The notion that effective policy decisions must be based on sound policy ideas would win general consensus in any country. Most people would also agree that sound policy ideas must be grounded in rigorous and objective research. However, the claim that policy-oriented research conducted outside government would add value and give enhanced legitimacy to the policy-making process would, at best, probably win just a few supporters. One of the goals of the Global Development Network (GDN) is precisely to change the perceived role and potential contribution of think tanks and research centres in the formulation, monitoring and lobbying for policy options in the developing world and transition economies. The stated mission of the GDN is to generate and share knowledge related to development and transition, to facilitate networking and to create global products that will build research capacity and help researchers to transfer knowledge to policy makers. It can be argued that the GDN is one of history's largest worldwide non-governmental enterprises to be aimed at producing a public good that is available from anywhere around the planet, a good that will prove vital for the future of humankind: knowledge.
The collective decision to create the GDN was based on a set of shared beliefs, an opportunity and bold ambition. What are those beliefs? First, while in centuries past, improvement in human welfare was predicated on advances in agricultural yields and later technological and scientific progress, it is becoming increasingly evident that the future of our well-being will predominantly rest on the availability and judicious use of knowledge defined in the broadest sense. Second, the old notion that knowledge confers power and temporarily bestows a competitive edge, while still valid to a degree, is being superseded by the realisation that the greater gains can accrue when knowledge is shared. Nowhere is this proposition easier to defend than in the field of policy formulation in the pursuit of development. The third belief could be paraphrased with the transplanted and somewhat provocative view that policy making is too important to be left to policy makers alone. Although in most cases this statement would need to be qualified to travel unchallenged, the basic underlying tenet is that in no human society is 'good' knowledge for development exclusively in the hands of policy circles. Otherwise, why pursue democratic principles, encourage political plurality or foster public debate on policy options? Failure to falsify this belief