Think Tanks & Co. — Do we need more analytical advice?

The magnitude of problems, challenges, threats and concerns for our global world may indicate that decision makers are more in need of sound advice than ever. And yes, there seems to be a blossoming of think tanks, NGO expertise and consultancies, news alerts and breaking news, let alone myriads of podcasts and listservers.

EU-Turkey relations, the domestic autocratization in Hungary and Poland, Russiagate and the US health system, territorial disputes in the South China Sea and concerns over human rights in China, ethnic issues in Myanmar, Basel 3 and the Paris Accord, Euro stability and the growing threats of terrorism and populism — are we in need of more sound assessments?

Two aspects may be considered here. Firstly, it seems that politicians, journalists and others are already drowning in studies, executive summaries and working papers. The problem is one of selection, rather than supply. So is there really even more demand for sound analysis?

Secondly, we want to be confirmed in our established mind sets and belief systems, not irritated. To be irritated is considered an impediement to making quick decisions and finding viable solutions. But blocking diverging voices also blocks learning.

So do we need more analytical advice from think tanks, advisory bodies and policy papers – or perhaps not?

– Klaus Segbers

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  1. Alexei Voskressenski 11 months ago

    In general, our world is clearly becoming more complex – particularly it’s societal part. The material world created by human beings is now bigger than the natural one. This new complexity is a trend and a challenge for everybody. Hence, the growing number of think tanks and analytical advice. However this analytical advice is often segmented, locally or regionally rooted, sometimes shallow and one-dimensional, i.e. not always adequately answering to this new complexity of the world. So, the problem is cognitive consistency, but also to deal better with the existing reservoir of knowledge. Moreover, there are problems with selection, supply and the quality of analyses and recommendations as well as the ability of desicion-makers to deal with this new complexity. We need time to digest this new complexity intellectually, but the world is changing so fast that even within a new generation not everybody can comprehensively adapt to it – including think tanks and policy-makers.

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  2. Justas Paleckis 11 months ago

    Politicians and especially decision-makers indeed are drowning in studies of think tanks. They want to be confirmed in their views, not irritated. In many cases it leads to the blocking of diverging voices. Think tanks focus too much on fire-fighting – the re-emergence of new conflicts in various regions of the world. There is not enough deliberating about the future of our world when at least a dozen of global and catastrophic threats are accumulating. No recipes are given how to remove these threats until they become irreversible. Joint work of the best experts from key countries is badly needed, but it is becoming impossible when relations between these countries are deteriorating. So, perhaps, we will continue to have more and more think tanks but fewer politicians using the fruits of their labour.

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  3. Sergei Medvedev 11 months ago

    The problem with think tanks reflects the increased complexity of the postmodern
    world, and the inability of the traditional institutions of knowledge/power to cope
    with the chaos of information and the cacophony of opinion. The nested hierarchies
    of universities, consultancies and experts no longer apply, and think tanks are
    rather concerned with their own survival and budgets than with explaining the
    increasingly complex issues. The inability to forecast Brexit or Trump’s victory are
    cases in point.

    The future probably lies in developing software to mine the collective wisdom of the
    Web on selected issues, providing contrasting views, aggregate assessments and
    statistically validated scenarios for the decision-maker. In the next decade or two,
    think tanks, policy consultants and experts are likely to lose their jobs to
    neuronets – just like lawyers, journalists and, sadly, professors.

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  4. Andrey Makarychev 11 months ago

    The basic problem I see here is that we need a different type of policy advice. Unfortunately in recent years, due to the digitalisation of the information sphere and the proliferation of new social media, the professional texts we exchange tend to be smaller in volume and hence more superficial in content. This affected academic research as well: publishers are increasingly interested in ‘sexy’ topics appealing to a wider audience, as opposed to focused expertise on particular issues. This tendency of picking up hot topics and instanteneously publicising them might be detrimental to quality of analysis. Unfortunately, with texts we produce we often are expected to entertain people more than promote knowledge, which leads to simplification of policy discourses and their adaptation to a very average level of readers.

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  5. Dimitrios Triantaphyllou 11 months ago

    Given the state of the world and the plethora of challenges it faces today, ideally there
    should be more demand for sound analytical policy-oriented advice. On the
    other hand, in spite of the proliferation of think tanks, which it itself suggests
    an abundance of critical human resources with sound analytical skills and interest
    in the globe’s challenges, the very proliferation of research and policy outputs
    suggests overkill. Another question to consider is whether the policy community uses
    effectively the outputs of the research community in the formulation of policy or
    whether how to communicate or justify a certain course of action is the priority.

