The Observer Research Foundation (ORF) together with the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP), Lauder Institute, and the University of Pennsylvania, organised the 4th India Think Tank Forum in New Delhi in January 2020. This annual forum aims to bring together a diverse array of think tanks and civil society groups to devise strategies to further their contribution in tackling some of the most pressing issues faced by the world today — from geopolitics and sustainable development, to online radicalisation and climate change. In a world facing disruptions at multiple levels, enhancing the knowledge agenda has attained a salient focus. Think tanks are uniquely placed to bridge the academia and policy divide by bringing cutting-edge research directly to the policy domain.
This period is also marked by growing suspicion about the ‘establishment,’ thus, challenging shibboleths of the past has attained renewed priority. New demographics, new socioeconomic groups and new cultural identities are entering the policy debate like never before and shaping the discourse much before the established institutions have had time to assess the change. In this context, the traditional role of think tanks to mobilise expertise and perform advocacy has to evolve to one where they also serve as a marketplace of new ideas, allowing contestation to become the norm.
As new challenges emerge for think tanks — from re-defining their roles to worrying about sustainability of funding and proper methods of dissemination — there are also new opportunities that make think tanks central to the way in which the world of ideas is evolving.
The 4th India Think Tank Forum was successful in highlighting all these aspects, as various stakeholders from India and across the globe deliberated on a range of themes. Think tanks in India are growing in number, and beyond the traditional confines of metropolises, which is a heartening development in a country that is increasingly deriving its real energy from its hinterland. The India Think Tank Forum has, over the years, seen greater involvement of think tanks from smaller towns and cities of India. As the policy discourse in India becomes decentralised, this forum is likely to play an even more important role in emerging as a serious platform for debate and discussion.
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