Event ReportsPublished on Feb 04, 2016
MEA Secretary launches Go to Think Tank Index in Delhi

As part of the global lunch of the latest Global Go to Think Tank Index, a function was organised at Observer Research Foundation where the 2015 Index was released and a panel discussion was held  on this year’s theme -- ‘Sustainable Development Goals – The Role of Think Tanks in Policy Making’.

In his opening remarks, ORF Director Sunjoy Joshi welcomed the launch of the ninth Global Go to Think Tank Index, prepared by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) at the University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Joshi recalled that this exercise had begun in 2006 in response to demands from funding agencies and some members of the media that wanted to gauge think tanks performance. He noted that this exercise has not only succeeded through the years to attract interest but have also helped bring together diverse perceptions to the policy sphere.

Mr. Joshi said the 2015 edition polled the opinions of 4677 journalists, policy makers, think tanks, private and public donors from 147 countries to produce the only worldwide think tank ranking. In this edition the wide range of think tans is covered by several categories that try to capture the geographic and thematic diversity of these organizations.

Mr. Joshi described an explosion of think tanks through the years, reflected in India as well, which is the result of the new media that have empowered groups and individuals to penetrate the traditional monopoly of policy and decision making, held solely by governments. However, Mr. Joshi stressed the challenges in devising communication strategies given formats are becoming shorter and voices are becoming louder. He also underlined the increased dependence on data, analysis and monitoring in governance have compelled policy makers to reach out to civil society. Director Joshi concluded saying that Sustainable Development, the theme of the conference, is the best platform to discuss the relevance and future roles of think tanks in policy making.

The conference’s keynote address was given by Ms. Sujata Mehta, Secretary (West), Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of India who begun by congratulating ORF for its impressive citations in the Global Go To Think Tank Index 2015. She looked at the effect of think tanks on diplomacy in 2015 through three capital intergovernmental processes underling their major role in bringing these processes squarely in the public consciousness and in clarifying intricate issues.

The first of these processes was the Financing for Development (FFD) conference in Addis Ababa culminating in July 2015. Most importantly the FFD recognized the importance of cooperation for development and the need for developing countries to receive financial assistance in the course of their development. An acknowledgment of a historical responsibility which has been challenged in the past. Furthermore, it achieved a technology facilitation mechanism, stressed the importance of south-south cooperation but also of traditional cooperation and reaffirmed the ‘Common but Differenced Responsibility’ principle.

The second process is the September Agenda 2030, titled ‘Transforming the World’ which outlined the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and with them the development priorities for the next 15 years. Ms Mehta underlined that unlike the previous Millennium Development Goals, this agreement was negotiated through an inclusive process which lead to a document that balances economic, social and environmental protection. She stressed how the SDGs mirror many programs already running in India such as Make in India, Skill India, Smart Cities, Digital India and so on.

Finally, the Paris conference on climate change (COP21) in December was the most covered by public attention among these processes. She underlined how the negotiation was discussed and impacted in real time by the civil society. Ambassador Mehta reaffirmed the Indian commitment to counter climate change while remembering the historical responsibility of developed countries and the need for further action from them.

The result of these processes is an outline that have to be filled in with details by each country. Ambassador Mehta emphasized that it is in this task that an intellectual partnership with think tanks, scholars and civil society is sought. Thinks tanks have to ensure congruence in action and approaches between the UN intergovernmental system and the Bretton Woods institutions, the WTO and the G20. She asked think tanks to provide intellectual support in making the case to developed countries for resources and not just help in accounting and governance skills. Ambassador Mehta concluded by stating that the implementation of these goals is a country wide effort that requires the support, the challenge and insights of think tanks.

Dr. Sachin Chaturvedi, Director General at the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), in his views, described this new two-way engagement process, in which authorities are now more open to getting inputs from other sources on policy making and negotiations, as mentioned earlier. However, he also flagged the challenges that think tanks face in maintaining their relevance, quality and focus on core competences while adapting their work to shorter formats, interdisciplinary themes and cooperation with each other.

The final member of the panel, Ms. Lydia Powell, Head of the Energy Initiative at Observer Research Foundation, underlined the overarching nature of the eradication of poverty among the SDG. She further cautioned on not embracing the term sustainable development as a good in itself as it might be misused in the context of increasing bureaucratic control over scarce resources.

In his closing remarks Mr Joshi returned to the concept of think tanks as platforms where a diverse group of people can communicate like streams adding to a river, they can change the flow of a discourse and have an impact on the whole system.

(This report is prepared by Niccolo Beduschi, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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