Think Tanks, Shaping Public Policy for Better Future

Think Tanks

In the bygone days when one needed advice or instruction on some matter, one would try to find a sagacious person. Owing to their acumen, experience and skills, these erudite and wise people were valued and people would often consult them; even kings would accord them a special status in their courts and would incorporate their suggestions in their decisions. So, the journey of making deliberations in the sphere of public policymaking kept on and in the modern world of today, it has taken the shape of think tanks from which not only the governments but also the business concerns get guidance requisite to reaping the maximum benefits from any given situation.

Today’s is an age of globalization and in this competitive world, only those nations can survive who knit think tanks’ recommendations, which are based on knowledge, experience and finesse, in their short- and long-term policies and also provide for their continuation thereupon. This process of making consultations and deliberations is being carried on at 6848 think tanks spread in all corners of the world. In the light of their research- and analysis-based recommendations, many countries have made great headway in the field of policymaking while some are still groping in the dark. For instance, every country dreams to be developed and have prowess like the United States but the fact which is hardly acknowledged is that at present nearly 27% of world’s total think tanks are in the US only. In order to provide information, suggestions and guidance to their governments, media and society, these institutions are actively involved in conducting researches in diverse fields. And the US administration not only pays heed to their words but also carves out its policies in the light of suggestions contained therein.

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Nevertheless, the developed countries and the developing ones are often faced with a dilemma as to how and from where the knowledge and information that is required for government decision-making be explored because policymakers are always in need of comprehensible, reliable, accessible and useful information about the societies they are at the helm of. They also need a proper feedback about the working and usefulness of their policies so that they may be ameliorated in order to make them more effective and delivery-oriented. Hence, this growing need led to the emergence of the public research institution we commonly call think tanks.

The word ‘Think Tank’ owes its origin to the RAND Corporation, which provided for a secure environment for strategic deliberations in the United States in the aftermath of the Second World War. Prior to this War, think tanks were considered Anglo-American in nature. Since then, they have spread throughout the nook and cranny of the world and today, they exist in 197 countries in varying numbers ranging from a minimum of one to a maximum of 1835.

Every year thousands of think tanks from across the world are ranked under the “Global Go To Think Tank Index (GGTTI)” rankings compiled by the University of Pennsylvania’s “Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program”. For instance, countries are ranked with regard to having most think tanks. Moreover, this is also done on global and regional basis and the task is also performed with regard to the subject and the performance of the think tanks.

As per the 2015 GGTTI rankings, the United States tops the list with 1835 think tanks. China grabbed the second position with a tally of 435 and is closely followed by the United Kingdom with a number of 288. It is also to be noted that top 10 countries on this ranking host 54% of world’s total think tanks.

Similarly, 11% of world’s think tanks are found in OIC countries where 52 of 57 member states, host them with minimum 1 and maximum of 59 in a single country. With its 59 think tanks, Iran is the biggest Muslim country in this realm and occupies an enviable 19th position in global rankings. Nigeria, with a total of 48 think tanks, is at second place in Muslim world while globally it has been ranked at 27th place. It is followed by Bangladesh whose 35 think tanks elevate it up to the 37th place on the index.

Pakistan has a total of 20 think tanks and is ranked 13th in OIC states and 63rd globally while 3rd in Saarc countries. At present, 5.23% of think tanks in this region belong to Pakistan. Among all Saarc member states, there are 382 think tanks which is 5.57% of global count. The number of think tanks in Saarc countries ranges from a minimum of 6 and the maximum of 280. India tops the ranking in South Asian region with 280 think tanks and it places it 4th in the world. In the region, India is followed by Bangladesh which occupies 37th position at the global level.

Think Tanks

The evolution and the spread of think tanks can be divided into four major phases:

The first generation of think tanks emerged in the period prior to the World War II. These were created in order to meet the growing needs of responding to the critical issues spawned by urbanization, industrialization and economic growth in early 20th century.

