways to encourage and support Bhandari's population work. He could be a major new asset for the ICOMP network. First, we think it would be useful to help him get as much exposure as possible for his work. HE is interested in working with anyone interested in trying out the methodology in other settings. Second, it is important to help him get whatever support may be required to keep him fully active in the population field. He will be returning to IIM Ahmedabad in mid-1976. We are not sure whether arrangements have been made for him to join Satia's team, but Dave has written Satia a letter recommending Bhandari as a member of his team. We should be looking for other ways to involve him in ICOMP. One thought that comes to mind beyond development of the cases would be to include him in an editorial role on the casebook we are considering which would focus primarily on the marketing aspects of family planning. We suspect he would be very useful in working up the conceptual parts of the book and in making input to the analysis sections. We could work out an appropriate mix of responsibility between him and us once we get some actual samples of his work.

Labdhi has an immediate problem of funding. His field work in India was funded by the Population Council. His work at Columbia has been covered by a fellowship which runs out the end of this month. He needs funding for another two or three months in New York for completing his thesis. He then apparently has another two or three months before he is due to return to Ahmedabad. During that time he is anxious to find some means of support so that he can get some further experience outside of India, particularly experience that would give him more exposure to population efforts in some other countries. He could be a real asset to Allen Rosenfield in planning the evaluation-management seminar and Dave has suggested to Al that he contact him. Perhaps there might be some role for him in preparation for the ICOMP conference. We could also see trying to link him up with the Population Services International for purposes of developing cases on some of their commercial distribution projects.

In additional to talking to Rosenfield we have suggested to Hank Elkins and Joel Montague that they get acquainted with him. Dave has talked to Pathfinder which has a potential interest in his work. Dave has discussed his situation with Wickham and he will be discussing his work with Farley.

*Over the years, LRB would continue to collaborate with David and Fran Korten, through ICOMP and then the Management Institutes Working Group. When we contacted them recently, David wrote "I remember his name so fondly and so well as a valued friend and colleague over many years in relation to my work with ICOMP and the Management Institutes Working Group. His article on the Poor as Consumers in "Bureaucracy and the Poor" so well reflects his keen intellect and readiness to challenge the flawed conventional wisdom that was all too common in development work.".

A paper rejected...

We recently found a photocopy of a single type-written page in LRB's papers that appears to be a peer review of a paper submitted to a journal. The date of this review is unknown, but it is probably from sometime in late 1975 or early 1976. We do not have a copy of this paper and we do not know what journal it was submitted to, but it would have been a paper based on his doctoral research carried out at Columbia University in collaboration with Prof. John U. Farley, his advisor. The review is unambiguously negative and it's safe to assume that this version of the paper was not accepted. In fact, there is no evidence that he ever published his thesis research in a journal, though his dissertation would soon win the John Howard-AMA award at American Marketing Association's meeting in 1976. LRB did publish his thesis as a book - Communications in Social Marketing: A Study in Family Planning - soon afterwards. 

The paper is poorly written, does not adequately review the literature, reflects a poor understanding of communications theory, and fails to offer a significant contribution to consumer behaviour research methodology. In fact, the proposed design suffers many shortcomings and is probably inferior to that used by most knowledgable researchers.

1. The author states that the paper's purpose is to offer a methodology by which social agencies can design messages to successfully alter family planning behaviors. The 'creativity' question addressed is improperly equated with determining which arguments to include in the presentation. This ignores the fundamental question of how and where to present the arguments. Should one use humor or fear, one-sided or two-sided argumentation, distraction, few repetitions or many, etc? The argument selection question only constitutes one aspect of the acceptance-rejection process, which is, in turn, only one stage in the total persuasion process, other stages, exposure, attention, comprehension, and retention and not discussed in the paper. This is a serious shortcoming.

2. The author's distinction between the advertising problem faced by profit versus nonprofit organizations is not totally adequate and may not even be correct. He states that profit firms only deal with lower order beliefs, while nonprofit firms must alter higher oder ones. This is contradicted by the successful campaign to encourage males to adopt hair spays and dryers, and annual mail early and file order campaigns by the post office and tax departments, respectively. It would appear that a more fundamental difference is that nonprofit organizations should have greater source credibility since their messages should be perceived as directed solely at benefitting the audience and not the organization itself.

3. In his development of a segmentation of the audience, the author assumes that the hierarchical attitude-behaviour concept is correct one. A more careful reading of the literature would reveal considerable controversy and many inconsistent findings (Festinger, Public Opinion Quarterly, 1964; Ray and Sawyer, J. Marketing Research, 1971 are but two examples).

4. The author does not do an adequate job in outlining his proposed research design, but given what is presented, it appears to be loaded with biases. The analysis seems to be highly subjective with no consideration of the question of construct validity. Do the values as determined by his judges have adequate convergent and discriminant validity? Are there any tests for this? What about reliability?

5. The research design as presented in this paper does not offer a meaningful contribution. The author claims to have empirical evidence supporting this claim. It is incumbent on the author to present these data so that his assertion can be validated. IN the present paper, few advantages are obvious.

- Anonymous peer reviewer.