Think tanks are too often focused on public policy: education, health, macroeconomics, etc. But few take notice of key sectors of the economy. There is a need for more think tanks to focus on sectors or industries of great importance to developing countries and target their natural resources: from extractive to knowledge economies.
Posts from the ‘Reviews’ Category
Nick Scott's analysis of ODI's web stats offers interesting insights into what seems to matter when it comes to think tanks' contribution to policy and debate. It also suggests that we should look for an alternative to metrics, says Kent Anderson for the Scholarly Kitchen.
When regimes attempt to repress political dissent they may also get rid of their future policymaking capacity. This is what may be happening in Russia and other countries. What can donors and researchers do to maintain that capacity for the future?
James Georgalakis, from the Institute for Development Studies, argues that institutional websites can demonstrate credibility and allow users to explore the organisation's products and services, but must always be clear and geared towards the users' needs.
Andries Du Toit's paper on the politic of research is one of the best studies on the links between research and policy that I have ever read. It is also one of the few coming from a developing country and written from that perspective -and in English which that will help in getting some of the points it makes across.
Here is an interesting challenge that think tanks face on a regular basis -a challenge often created by other think tanks and linked to the fact that think tanks CAN get it wrong. In Paradox of Hoaxes: How Errors Persist, Even When Corrected, Samuel Arbesman argues that:
Despite our unprecedented ability to rapidly learn new things and crowdfix mistakes, Knowledge and its sinister twin Error continue to propagate in complex and intriguing ways.
Even after an error has been corrected (false information has been updated, a flawed theory has been refuted, or lie has been caught and shamed) it has a high chance of making a comeback. Like one of those joke candles of our youth.
What caught my attention in this article is Arbesman’s excitement. The world of think tanks is full of talk about evidence based policy and grand programmes based on single studies, a few months’ worth of research, and one or two pilots at most. Donors often fund think tanks in developing countries avoiding overlap: one focusing on health, another on growth, another on education, etc. But as Arbesman points out:
It would be so convenient and predictable if all knowledge stood the test of time. But if that were the measure of being a scientist, then no one would be a scientist. No one would explore or write or even be willing to read about our latest (even if recapitulated or inaccurate) findings. Of course, we still have to be scrupulous; but the good news is that while knowledge is fickle and changing, the way it changes does obey some rules and regularities. There is a method to the madness.
So we should all keep in mind what a former professor of mine said after lecturing his classes on a certain scientific topic on a Tuesday. On Wednesday, he read a paper that was published and that invalidated the lecture. On Thursday, he went into class and told his students, “Remember what I told you on Tuesday? It’s wrong. And if that worries you, you need to get out of science.”
Here then is a role for think tanks. As they pursue certain policy decisions they must also ensure that their ideas are sound (technically, politically ethically, etc.). The often heard comment that ‘all the research has been done’ should be grounds for concern about the intellectual robustness of the organisation. Specially in the field of social sciences where things can’t ever be 100% certain.