T07P13 - Think-tanks in Action: A Comparative Perspective

Topic : Policy Design, Policy Analysis, Expertise and Evaluation

Panel Chair : Jordan Tchilingirian - j.s.tchilingirian@bath.ac.uk

Panel Second Chair : Marcos Gonzalez Hernando - mjg221@cam.ac.uk

Panel Third Chair : Enrique Mendizabal - enrique@mendizabal.co.uk

Objectives and Scientific Relevance of the panel

Call for papers

Session 1 Think-tank traditions and knowledge regimes


Jordan Tchilingirian - j.s.tchilingirian@bath.ac.uk - University of Bath, Department of Social and Policy Sciences - United Kingdom

The think tanks of the Mediterranean and EU foreign policy. The case of the EuroMeSCo network

Anna Longhini - anna.longh@gmail.com - European Institute of the Mediterranean and Scuola Normale Superiore - Italy

The main objective of this paper is to shed light on the think tanks of the Mediterranean, seen through the lens of the EuroMeSCo network. What are the differences, if any, between the think tanks of the South and of the North of the Mediterranean? Are think tanks exclusively concerned about impact? What common problems are these organizations facing? Thanks to an increased networking capacity, today think tanks are more involved than before in contributing to the EU foreign policy agenda. There have been attempts to influence it, and one example of these attempts may be found in their contribution to the revision of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) in 2015. But do similar efforts translate into effective policy influence?

This paper will explore this issue by taking into account that efforts to influence policy-making have been possible thanks to the creation of networks of research organizations, as it is the case of EuroMeSCo, possibly the biggest networks of think tanks in the Mediterranean region, working on Euro-Mediterranean affairs. Operating since 1996, the EuroMeSCo network currently counts on 106 members from the EU and Eastern and Southern Mediterranean and it has mainly operated as a forum of dialogue among researchers and, to a lesser extent, with policy-makers. Nevertheless, recently the network has tried to renew its focus, by expanding its advocacy mandate. The paper will also explore the reasons why this is not an easy task. Firstly, because networks have the problem of advocating with one single voice. Secondly, although most of the think tanks claim to be able to maintain some ground of independence, most suffer from the fact that their financial stability is based on public funds. As such, the risk of being used at governments’ convenience is higher than they commonly thought. Officials’ interest in the work of think tanks is connected to the possibility of getting new advice or simply to use them as validators of policy decisions already taken elsewhere. Furthermore, influencing EU foreign policy-making for Non-State Actors that are not Brussels-based is tough, and think tanks’ practitioners are aware of that. The methodology of this paper will rely on elite interviews, especially to the staff of the EuroMeSCo Secretariat, which is based at the European Institute for the Mediterranean (IEMed). Problems of access have been tackled by building confidence and trust in the anonymity and confidentiality of the interviews, conducted according to Chatham House Rules. Further research would be needed also on the policy-makers' side. The use of the ‘snowball’ technique will help, as interviewees were asked to identify potential officials.

Think tanks in different political systems: A comparative study of British and Iranian policy think tanks

Seyed Mohamad Sadegh Emamian - smsemamian@gmail.com - Sharif University of Technology - Iran, Islamic Republic of

The definition, the size, the level of influence and the types of policy think tanks vary substantially in different political contexts. Those characteristics depend on the nature of political system in terms of the level of openness that provides think tanks’ access to policy process, the financial system that policy think tanks could benefit from, the legal platforms that those institutions would be based upon and the legitimacy that amplifies their voice to be heard.

This study comparatively investigates the extent and the way that two substantially different political systems frame the characteristics of policy think tanks. On the one hand, Britain enjoys from a set of great potentials to be seen as the European hub of the most influential policy think tanks. The British liberalism, the close US-UK ties, a more developed civil society and access to London as “the Global City” are examples of advantages for the development of policy think tanks in the UK. Nevertheless, another set of constraining characteristics might limit such an expansion. The centralised-majoratarian government, the disciplined Parliamentary party system, a relatively secretive and close policy process, the existence of a permanent neutral civil service and the lack of access to financial resources, at least compared to the US, are of those disadvantageous features of the British political system.  On the other hand, Iran is a developing country that is characterised by a fundamentally different political system: the presidential system with a clear distinction of power, a highly politicised and close policy process as well as a less developed civil society and policy communities. Nonetheless, there is a growing wave of creating policy think tanks in order to influence the process of policymaking.  This fact gives rise to an interesting research question about the relationship between the nature of political system and the main characteristics of policy think tanks there. This is the main question that this research tries to focus on.

