The Indian think tank ecosystem is nearly a century old. Its growth and evolution as a sector designed to help government address public policy is representative of India’s emergence as one of the largest democracies in the world. In the politico-socio scenario, these organisations emerged to cater to the need for evidence informed policy and to support government bodies when introducing public policies.
If we take the common definition of think tanks as organisations that perform research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, political strategy, economics, military, technology, and culture, + Indian think tanks fall under it because they work on these domains. However, policy research organisations in India don’t define themselves as think tanks, which makes it difficult to map them according to typologies provided in western literature. One of the articles in this series will provide an alternate approach to understanding Indian think tanks within their context.
As for the history of think tanks in India, literature is by and large scarce. We know that think tanks emerged during the 1930s, a time when the country was still a British colony. A casual conversation with representatives of a funding agency in India during the development of this series revealed that there must be around 280 think tanks in India today. This is a bit confusing as, in India, think tanks can include research organisations, non-profits, academic departments, civil society organisations, and can also be embedded in various government bodies.
To fully understand the evolution of these organisations, it is important to look at major turning points in India’s political history, along with how the government and the people negotiated and responded to these changes. As for think tanks, these changes have come with their own set of challenges, which are not dissimilar to those faced in other regions with a more established think tank community. However, think tanks in India are addressing these challenges in unique ways: through innovative funding models, collaborations and customisation of communication and outreach strategies to suit the demands of the nation and its government.
This series will focus on six aspects of the think tank ecosystem in India: its historical background, characteristics of Indian think tanks, their research topics, types of think tanks in India, the challenges they face, and a conclusion including thoughts on what the future for Indian think tanks might look like.
Have you conducted research on Indian think tanks and have an opinion on how these organisations have evolved since they first emerged in India? Drop us line!