    Albeit the growth in the think tank industry, mechanisms to weed out the riff raff
    from those producing sound analysis exists; this in itself allows policy makers to
    focus on quality when they need to, even if this case the more established think
    tanks have an edge. It would be a shame though not to allow for some of the dynamic
    upstarts reflecting the voices of youth, women, and less integrated groups to have
    their ideas also factor in the policy-making process.

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  6. Ivanna Machitidze 11 months ago

    Think tanks constitute an indispensable part of the civil society, especially their active stance is crucial in countries, where democratic transition is undergoing. Naturally enough, among overall diversity of think tanks of various profile, only a handful of them manage to earn solid reputation. To my opinion, common problem, that influences the quality of analytics issued by think tanks, is that frequently they tend to turn into “grant eaters” provided by donors, addressing the issues that are of priority for “customer” and of less relevance for the local context. Nevertheless, every society is distinguished by those think tanks that are truly involved in shaping and contributing to the reform process, encouraging discussions among citizens and establishing trust between citizens and the government. Furthermore, this trust should be earned through being able to have an impact through providing effective policy recommendations, assessing current developments through demonstration of the rigorous knowledge of the local context which is the only tool for adequately predicting future developments. In this process, only a few think tanks would be able to be recognized as influencing decision-making process, being included into consultations, monitoring decision-making process and, what is most crucial, being encouraged to provide critical evaluation of the issues under discussion.

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  1. Sandra Miller 10 months ago

    Think Tanks are a type of civil society organisation that have a visible role on country’s political landscape and help to shape its political, economic and social agenda. They ca be described as “a hybrid institutional arena situated at the nexus of the political, academic, economic, and media fields.” Although think tanks function independently from the state, in authoritarian countries they may become targets for government intervention. Thus, it is obvious that in such countries think tanks are enable to function as an counterweight to the state and bring realistic contributions to policymaking. Whereas, in some countries like the US Think Tanks have a unique role as a political actor. They are constantly involved in policy formation and in order to do so they draw each an academic research based on ideological orientations in transforming them into analyses for decision-making. However, Think Tanks rarely publish critical studies about their own operations and like Medvetz stated: “once, media-shy, most began to shorten their written work, accelerate the pace of its production and shift their resources toward promotion and dissemination.” Despite the critics, Thin Tanks have an important role in political, economic, media and academic fields and this is their biggest asset.

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  2. Amir Mohsen HADIAN RASANANI 10 months ago

    Decision making in governance procedure can be conceived as a continuum with two extreme ends. At one side we can assume a hierarchical form in which each level devises its own part and passes it to the next authority level which is superior. Eventually the last level of the hierarchy will decide and deliver policies and decisions this time through a top down process.
    Another system could be a node network. Different sections of society, stakeholders and experts each could be considered a node and connected to each other in a network. They could project and also receive ideas from and to the central authority. So there’s a process of exchange and mutual forms of expression and influence which is much more complex than the hierarchical bottom up and top down processes and also has much more delicate procedure of formulating a policy and delivering it. Therefore it would be more time consuming, however it may provide a bigger mandate for deliverance. Also it would be more inclusive in terms of public opinion. In such a framework, think tanks can receive and project in line with the common good.
    However the problem that evolves is that these institutions require funding. These funds come through membership fees, selling publications and most importantly private and corporate donors. These donors can have affiliations with arms manufacturers and military industries, big bankers, financiers and rentier states with little transparency and openness. Also having offices at specific states and receiving undeclared and opaque funding may not be a healthy practice. These practices may create a tendency to get subjective and create hyper-realities in the so called post truth era. Abandoning common interest and deserting scientific evidence based advice, in favour of powerful interest groups prove to sow distrust in the public sphere towards experts and professionals which in its own turn, propels populism and reduces citizens hope for good governance.