This paper relies on almost 15 semi-constructed interviews with directors and senior advisors of several main London-based policy think tanks, from political parties-affiliated think tanks to those in which they are domestically apolitical, cross-party or internationally influential. In comparison, the British cases have been critically studied against an analysis of mainly newly-established and government dependent Iranian thin tanks on the basis of around 12 conducted interviews.

Exploring the policy-social science nexus through the history of Chilean think tanks

Marcos Gonzalez Hernando - mjg221@cam.ac.uk - University of Cambridge - United Kingdom

This paper traces the convoluted relationship between social science and politics in Chile during the period between 1979-2012, particularly as seen through the prism of think tanks. It focuses on Chile given its relevance as a case-study of processes of democratisation and free-market reform and its central locus as a node for socio-scientific research on the continent. It spans the above-mentioned timeframe to cover the first signs of a reborn public policy debate guided by technocratic ideals under conditions of political repression, and the aftermath of a major political crisis that put the post-Pinochet political system, and its technocratic underpinnings, under mounting criticism.

Inspired by Thomas Medvetz’s Bourdieusian framework, this contribution understands think tanks as ‘boundary organisations’ operating across the social fields of academia, politics, the media and economics. However, how these institutions negotiate the boundaries of the above-mentioned fields is not arbitrary. Hence, one finds that how technocratic ideals are defined and valued varies across the years under consideration, depending especially on the political landscape. For instance, under Pinochet, even if political parties were proscribed and political participation was severely repressed, socio-scientific research could only be tolerated by a regime avid of technocratic legitimacy. Thus, the first hints of a new political debate were structured around heavily academic think tanks funded by international foundations – which in turned gave the infrastructure for the formation of the elite of ‘technopols’ that lead the country during the the Concertacion years (1990-2010). In Bourdieusian terms, a ‘scientific’ field sheltered the birth of a ‘political’ one. 

In the following decades, Chile saw the r of a new generation of party-linked think-tanks and experts, which along with institutions such as CEP maintained a certain dominance in the policy-science nexus. Nevertheless, as the technocratic ideals of the past became increasingly under question, a new generation of experts and organisations became ever more willing to debate publicly, both for and against, the normative underpinnings of Chile’s neoliberal development model.

Session 2 'Think-tankery': the work of think-tanks and think-tank intellectuals


Marcos Gonzalez Hernando - mjg221@cam.ac.uk - University of Cambridge - United Kingdom

Jordan Tchilingirian - j.s.tchilingirian@bath.ac.uk - University of Bath, Department of Social and Policy Sciences - United Kingdom

Evaluating Public Policy in Brazil: bridging the gap between university and government

Aline Hellmann - hellmann.aline@gmail.com - Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul - UFRGS - Brazil

This paper gives an account of one type of Think Tank that has been consequential in bridging the gap between policy evaluation and scientific applied research in Brazil. The selected case study is the Center for International Studies on Government (CEGOV), which is located at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS). It develops studies and research projects on governmental affairs from a comparative and applied perspective. The Center gathers researchers from several departments of the University, such as Economics, Political Science, Law, Administration, International Relations, Education, Urbanism, and Computer Science. Such multidisciplinary teams are specialized in a range of public policy areas, such as Health, Education, Sports, Public Security, Foreign Affairs and Defense. CEGOV is chaired by a Director, and its policies and priorities are determined by an Advisory Board and a Scientific Board with representation from both the scientific and policymaking communities. The activities of the Center are undertaken by working groups, which take the responsibility for specific projects. Currently, CEGOV has twelve fully established and operating working groups. The Center’s researchers work on multidisciplinary projects covering the fields of international politics and governance, monitoring and evaluation of public policies, institutional development, Brazilian and South-American economy, comparative institutional design and decision-making processes, as well as public management, democratic controls and decentralization of public services. The Center is a place for interaction among scholars from UFRGS and other academic institutions, highlighting its multidisciplinary and open nature, as well as its vocation to collaborative applied research. Being a reference for research on comparative governmental studies, CEGOV has offered in the last five years a wide range of extracurricular activities such as extension and specialization courses (under- and graduate level), and advisory activities. More than twenty thousand government officials and civil servants from all levels of government have participated in such activities, making CEGOV one of the main Think Thanks on public policies in Brazil. 