After the end of World War II, a new generation of think tanks started sprouting. This period was marked by the proliferation of foreign policy institutes, centres for the study of security and development studies as it was the era defined by the Cold War, superpower rivalries and the looming threats of the Third World War.

The third phase of emergence of new think tanks started after the 1970s. Important areas of activity in this epoch were related to economic and political instability or the demise of the Soviet Union and the democratization of countries in Latin America and in some parts of Asia. Analysts generally opine that, at present, we are witnessing the fourth phase of think tanks. This era is distinctive because in it, think tanks would be qualitatively different and they are not going to be marked by the spread of think tank sort of organizations; instead these are the new ways of connectivity that have been fostered by the forces of globalization and regionalism.

The number of think tanks, their circle of influence and their penetration has soared all over the world because different foundations, political parties, corporations, business moguls, and governments spend troves of money every year to support these organizations. This spending, naturally, gives birth to questions with regard to their efficacy.

Better performance leads to better ranking. In this regard, Global Go To Think Tank Index has declared the Brookings Institution as the best in the world. United Kingdom’s Chatham House and US’s Carnegie Endowment Fund for International Peace occupy second and third place respectively. India’s Centre for Civil Society, with 70th position globally, is the only South Asian think tank to be ranked among world’s top 100. Only 6 think tanks belonging to 5 out of 57 OIC member states could find a place among world’s top 100. Two of these are from Turkey while one each  from Lebanon, Egypt, Indonesia and Malaysia. Lebanon’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace occupies 34th position on this index and Egypt’s Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) is at 49th place while Indonesia’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Turkey’s Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) and Association for Liberal Thinking (ALT) occupy 70th, 74th and 88th position, respectively. Malaysia’s Centre for Public Policy Studies is at 99th place.

In this index of University of Pennsylvania’s “Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program,” the United Kingdom is at the top with its 15 think tanks ranked among the top 100. It is followed by the United States and Germany which have been ranked second and third with 14 and 5, respectively.

These think tanks often act as a bridge between academia, policymakers, governments and civil societies. They work to simplify the applied and fundamental research to such an extent that it becomes easily comprehensible and that is credible as well as accessible by policymakers and the people at large.

Today, think tank has become a diverse industry and a multitude of their types have emerged. They differ from one another on the basis of their size, structure, expansion of policy and political importance. Some of them aspire to work on non-ideological basis and without any sort of bias and claim to follow scientific and technical approach on social and economic issues. Some think tanks are like academic institutions and their principal focus is on research and area of their interest is built on university’s interests and a knowledge-based society. A number of them have been established on ideological basis and they remain biased in their work. Some are involved in the dissemination and propagation of their own ideologies. In order to profess their ideas, such think tanks make an apt use of simple communication tool or aggressive media coverage. Development in information technology is also causing an increase in the number of virtual think tanks.

Think tanks are generally divided into seven types. First one consists of independent and autonomous think tanks. Such institutions, usually, are free of any influence of a group as they derive their funds directly from the government.

Second type is of quasi-govermental institutions which are apparently independent and despite the fact that they seem free of any governmental interference, they are heavily influenced by some groups who finance their activities. Think tanks falling in third category are government-affiliated institutions and they are an integral part of the government structure. Fourth type is that of seemingly government think tanks who get their financing directly from the government but are not part of the government structure. Fifth category consists of those think tanks that are affiliated to universities and work as their research centres. Next are the think tanks of political parties and these are, directly or indirectly, related to one political party or the other. Last type of think tanks consists of those institutions which can be called corporate ones because these are public research centres that are affiliated with one or the other corporation and they work as for-profit organizations.

Although it is true that today think tanks are faced with more problems, more actors, more competition and more conflicts, yet as a whole they seem to be strengthening all over the world.

For the betterment of people belonging to any region of the world, strong economy, social and political development imperative and the role of these public policy organizations assumes special significance in this regard as they make the dream of survival, development and power come true.

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