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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Think Tanks & Co. — Do we need more analytical advice?
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Think Tanks & Co. — Do we need more analytical advice?
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Think tanks play a critical role in bridging the gap between knowledge and power. During an era in which there are more issues, more actors, more competition and more conflict, it is more important than ever to provide understandable, reliable, accessible, and useful information. Do we need even more analytical advice — or do we simply need to deal more effectively with this knowledge?
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  1. Alexei Voskressenski 2 weeks 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 2 weeks 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 2 weeks 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 2 weeks 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 2 weeks 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 2 weeks 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 Comment

  1. Sandra Miller 5 days 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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