Think tanks are independent policy research organizations that generate evidence analysis and data for use in public policy processes. They provide synthesis and analysis of existing research that is already available in order to inform the public discourse and make the public aware of the pressing issues and why they are important to society. They do research on topics that impact people’s everyday lives, they provide advanced research to help the government, private sectors, citizens and other actors think about important issues and how it can affect their lives. It is done in a lot of different ways — by conducting research, collecting data, and analysis by engaging with different actors in society. They are in a position to know which solutions are needed to which problems and to know which problems are the most important. Think tanks try to bridge the local with the global and connect people. They ensure that the local knowledge gets into the hands of those who need it. They connect citizens with decision-makers to bring the policy issues into the spotlight with the public and demand change and solutions through the essential research. They also act as knowledge brokers bringing together different actors to bring evidence to accept on a particular issue.
Traditionally think tanks were a place for academics who wanted to do things slightly more practical and for policymakers who wanted to get out of the grind of day-to-day policymaking. The nature of problems that most countries face these days is pretty complex and it’s no longer possible for governments alone to tackle them and think through them to identify solutions. Think tanks have become really crucial and critical actors in not only helping governments think through these challenges but also bringing together the rest of the society. Government organizations rely on think tanks to design plans for dealing with poverty, famine, and wars in the most efficient and manageable way possible. Governments make decisions every day that affects the lives of millions of people, whether they are setting a major policy direction or deciding how to allocate scarce resources or design new programs, they need to use some source of information to make decisions. It brings moral and social justice imperative to use evidence and research for policymaking that affects people’s lives.
WHY THINK TANKS ARE IMPORTANT
Think tanks help establish and change public policies. Public policy change starts with political change, political change in a democracy starts with social change and social change always precedes durable political change. Social change is an important part of public policy. In this fast-changing world, the job of the think tanks is to help shape the progress for the future so that everybody benefits. Think tanks matter because they infuse the public debate with an analysis that is based on research and not opinion. They also provide legitimacy to policies by supporting them with evidence, with information, and with advice.
Good think tanks are open and transparent in the kind of research they do so that those we read the research can judge its independence. They help in shaping the decisions made in government but in reality, much of the time think tanks are trying to shape public ideas, the way people talk about things, the way people frame issues, and by doing that we can ultimately influence policies. They do democracy a service by putting ideas behind a political ideology or agendas and giving some real content that’s actually meaningful on particular issues. It creates a culture of evidence-based policy discussion and influence. They bring together different voices, different options, different ideas, and different groups of people together but they do this in a very tangible way which uses evidence, data and research to inform the conversations that are ongoing in the society.
From a country’s perspective, there is a question of capacity when dealing with complex issues. Think tanks are quite critical actors to help boost government capacity. Global and national policies work well when they are informed by evidence and knowledge. There are many producers of knowledge and think tanks are one of the primary producers of knowledge in developing as well as developed countries. Challenges like climate change, hunger, poverty are quite complex that need good evidence, data and knowledge and perhaps think tanks the producers of that knowledge sitting at the heart of defective good public policies which eventually changes the lives of people.
LIST OF THINK TANKS IN INDIA
1. Centre for Civil Society (CCS)
The Centre for Civil Society advances social change through public policy. Their work in education, livelihood, and policy training promotes choice and accountability across the private and public sectors. To translate policies into practices, CCS engages with opinion leaders through research, pilot projects, and advocacy.
2. Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (MP-IDSA)
The Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis is a non-partisan and autonomous body that operates with an aim to promote national and international security through research and policy-relevant studies. It is India’s foremost think tank funded by the Indian Ministry of Defence for advanced research in strategic and security issues.
3. The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI)
TERI was established in 1974 to work relentlessly towards building a safer and cleaner world. Their aim is to create solutions for sustainable development of India and Global South in the areas of clean energy, water management, pollution management, sustainable agriculture, and climate resilience.
4. Observer Research Foundation (ORF)
ORF is another independent think tank founded in 1990 by the Dhirubhai Ambani family with a wide range of objectives relating to aid and formulate government policies. It provides potentially viable inputs for policy and decision making in areas of security and strategy, governance, environment, energy resources, and economic growth.
5. Development Alternatives (DA)
Development Alternatives is a social enterprise (Not-for-Profit) established in 1982, dedicated towards sustainable development striving to deliver socially equitable, environmentally sound, and economically scalable development outcomes through research. It provides eco-solutions to help meet the basic needs of all the partners including government bodies, local enterprises, and civil society.
6. Centre for Policy Research (CPR)
The Centre for Policy Research is India’s oldest and leading public policy think tank since 1973. It is a community of distinguished academics and practitioners representing views from many disciplines and across the political spectrum. The institute is dedicated to conducting research that contributes to public discourse about the structure and processes that shape the life of India.
India has the second-largest number of think tanks in the world. Apart from the list given above, the other Indian think tanks are the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), Indian Council for World Affairs (ICWA), etc. Think tanks are not as influential on the Indian Government yet but are slowly becoming visible. An idea formulated by a think tank is not extensively accepted by the government and is rarely welcomed. Think tanks in India are still in growing fields and emerging spheres of influence.
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