[Editor’s note: This event marks a step in a longer and larger story of efforts to build a regional community of practice.]
The most recent meeting of Latin American think tanks held last month in Rio de Janeiro was a moment of analysis that placed on the agenda the importance of thinking about the challenges and opportunities that think tanks face when trying to impact and influence the development of better public policies for the region.
Co-organized by the Getulio Vargas Foundation and the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, the meeting gathered think tanks from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Venezuela and had the support of observers from Germany, Spain, Sweden, South Africa and the United States and the presence of intergovernmental organizations such as CEPAL and CAF.
A comprehensive look at the local reality helped to share insights and build new interpretations about the tensions that emerge from Latin America’s higher levels of democracy and development and the resulting structural challenges relevant to growth and public policy. In addition, social policies aimed at fighting poverty were compared from the perspective of challenges such as vulnerability, spatial inequality, exclusion and discrimination, sustainability, and evaluation.
Also, the region as a whole was addressed from three perspectives. The first approached the integration or cooperation dilemma related to a number regional decisions that are yet to be made.
The second one focused on the tensions that governments face when attempting to bring coherence to foreign policies vis a vis domestic politics.
Finally, emphasis was put on the region’s contributions to foreign policy in the global arena, highlighting its influence in the international system as a cohesive force and contributor towards a common agenda that includes human security, human rights, international trade, and environment.
The reflection on the current and potential impact of think tanks in their national contexts also had a central space during the event. New forms of knowledge production and dissemination patterns, the need of reinventing incidence/influence, future vision, and agents of change were identified as new features for these organisations.
In the same line, some common challenges were identified and can be summarised as:
- Competition between institutions in a context of scarce resources;
- The use of new technology and knowledge management;
- Public policy influence in a context of political polarisation and open debate about decision making; and
- The debate on values: credibility, proactivity with humility, independent thinking with interacting ability.
A number of questions remain: How to make the research agenda relevant? How to innovate to increase the effectiveness of influence/incidence actions? How to interpret and propose new paradigms for the dissemination of results? How to employ new technologies? They ought to guide a future discussion about the need to articulate think tanks’ strategic thinking for each country’s national projects.