Should we hail the advent of the think-tank?

Last week former British premier, Tony Blair, recommended the creation of a think-tank in Rwanda. Blair, who is an official advisor the Government, suggested that a policy and research think-tank be introduced. Beyond this he said little about how such a body would work. Think-tanks are organizations or institutes that conduct research and engage in advocacy in a multitude of areas from social policy and political strategy to science and technology issues and business policies.

Last week former British premier, Tony Blair, recommended the creation of a think-tank in Rwanda. Blair, who is an official advisor the Government, suggested that a policy and research think-tank be introduced. Beyond this he said little about how such a body would work. Think-tanks are organizations or institutes that conduct research and engage in advocacy in a multitude of areas from social policy and political strategy to science and technology issues and business policies.

They are an integral feature of the political landscape in the west. But do they have a place here?

I am presuming, though I do not know, that Rwanda’s think-tank will be funded by the government. I am also presuming that the purpose of the think-tank will be to influence and enhance the policy-making process.

It is typically assumed that think-tanks influence major policy debates and government legislation, yet the basic question of how and in what way they influence public policy is less clear.

Are think tanks major policy actors in democratic societies, assuring a pluralistic, open and accountable process of policy analysis, research, decision-making and evaluation? Or are they little more than public relations fronts generating self-serving scholarship that serves the advocacy goals of their sponsors?

We need to be realistic about the scope of a think-tank in this country. While it is improbable that such bodies are able to influence the final choice made by policymakers, they can do much to set and perhaps expand the limits of respectable debate. This, in turn, leads to the consideration of various alternatives that may not have been on the agenda previously.

Is a think-tank the answer to Rwanda’s problems? I think not but it might well facilitate the path to finding out what the answer is.
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