An intriguing report published on June 3 evaluates the ways in which think tanks influence public policy in nascent democracies.
The report, titled Democracy Think Tanks in Action: Translating Research into Policy in Young and Emerging Democracies, takes a look at case studies in nine countries around the world in which democratization has made strong gains over the past two decades. The Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) in Turkey and the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD) in Georgia are two of the nine think tanks examined.
The National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies is the publisher of the report, which draws on material supplied by members of the Network of Democracy Research Institutes.
“For the countries with more developed democratic systems, where the “rules of the game” are settled, democracy think tanks can play an important role in improving policies,” the report states. “In the weaker democratic settings, the challenge is steeper. Democracy think tanks in such countries can play a similarly important part in improving specific policies, but they have the additional challenge of helping enable more fundamental systemic reforms.”
Think tanks such as Tesev and CIPDD are good at coming up with ideas, but they still can use help in selling their policy prescriptions to incumbent authorities and/or the general public, the report suggests. “The accounts in this study demonstrate the value of independent think tanks that are able either to directly incorporate an advocacy component into their work, or otherwise partner with organizations that can help promote their analytical efforts.”
In an essay on Tesev, the foundation’s program director Ozge Genc, notes that Turkey’s rapid democratization pace over the past two decades has many benefits, but also a flip side for think tanks. “In this enlarging ‘open society’ there is a tendency to produce opinion and ideas based solely on impressions and political, socioeconomic and ideological positioning, instead of on neutral and analytical data,” he writes.
In examining CIPDD’s experience, the institution’s chairman, Ghia Nodia, contends that persistent flaws in Georgia’s political systems constrain the scope of think-tank activity. “The first task of democracy-research organizations [in Georgia] may be to stimulate more honest and adequate debate with regard to the core reasons behind democracy failures, even though such a debate will not bring about sizeable changes in the short term,” he writes. “At the same time, it is an important long-term task to strengthen democracy resources by involving more people and more groups in the democracy debate.”