Educate the public: a forgotten function for think tanks?

10 April 2013

Donors and think tanks in the developing world are busy trying to find ways to measure their contribution to policy changes. Some are even going as far as claiming a direct role in the well-being changes observed in the populations targeted that by the policies they helped to inform.

But a key role that think tanks play, albeit one not as glamorous as the high level impact that donors and think tanks prefer to highlight, is the eduction of the public: from the elites and the educated masses all the way to the general public.

Zia Haq, in the Hisdustan Times reported that the Indian Government is planning to launch a Think tank to reach out to ‘wary’ masses. The concern is that poorly explained and communicated policies as bad as poorly designed ones:

“Not being able to convince people about policies can have larger consequences,” an official said, requesting anonymity.

This function is central to think tanks’ contributions to their societies, and demonstrates the difficulty that any attempt to measure it will face.

The main challenge that this particular think tank will face relates to its capacity to add value to the efforts of the government to bring people along or to convince them of their own views. While legitimizing policy is a valid function this ought to be done on the basis of sound research and analysis. It may be that, the Indian Government could accomplish the same objectives it has set out for this think tank simply by funding new or existing content focused think tanks to study public policy more openly and actively. Once again, the density model may be a possible solution.