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  3. Zoltan Eperjesi 10 months ago

    Social Network Analysis and think-thanks What one knows currently about research institutes or think-tanks, which are carrying out “knowledgeable” activities are sometimes regarded with suspicion by the larger public opinion. Besides, their accomplishments are often not entirely understood by several parts (segments) of civil society that generally fails to grasp both the way they function and their configuration as “institution” within a regional or wider even global structure. Moreover, several think-tanks function worldwide being connected to wide-ranging social networks for example, such as Twitter or even Facebook. Alone the analysis of some main factors of how think-tanks are underlying their relations to social networks is a quite complex issue and this red line basically addresses their way of communication and discloses some of its own features (profile) within accessible digital data. Following this clue, it could help the independent viewer to see behind such networks (and especially their backgrounds), which are connecting think-tanks with the larger public. Why is this analytical line helpful? Because it could help to better recognize the nature of the studied think-tank and also the manner how this is functioning within a certain social reality. By reviewing the network of relations involved in the communication of a certain think-thank and other interrelated data on what they communicate us about their own profile, inclusively, sponsors, critics and communication partners one will come closer to the idea of how some of these institutes are working by digital means addressing/processing various or specific topics related to social reality. Nevertheless, it usually needs additional inquiry how a think-thank specifically deals with the influence that such institutions exert through social media. Such a digital device (social media) usually creates linkages between people and a network of institutions through which data is exchanged and thoughts are effortlessly spread, but the think-tanks’ connection profiles within this network are totally dissimilar to the classic communications standards and transform it for their own commitments and interests. Even so, by considering how many social media followers a certain think-tank has is actually an unsatisfactory argument to assess its real societal influence since the latter must be evaluated on a comparable basis of additional variables that are connected to the quality of followers and networks rather than to their largeness by memberships. On that account, the critical viewer should be concerned by knowing precisely what the interactions between transnational and regional think-tanks are and, above all things, how they work in relation to some dynamics connected to the political decision-making process that could be detected in the background or even propagated as strategy. Think-tank’s influence can be best grasped as a complex map of relationships exemplified by diagrams (etc.): on the one hand, such relationship drawings are not sufficient to illustrate the international reputation of the examined institution; on the other hand, they are often grounded on the intensity of the relations and the quality of communication among think-tanks within the network. Therefore, if a think-tank searches to influence rulings in a party-political or governmental action created within a specific official outline it will be much easier for it to exert its power (influence) virtually (going viral by the internet) through networks that share common objectives. This is the main reason why a think-tank’s influence record will rotate around a certain political power center and will be shaped by it as well as by the political decisions that are taken in that official hub. Mr. Alexei Voskressenski’s observation fits very well here: “the material world created by human beings is now bigger than the natural one”. He also notes that think-tank’s are “often segmented, locally or regionally rooted, sometimes shallow and one-dimensional, i.e. not always adequately answering to this new complexity of the world.” Following his ideas, one can recognize that “the problem is cognitive consistency, but also to deal better with the existing reservoir of knowledge.” Moreover, I can agree with the occurrences identified by Mr. Alexei, that there is a gap among our fast changing world and a new generation where not everybody “can comprehensively adapt to it – including think-tanks and policy-makers.” Also Mr. Justas Paleckis´s conclusion is meaningful because it is probable that we will continue to have more and more think-tanks but less politicians will use the fruits of their work. In the definition of James G. McGann and Erik C. Johnson (2005) a think-tank is as an institution that is dedicated to the examination of global networks and to researching public policies, whose central aim is to influence the different actors that operate in decision making processes. The notion ‘influence’ is related to others applied in the analysis of international relations such as ‘power’ and ‘presence’, (Elcano Global Presence Index (IEPG) , but it differs from them in that it needs to generate developments or trends through the concepts or ideologies. Thus, think-tanks can be absolutely independent or be connected to a particular ideology, political party or other power group identified as such, and frequently fill the fissure between different groups in the political and academic circles. Simultaneously they also serve the public interest by creating basic data and studies adjusted to a language and form that is available to both public opinion and policymakers as well. Besides, they shape public opinion and deliver guidance on global concerns and public policies. They do so by means of different forms of languages. What Juan Luis Manfredi (2014) understands as languages are those adapted to the four main audiences of a think-tank: the languages of public policies, of journalists, of the academy and of the digital world. Furthermore, they do so by having among their principal aims coining both public opinion and policy makers (given that public opinion enjoys a real share of power, as it is expected to be in a state based on democratic principles and the rule of law)… The way of influence exerted by a think-tank is comparable to that of the media; to be exact, it is viewed as an influence through mediation. In this regard, Mr. Noguera Vivo’s research advocates that end-user journalism (concentrated on the user), in which non-professionals are more involved and journalist have a better ability to select information and make conclusions, is ever more widespread for example on Twitter. Its original power can be identified in the construction of such theoretical backgrounds that deal with a certain issue or subjects and in the accurate selection of its contextual content, both when it comes to picking out what issues are to be addressed and to what degree they are imperative for the public, as well as to determining which information must be presented as relevant and which are irrelevant. This process is also known as news-framing or think on the agenda-setting function of the mass media. Although think-tanks have a tendency to get closer to the news-framing practice in order to counterbalance the investigative shortfalls of…