Role of Policy Entrepreneur in Policy Transformation- a case study from Pakistan

Ali Salman - ali@ideas.org.my - IDEAS - Malaysia

Writing in 1984, Clay and Schaeffer in Room for Maneuver described “the whole life of policy as a chaos of purposes and accidents”. In 2009, the Overseas Development Institute published a paper describing the world of policy entrepreneurship as ‘complex’, and ‘rarely linear and or logical’[1]. This paper presents a case study of a policy entrepreneurship from Pakistan which largely conforms to the ODI’s ROMA (The RAPID Outcome Mapping Approach) model, retrospectively but suggests addition of two Rs- Rapport and Reward- in the context of think tanks working in developing countries as conditionalities for ROMA while also underscoring the role of accidents.   


In April 2015, PRIME Institute, an independent free market think tank based in Islamabad, launched a campaign to encourage the Government of Pakistan for accession to Information Technology Agreement- a WTO’s plurilateral agreement requiring complete elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers on IT products. After almost two years, this campaign is nearing success which is marked by acceptance of policy recommendations by the line ministries and concurrence of the relevant business associations bringing the ball in the court of the Prime Minister. 


This paper trails this campaign as a case of policy entrepreneurship and presents the role of an independent think tank as an interlocutor between government and private sector to push ahead reforms. The paper identifies factors which has led to a considerable success story in the field of policy entrepreneurship while retrospectively using ODI’s ROMA model. It maps political context, identifies key stakeholders, mentions desired changes, indicates a strategy, builds internal capacity and establishes monitoring and learning framework. The paper adds Rapport of the policy entrepreneur (PE) and the perceived Reward by the line minister, and ability of PE to develop consensus in the list of complexities. The paper itself is built in a story-telling mode.

Initially perceived as biased and business driven by the government officials, the campaign by PRIME is now recognized as a genuine attempt to reform public policy. The main opponent is the revenue collection authority, which is narrowly focused on the loss of customs revenue in the short run while ignoring the positive economic outcomes in the medium to long term. It is also a war of arguments that is yet to be concluded. It is hoped that the Prime Minister of the country overrules these ill-founded reservations. His track record of ensuing market-oriented reforms is well-established and one can hope to have the good news of accession to ITA very soon. When that happens, it will be remembered how a non-state actor, a think tank, orchestrated a campaign, and has played a crucial role in policy transformation bringing greater socio-economic dividends.

[1] https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/1730.pdf (Accessed on 14th January 2017, 8.28 am)

Think tank for educational policy: Bridging the missing link of MOE and NAER in Taiwan

Yi-Hua Lai - evalai920@gmail.com - National Chengchi University, Taiwan(R.O.C.) - Taiwan

     Pursuing evidence-based governance and informed decisions, the role of research in governmental practices is crucial. However, findings from knowledge utilization indicate that there is a dysfunctional divide between knowledge and policy. In Taiwan, the missing link also exists in the Ministry of Education (MOE), paradoxically with it’s think tank: the National Academic for Educational Research (NAER). Former research found that although NAER has conducted research commissioned by MOE every year, the results and suggestions seldom be adopted.


     This research aims to understand the status quo of knowledge utilization and the relationship between MOE and NAER, explore the problems, and propose solutions to bridge the missing link. Findings shows that there is really a gap between the two communities, mainly because of the problematic research quality, political concerns and effects, and the ill communication and relationship. To solve the problems, this study examines the role of think tank in educational policy, and provides suggestions for each community. It is hoped that insights from the work reported here will benefit the function of think tanks in educational public policy making.


Keywords: think tank, educational policy, knowledge utilization

Does Revolving Door Matter? The Effects of Job Mobility on Think Tanks in China

Xufeng Zhu - zhuxufeng@tsinghua.edu.cn - Tsinghua University - China


“Revolving door” has always been regarded as an essential factor for the prosperity of American think tanks. However, whether revolving door matters for non-American think tanks remains unaddressed. I evaluate the effects of revolving door (career mobility of think tank leaders) in China based on a nationwide think tank survey and interview data the author has conducted. I contend that, because of the traditional Chinese Confucian culture and the “official standard” society, revolving door does not have any positive contributions to Chinese think tank influence and revenue. Moreover, revolving door significantly negatively affects the personal social networks of think tankers. Heterogeneous analysis and propensity score matching are conducted to present the robustness of the regression results. The research findings contradict the traditional doctrines regarding the effects of cross-sectoral career mobility and therefore motivate us to review such principles.


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