Cooperation between think tanks in Ukraine: experience of the Centre for Political and Legal Reforms

7 May 2014
SERIES Articles and Opinions

Collaboration of think tanks and individual experts is slowly but steadily becoming a routine in Ukraine. This is a reflection of the civil society consolidation in response to challenges of political situation. Also, cooperation of think tanks is receiving attention of donor organizations.

Up until three years ago, cooperation between think tanks was usually organized in a way that each think tank conducted research in its own area of expertise within a common topic or concern, which was then brought together to be published as a single document. This was the case in 2009 when a consortium of think tanks produced the Strategy for the Modernization of Ukraine. CPLR contributed with proposals for a new legal framework of public administration, justice and anticorruption for this document. In a similar way CPLR has participated in monitoring projects on benchmarking the EU-Ukraine Association Plan performance in 2012-2013, by providing monitoring of the legal aspects of the policies.

Therefore, research was conducted in a form of split work on different sub-topics under one “umbrella” topic (EU-integration, anticorruption, modernization of Ukraine), rather than interdisciplinary collaboration on one policy issue.

Since 2010, the situation of think tank collaboration has started to change. After the ex-President Yanukovych came to power, there was a dramatic deterioration of policies in Ukraine. Ukraine was rapidly turned into a kleptocratic state with manual management of affairs in public administration by the President and his clique and totally dependent judiciary. Such a situation forced civil society to unite in defense of freedom and democracy.

As a result, there was a surge in coalitions of think tanks and NGOs for democratic reforms. Different forms of such coalitions embraced collaboration of think tanks to develop better policies in the areas of democracy.

CPLR has participated in a number of partnerships and coalitions of think tanks and civil society organizations. The following are some of the most recent and relevant examples:

Coalition for a fair referendum

CPLR participated in the Coalition for fair referendum that united more than 50 NGOs with a core of 5 key think tanks in the area of constitutionalism: CPLR, the Agency for Legislative Initiatives, the Institute for Election LawCentre.UA,  and the Ukrainian Independent Center for Policy Research. The coalition was created in response to an antidemocratic law on the national referendum adopted by the Parliament in 2012, which created loopholes for the government to forge the results of the referendum and even to change the Constitution by means of a manipulated referendum.

The coalition proved to be an effective joint action of think tanks and advocacy organizations. The coalition brought together groups from civil society that were previously separated: think tanks and advocacy organizations. Members of the coalition worked together to developed petitions to numerous public authorities and courts, arranged workshops for activists and the media to learn about the problems of the referendum, even brokered agreements with members of parliament on prospective changes in the non-democratic referendum law.

The think tanks provided expertise, whereas the lobbying and advocacy organizations provided access to the media and better communication tools than think tanks could have arranged on their own. As a result of its work, the coalition received the recognition of international experts and of the Constitutional Court, which informally requested the coalition’s expertise on the issue of the referendum in Crimea in early 2014.

It took a long time to develop the strategy and organizational framework of the coalition. Experts were bewildered with “wasting” time on organizational issues. However, over two years of work, the coalition gradually became a lively working community that can now act efficiently in spite of being a broad union of organizations, not a single body. Organizations within the coalition now share knowledge and resources not only on the issue of the referendum, but also on other topics of their interest, which positively reflects on the individual activity of participants of the coalition.

Partnership for freedom of peaceful assembly

Another platform where CPLR cooperates with other think tanks is the Partnership for freedom of peaceful assembly. This partnership’s aims are to develop and promote legislation to ensure citizens enjoy the right to peaceful assemblies. Its members are numerous human rights organization in Ukraine brought together by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, CPLR, the Centre for Civic Liberties, and the Centre for Political Studies and Analysis.

The partnership developed a draft law for governing peaceful assemblies in Ukraine, but its promotion met severe resistance from another civic movement, the movement “For the peaceful protest”. This movement strongly objected to passing a law on the procedure of peaceful assemblies as it considered it would lead to abuses of this right by the government and claimed that the existing few rules in the Constitution were sufficient to govern this area. The conflict between these two civil society movements was even subject to a mediation process.

The government used the division within civil society to put a put on hold efforts to improve a national policy on peaceful assembly in Ukraine.

Movement against the law on Demographic Registry

Expert from CPLR participate in the movement against the Law of Ukraine on the State Demographic Registry. The law endangers the personal data of all residents in Ukraine, both nationals and foreigners. If the law is implemented, the Demographic registry will contain biometric data, unlimited number of personal data, and information on all the documents ever issued by the State to a person. The movement of think tanks and NGOs included CPLR, the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, the Centre for Civic Liberties, and the Centre of Information on Human Rights.

Apart from the press-conferences and a roundtable to draw attention to the threats of the Demographic Registry, the movement produced two social adverts about the threats of the said law, which were posted in social media. Think tanks participating in the movement contributed to it in different ways: the threats of the Demographic Registry were described based on the expertise of one think tank, the script of the ads was developed collaboratively by think tanks and the outsourced movie producing company, and other think tanks arranged funding for the ads production and arranged the press-conferences and roundtables.

Expert platform “Decentralization – Self-organization –  Development”

CPLR participates in the expert platform “Decentralization – Self-organization – Development”which unites leading experts in local and regional governance and participatory democracy. It includes the Civil Society Institute, CPLR, the Ukrainian Independent Center for Policy Researchthe City InstituteTCKNational Association of Regional Development Agencies, and individual experts. Its aims are to promote decentralization and reforms in the area of local and regional governance. This platform is a community of lawyers, political scientists, budgeting experts and regional development professionals collaborating on a single issue at a time.

Therefore, the product of such collaboration is a result of interdisciplinary approach, which provides for a broad view on the issues of local/regional governance and participatory democracy. This platform is a civic initiative of the think tanks them selves, not supported by donors.

The civic sector of Euromaidan’s initiative “Reanimation package of reforms for Ukraine”

Since the fall of Yanukovych in February 2014, CPLR has been involved in the initiative on Reanimation package of reforms for Ukraine, which unites the prominent think tanks of Ukraine. Experts of the initiative are developing urgent reforms of public administration, judiciary, police, anticorruption.etc. As of 14 March 2014, the decentralization reform developed within this initiative has been approved by the Ministry of Regional Development and has been passed for an approval of the government.

The political change that happened in early 2014 created an opportunity for think tanks in Ukraine.

Since the start of the Euromaidan at the end of 2013, think tanks of Ukraine have initiated the process to open the Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels. The aim of the office is to present opinions about the future of Ukraine in Europe directly by Ukrainian experts.

Cooperation of think tanks has also become a key point in grant support by the European Union. Partnerships uniting CSOs and think tanks throughout regions of Ukraine has become a mandatory requirement to major calls for grant proposals for the civil society. This is aimed to grow the capacity of regional CSOs and think tanks through cooperation with the Kyiv-based ones. Additionally, this contributes to a broader reach of research and action projects conducted by the Kyiv-based think tanks.

Overall, joint actions of think tanks produce the improved quality of product thanks to the expertise of participants with different background, better combination of resources and skills of different participants and better regional outreach. The window of opportunities after the Euromaidan of 2014 is calling upon the civil society and think tanks to unite for the dialogue with the new government about the long-overdue reforms in Ukraine.