Challenges and Opportunities for Think Tanks and Advocacy Organisations in the Western Balkans Today

5 March 2012

On 21-23rd February, the event Balkan Peer Exchange Enhancing Analysis and Research-Based Advocacy in an Era of Open Data took place in Belgrade. The conference was opened by Ivan Krastev Chair of the Board, Centre for Liberal Strategies, Bulgaria, with the topic: Challenges and Opportunities for Think Tanks and Advocacy Organizations in the Western Balkans Today . Great ideas from Ivan Krastev,  the chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia, and permanent fellow at the IWM Institute of Human Sciences in Vienna. And great questions by Goran Buldioski:

  • The messier the context gets, the more demand for new information and ideas there is. But not just one-sided and ‘objective’ evidence. People want to see their views (and fears) reflected in these new ideas. Hence, this is the perfect moment to set up new think tanks: centres that combine politics with evidence from different angles and perspectives.
  • Unfortunately, in a time of crisis, policymaker narrow their circle of influence. So links and contacts matter more than the evidence itself. Recommendations: prepare, build and maintain spaces, nurture relationships, become a trusted agent, etc. Policy influence should not be the only objective for a think tank.
  • Central and Eastern European countries were professional optimists in the 1990s, but the mood has now changed. The younger generation is envious of their parent’s generation. The situation is different. This difference demands new research into the state of affairs and avoid extrapolating from the past.
  • In this new context, think tanks have to deal with a larger community of policy-savvy and interested groups. Whereas think tanks could provide evidence directly before, now they have to consider the democratic process and involve a wider group of people. Policymakers are not making simple choices any more so think tanks must respond to this. They need to offer alternatives (multiple) that they may not have offered before.
  • You can vote a politician out of office. But you cannot vote an expert, a think tank, out. The public gets tired of them, or disagrees with them, but cannot get rid of them. They are still called to offer their views on TV. This is a very interesting idea. Think tanks need to refresh their staff, their ideas, their approach, their allegiances, every once in a while. Does it mean that they have to respond to ‘popular demand’, too?

You can see the detailed agenda here and watch some of the panels online.