Banking on Knowledge: The Genesis of the Global Development Network

By Diane Stone | Go to book overview

9

Influencing government policy making

Simon James


Introduction

This chapter looks at the relationship between think tanks and governments, and particularly at the influence that think tanks can have on government policy. It is written from a slightly peculiar combination of personal perspectives, since I have seen think tanks from three angles. In the 1990s, I had direct experience of their work in Britain, where they had become active and influential over the previous two decades. At various times, I studied and wrote on them from an academic viewpoint (James 1993), briefly did some voluntary research for one of them, and on joining the civil service found myself working in areas (first education, then constitutional reform) that were the subject of their activities.

I 'exported' this experience to the OECD in late 1998 when I joined the staff of its SIGMA programme. The Programme for Support for Improvement and Management in Central and Eastern European Countries-universally known as SIGMA-provides help on the reform of central government in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. 1 The OECD has shown an occasional interest in think tanks over the years. As I prepared to write this article, I called up the old OECD files and was surprised to discover that they contained early drafts of the well-known seminal articles on think tanks that Professor Yehezkel Dror published in the early 1980s (see notably Dror 1984). These were among the few published outputs of a wider project by the OECD focusing on governments' internal 'thinking capacity'. While the project was time-limited, it is interesting that the OECD saw the potential importance of think tanks a decade before other international organisations (and a pity that its interest was not sustained). 2 SIGMA itself works only with governments, but in the mid-1990s it devoted an issue of its journal Public Management Forum to non-governmental organisations, including some useful articles on the value to governments of think tanks and kindred bodies (for example, Kimball 1997). Indeed, it is impossible to work in the field of policy making in Central and Eastern Europe without encountering think tanks that seem as influential, if not more so, than their counterparts in Western Europe, not least because they often come into being with their governments' support and encouragement.

The particular concern of this chapter is with the junction at which think

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