Influencing Government Policy Making

Influencing Government Policy Making

What is the relationship between think tanks and governments?

This article looks at the relationship between think tanks and governments, and particularly at the influence that think tanks can have on government policy. Much of the articles's regional focus is on Central and Eastern Europe. Think tanks are considered to be valuable in:

  • Strengthening the research capacities of political parties, which are often weak
  • Filling the gap in policy making where the civil service has a weak policy-making capacity

Recommendations:

  • When arguing for an issue, think tanks should rely on reasoned argument backed up by evidence, rather than political instinct
  • It is important that ideas generated by think tanks are feasible and workable in practice
  • It is a great mistake to focus lobbying activities solely on the Minister in charge of a Ministry. Their deputy ministers, assistants and relevant civil servants should be targeted strongly
  • Because governmental capacities for policy analysis in Central and Eastern Europe are weak, think tanks need to promote not just new ideas, but new ways of thinking, and a higher quality of policy debate. This should include:
    • Better policy analysis by ministries
    • The involvement of a wider range of actors in policy debate
    • The use of experience from other countries

Potential problems associated with think tanks in Central and Eastern Europe:

  • It is doubtful whether Central and Eastern Europe can sustain the present number of think tanks
  • In the 'market of ideas' of Central and Eastern Europe, market mechanisms are under-developed
  • The small size of the policy-making elite of many countries may force the staff of think tanks into close proximity with the government whether they like it or not
  • Think tanks, even if politically neutral (not all are) will be seen as politically engaged
  • Caution and restraint are emphasised in transplanting policy and ideas from other cultural and economic environments
  • The need to adapt change to suit the local climate, and to enable local ownership of that change, should not be allowed to become an excuse for endless prevarication and evasion of change, particularly within the context of Central and Eastern Europe

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