Orazio Bellettini: “Think tanks can create spaces for dialogue among relevant actors of the policy community”

8 October 2014
SERIES Think tanks and elections 17 items

[Editor’s note: Interview with Orazio Bellettini Cedeño, Executive Director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Reforms and Opportunities  (Grupo FARO). In the context of the 2006 presidential campaign in Ecuador, Grupo FARO developed the initiative “Ciudadanizando las políticas”.]

Leandro Echt: What roles can think tanks play in electoral campaigns? 

Orazio Bellettini: Due to their nature, the role of think tanks in campaigns is to nourish the debate about different public policy proposals and to challenge existing policy paradigms.

A second role that think tanks may fulfill is to create spaces where relevant actors of the policy community can meet. This task is especially relevant in societies like the Latin Americans, where campaigns typically emphasise the differences more than the consensus over the countries’ strategic policies. It is hard for the Latin American political culture to find spaces for consensus. Given this situation, through the initiative “Ciudadanizando las políticas” Grupo FARO tried to generate spaces for dialogue among three groups of actors: citizens, parties and politicians.

LE: How did you design the initiative “Ciudadanizando las políticas”?

OB: One of the first steps consisted on shaping an Advisory Council, which had multiple objectives: to offer financial and technical support to donors, to strengthen the process of selection of policy issues and to keep independence, and to ensure the quality of the production of the documents along the project. Afterwards, we launched a call to researches who were interested in writing proposals on strategic policy issues for the development of the country. Once the documents were written, they were presented during the election’s first round, and the event was replicated in four cities. Finally, the documents were presented again when facing the second round.

LE: It has been 8 years since that electoral campaign. What is your evaluation about the experience?

OB: It was a very positive experience for Grupo FARO. Firstly, we verified that there was a fine timing management of the proposals, since a great number of them were incorporated to the winner’s government plan.

Moreover, the initiative was a big opportunity to show Grupo FARO and its researchers’ work. In 2006, FARO only had two years of existence: the initiative not only helped to position Grupo FARO as a promoter of evidence in public policy but also worked as a strategy to present the activities the institution performed to the new government. An indicator of this visibility is the fact that three researchers that took part of the project went to work for the State, and even got to become Ministers.

At the same time, as a consequence of the production of the studies, Grupo FARO was able to identify researchers that were then engaged in different projects within the organisation.

Last but not least, the experience was an interesting opportunity to shape networks with civil society at national and supranational level. For instance, FARO was supported by CIES in Peru in the design of the methodology of the initiative.

LE: What were the main lessons learned from the experience?

OB: The main lesson is that a minimum of political competence must exist if you want this type of experienced to work out. This was absent during the elections that followed the 2006 campaign.

The challenge ahead is to prepare a similar initiative but in the local level, where more spaces for debate and policy discussions exist.

Plurality is another crucial element for the success of these initiatives: in term of proposals, allies, donors and politicians spheres.

Another lesson refers to the importance of decentralising the debate and includes citizen’s voice in the proposals. Although we tried to do this in 2006 through presentations in different cities, it should be further encouraged in a new edition.

LE: How could Latin American think tanks continue to work to strengthen this ‘technology of influence’ during election campaigns?

OB: The first step is to develop a comparative analysis involving academics and practitioners that dedicate to the study of social, economical, political and cultural conditions that stimulate this type of initiative, and make them systematise differences and similarities among the experiences, and bring lessons that might be useful to other think tanks.

Moreover, regional network alliances should be shaped in order to promote initiatives by country adapted to national characteristics.

These actions will contribute to strengthen think tanks learning regarding the capitalization of elections as an opportunity to show their work and promote policy debate.

[Editor’s Note: this post was translated to Spanish by Federico Frascheri.]