a Welcome to India policy foundation

ROLE OF THINK TANKS: PERSPECTIVES FROM THE EAST AND WEST

Author: IPF      Date: 21 Nov 2018 15:26:10

November 3, 2018, IPF Seminar Hall, New Delhi

Speakers : Dr. Shamika Ravi, Member of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India and Director of Research at Brookings India

Shri P. C. Pandey, Board member DOC research institute

Dr. Avanish Kumar, Professor and chair, Public policy and Governance at Management Development  Institute

Dr. Rahul Singh, Professor and Chair at Birla Institute.

Dr. Roopinder Oberoi, Assistant Professor, University of Delhi was the Moderator


 

An interactive session was organized in India Policy Foundation (IPF) Seminar Hall on 3rd November, 2018 on the topic “Role of Think Tanks: Perspectives from the east and west”. The guests present were Dr. Shamika Ravi, Member of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India and Director of Research at Brookings India, Shri P. C. Pandey, Board member DOC research institute, Dr. Avanish Kumar, Professor and chair, Public policy and Governance at Management Development  Institute, Dr. Rahul Singh, Professor and Chair at Birla Institute. Dr. Roopinder Oberoi, Assistant Professor, University of Delhi was the Moderator for the session. 

Dr. Oberoi introduced the session and talked about broadening the lenses and correcting the imbalances. She asked that has the long-established firewall between ‘spoils of politics’ and ‘neutrality of experts’ collapsed and what are the ramifications of this blurring of roles? Pointing at the significance of think tank she quoted Lyndon Johnson, the President of Brooking institute in 1966 who said while referring to the value of think tanks “You have become the national institution, so important ...that if you did not exist we would have to ask someone to create you”. She also raised the important concern towards the dichotomy between role of politics and experts. Policy-making is a process of successive approximation to some desired objectives in which what is desired itself continues to change. Policy like all organic entities is always in the making. Due to lack of time and loads of work, parliamentarians are not able to look up to all the facets of a policy sometimes. Here comes the significance of Think tanks.

Dr. Rahul Singh then showed a presentation to the audience on the working of think tanks worldwide and genesis and journey of IPF and its works till date. He said that non-state actors are continuously taking the role of think tanks. Their role is more of advisory nature and neither binding nor institutional. IPF started in 2010 and opened six discussion forums in cities like New Delhi, Patna, Bhubaneswar and Indore. More than 140 experts participated in these discussions. IPF collaborated with other think tanks and academic institutions. Indian think tanks are in building phase right now whereas worldwide think tanks especially western ones are well established and can influence policy from anywhere. This brings an important question that – Should think tanks exercise their authority and function across the boundaries of their nation-states? Researchers worldwide allege that many think tanks have been reduced to event management forums. There is lack of research in significant areas like nuclear science, medical and health, and environment. Need of original research and debate is felt now because when we use ready frameworks, we are guided by assumptions. There is a big scarcity of funding for think tanks which was unanimously agreed upon by all the experts, which forces think tanks to do guided research projects. Indian think tanks refer to documents of western think tanks, so lot of vocabulary is copied from there. In that sense there is an ardent need of ‘De-colonization in language’. The design and structure of think tanks is pretty big in west. The philanthropy culture for funding to think tanks is missing in our country.

Dr. Shamika Ravi started with a caution that we were lagging behind in all forms of quality research. We cannot move forward relying on borrowed, biased or secondary research. We need local and creative research to come up. Research which can be useful in our day-to-day lives is required. We cannot monetize basic research in the sense that it does not have any market where it can be sold. So, the only sources of capital are government and philanthropy. The part of philanthropy in funding researches in India is very low. In USA it is 2.82 % of the GDP, in China it is 1.70 % of the GDP while in India it is only 0.82 % of GDP. In USA 3838 persons in a million are researchers, in china the figure stands at 890 persons in a million while in India it is only 160 persons in a million. The real impact of a think tank is not in sitting and taking a snap with a minister but in giving them correct data and analysis in policy making. We have left many fundamental research topics at the mercy of foreign funding, this situation should be reversed. Think tanks should not only help in consulting, advising and answering to the questions set by the policy makers but also set the questions sometimes. Public policy research is a multi-disciplinary affair that is why we need specialized think tanks to carry them out as academic spaces do not have fluid coordination among different departments. Many political parties are opening their own think tanks which is also good as it is like ‘In-house capacity building’. Ideas pop-up only when there is dissonance otherwise it becomes an eco-chamber. So, it’s very important to talk with people who disagree with us. An average South Korean is 10 times richer than an average Indian. An average Chinese is 2.5 times richer than an average Indian. Innovation is driving their growth. We need to pick pace in that path.

Shri P. C. Pandey stressed that a distinction must be made between personal identity and institutional identity. More than 90 % think tanks in the world are Anglo-Saxon. We need to develop think tanks which are eastern in character to carry forward our values, culture and civilization. The biggest questions concerning think tanks today are how to get money, what should be the research direction, and how not to be confined in Europe only. Money for research purposes must come from transparent sources. The debate today is that should funding be predominantly public or private. But, the victim at the end is – RESEARCH as without motivation nobody would be willing to give money. Various think tanks should talk to each other and collaborate with each other. Think tanks should be institutionalized in such a way that they can survive without depending upon anyone and they must diversify their sources of funding also. A think tank must have its independent and unbiased views. China is offering good amount of money and citizenship to quality researchers from all over the world to come to china and work. India should also come up with such incentives to attract good people in research arena.

Professor Avanish Kumar opined that being rich and having high per capita income is important but it is more important to be happy. Only talking about empowerment is not necessary, it’s more necessary to know what empowerment means to women on the ground. It’s not only about income but about their identity as well otherwise they will always be insecure. In our country there is lack of adequate platform for ideas and innovation. It is easy to research on what is measurable like per capita income but measuring happiness is hard. Ph.D. scholars devote 80 % of their time in deciding the topic and design of their research work. A primary challenge is that – how do we convert from individual to institution? An individual might be politically correct in order to maintain his acceptability and respect. Inspite of having the highest youth population in the world today, we have not earmarked any dedicated fund for youth. Every mind has something unique and creative to say. The challenge is to convert that opinion into scientific explanation. We have not understood the governance of educational institutions itself.

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