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  4. Zoltan Eperjesi 10 months ago

    Continuation of the first blog…
    Although think-tanks have a tendency to get closer to the news-framing practice in order to counterbalance the investigative shortfalls of the non-specialized press, currently there are still relevant differences between the two directions of making headlines. The differences mostly lie in the prestigious position of scholars as experts, as against journalistic independence, and in their objectives, which are centered to a lesser extent on the larger public than the media, comprising specific publications. Among the sources of information used to support and confirm ideas, the media are at a juncture that is prior to think-tanks, principally for the reason that the latter’s ends are the decision makers and they expect of the media to react as a mediator between public opinion and them. Think-tanks that deal with problems related to civil liberties and that concentrate on various features of human security in times of crisis and warfare are, usually, the exception to the rule. The truth of the matter is that some critics are considering that they have to be treated as something entirely different as they are presented by themselves, the media or politicians. It would be also attention-grabbing to continuously analyze the origin of the ideas generated within the framework of these institutions or to scrutinize their financing or their spheres of power and presence, but this directions are already studied. Just see the presentation by Jordan Tchilingirian for the On Think Tanks Research Methods Online Conference Source:
    Yes, we need more analytical advice from think-tanks, advisory bodies and policy papers with the condition that also the backgrounds of this institutions should be ever more transparent by their own goals and financial supporters combined with the critical examinations of neutral experts and blogs.

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  5. Jeconiah Louis Dreisbach 8 months ago

    It depends on the quality of studies being produced by think tanks and other development research institutions in their respective states. In liberal democracies, they already have enough think tanks, both state and private, that present varying analysis regarding the socioeconomic conditions of the countries that they based on. In authoritarian regimes, more so in democracies that have repressive leaders, state think tanks are only acting as mouthpieces of the government and dominant international institutions such as the International Monetary Bank, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and so on, to legitimize policy recommendations that can either help or harm the society. Let us remember that these think tanks have their respective ideologies, despite having the same set of raw data. They analyze and interpret these in such a way that would be of benefit to their studies. Having a lot of supply of studies would be beneficial to the state. Although, yes, I agree that the selection of studies is hard work in itself, but it is the responsibility of the authorities to implement policy recommendations that are fit to their country’s socioeconomic conditions.

    In an ideal sense, democratic institutions have to be irritated. Dialectics would tell us that there will always be on-going conflict between ideas, but the best ones will arrive upon deliberation and doing concrete analysis to the concrete conditions of society.

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  6. Thanh Mai Nguyen 8 months ago

    To answer this question, we once again need to consider the role of specialized, theoretical knowledge in sketching out policy to respond to the world’s event. In my opinion, leaders not only need more amount of the analytical advice but also need increasing quality, credibility and independence in such advice.
    Though policy executors like it or not, there still exists a relation between the theoretical aspects and the real life world. This is because policy-makers can not act hastily and irrationally even in the context of today’s fast-changing world. Their actions are firstly challenged by their own principle, theoretical considerations and hypothesis, as no one can know for certain what happen beforehand. Furthermore, thousands of events occur all over the world everyday, and in order to respond them quickly and reasonably, leaders have to understand the hidden message and the root cause behind that. That highlights the role of analytical considerations.
    More think-tanks can give leaders more policy options which means that more time for consideration is needed. This helps world events happen slower while leaders can choose the best solutions. However, more options can also make leaders puzzled, and the world can be less predictable. Moreover, governments can also invest money to such institutions to bend the theory to justify their actions. Therefore, think-tanks or organizations proposing advice should work independently and morally, based on scientific principles and good values of the world.
    Sometimes, theory goes a little bit slower. Events happen in practice and they are not studied until there emerge problems that the world recognize them. Hence, theory or analytical advice should enhance in quality, for not just explaining events but also for predicting with higher certainty on what’s going to happen.

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