Non-partisan think tanks are praised by their neutrality. But, as Claudio Jones argues, partisan think tanks play an important and necessary function in any democracy -certainly in emerging ones. In this post he outlines some characteristics of partisan think tanks, the challenges they face, and the functions they can fulfil.
Posts tagged ‘Politics’
Thomas Medvetz 2013 book, Think Tanks in America, describes think tanks as political operators and provides a great account of how they go about claiming and gaining political power for themselves and their sector. The book provides a critical history of think tanks in the US that shines a new light on them; from technocratic and neutral knights to ideological and partisan knaves (not all of course). Read the book.
In this post, a Policy Analyst working in the Select Committee Office in the UK Parliament argues that to be effective research needs to be done within, and not outside, politics. The art of being political while remaining party neutral is one that has to be mastered by public policy research bodies.
Is research uptake measurable? Can it be planned? Or is it just luck? This blog post reviews a number of issues that ought to be considered when trying to measure it. The post argues that instead of measuring it, we should attempt to understand it.
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?
J.H. Snider argues that the appointment of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) to head the Heritage Foundation marks a revolutionary moment: but only if it spurs a public discussion that leads to greater transparency and accountability.
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.
On my last post I discussed approaches to research impact, how academics can amplify the effects of their work on public policy. But what happens when it is the political and cultural structure of a country that hinders the possibility for think tanks to effectively insert their work and influence the decision making process? According to Hannah Elka Meyers for the Middle East Quarterly, this is Israel´s case. She has interviewed directors and fellows of several prominent Israeli think tanks such as the Van Leer Institute and the Shalem Center, and come to the conclusion that even though Israel has the highest number of think tanks in the Middle East, its political and cultural structure discourages politicians and policy makers from consulting with independent institutions, and provides little space for external research.
Even such heavyweights as the Shalem Center, International Institute for Counterterrorism in Herzliya, and the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs have had little impact on Israeli policymaking. Many research centers’ own heads admit their lack of political influence. Eyal Zisser, director and senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University´s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, for example, acknowledges a lack of ‘real influence’.
A parliamentary system coupled with a proportional electoral system offers little chance for outside policy work to insert itself into public policy debate. Since the executive and the legislative are fused in the parliamentary model, as is also the case in countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom, there are fewer points of access to approach policy makers. Political parties in this model are also more disciplined and close-knit, and party members are reluctant to take independent positions that go against the party’s stance. The proportional electoral system also hinders think tank participation since political parties focused on specific topics tend to be stronger and can dominate the agenda.
Funding can also prove to be an obstacle for Israeli think tanks. The government does not hire these institutions to carry out research on its behalf nor does it provide incentives by giving tax breaks to nonprofit organisations. Since there are few private sources, this causes think tanks to rely on universities for funding, which in turn leads to research becoming more oriented towards academia than public policy. In addition, the few private sources that do exist are short term, which does not allow think tanks to delve deeper in their research.
There is also a culture of informality in Israel that results in government officials seeking out individuals and not institutions when looking for outside information. Being a small country, most people in the political circuit tend to know each other and create personal ties. This happens during the mandatory military service as well.
This article proves to be very interesting because while usually the focus is on how think tanks can act in order to be more influential in public policy making, it is important to also consider that there are political and social structures, particularly in developing countries, that give shape to the channels of communication between think tanks and politicians and public officials and make the relationship between them more challenging. More has been written on this topic: regarding the relationship between think tanks and political parties in Latin America, for example, is a publication by International IDEA called Thinking Politics: Think Tanks and Political Parties in Latin America (in Spanish). Enrique Mendizabal and Norma Correa also have a book on think tanks, politics and the media called Vínculos entre conocimiento y política: el rol de la investigación en el debate público en América Latina.