Banking on Knowledge: The Genesis of the Global Development Network

By Diane Stone | Go to book overview

5

New partnerships in research: activists and think tanks

An illustration from the NCAER in New Delhi

Ratna M. Sudarshan1

Think tanks could be defined as policy research institutes that seek to set agendas and to contribute to governance by supplying information and expertise. However, it is difficult to define clear criteria to distinguish a 'think tank' from a 'research institute' since most research institutes would argue that they have (or seek) independence and are engaged in policy analysis. The operational definition of a think tank may therefore have to vary from region to region (Weaver and McGann 2000). A notable feature of Indian think tanks is that the majority of institutions are engaged in both research and training, and relatively few are pure research organisations. All are autonomous of government and have multiple sources of funding, and most are registered under the Societies Registration Act 1860 (NCAER 1974). The research environment in think tanks is clearly different from that of university departments, which traditionally engage themselves in the business of teaching and research without seeking to play an active role in policy making. It is also distinct from research wings of the government in that think tanks lack the executive role of government agencies and to that extent can be autonomous and more critical. 2

The only well-known institutions to be established in the pre-independence years in India (the first generation of think tanks) seem to have been the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (1930) in Pune, the Indian Statistical Institute (1932) in Calcutta and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (1936) in Mumbai (NCAER 1974; IDI 1992; NIRA 1996; GDN 1999). Post-independence, most of the second generation of think tanks were set up in one of two phases. The decade 1956-65 saw the establishment of a large number of institutions, and the motivation seems to have been a need to compensate for the absence of a policy research environment in Indian universities. The institutions set up in this period include the Indian Institute of Public Administration (1954), the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER; 1956), the Institute of Economic Growth (1958) and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (1963). The Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) was set up in 1969 both to provide technical and funding support to research organisations and to enable networking among them. 3 It is important to understand that in the Indian context, it would not have been possible, in the immediate post-

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