Banking on Knowledge: The Genesis of the Global Development Network

By Diane Stone | Go to book overview

12

Think tanks and the ecology of policy inquiry

Evert Lindquist


Introduction

The Global Development Network initiative is an ambitious and far-reaching attempt to link knowledge to public policy. More particularly, it conceives of think tanks as critical knowledge generators or brokers in the policy-making process. In the discussions preceding and during the conference, many concerns were expressed about the future development of the GDN. This included questions about the capacities of think tanks, about which institutions might control the policy and research agenda, about whether the activities of the GDN might be dominated by a single discipline, and about the appropriate governance arrangements and activities for the network.

Most of the exchanges on these matters, not surprisingly, have been infused by the traditional contours of development debates, with a focus on North-South and other regional differences, different kinds of knowledge and the growing demand by donors that think tank organisations demonstrate influence and effectiveness. While posing and answering these questions from a development perspective is ultimately critical to the success of the enterprise, for this observer there has been insufficient recognition that more fundamental and generic issues are at play. It is thus important to locate how the debates about the GDN fit into broader formulations about the role of think tanks, and, even more generally, about the knowledge-into-policy process. Broader perspectives should assist in providing more clarity about how to elaborate the GDN initiative.

This chapter seeks to put the challenges and concerns associated with the GDN in perspective, and to identify some models and proposals for structuring the network. Those who are debating the GDN's future need to understand that many of the issues at stake-whether and how to make think tanks and social science research more relevant; the sheer diversity of think tanks in terms of values and activities; and the best ways to link governments and think tanks-are not, for the most part, unique to the think tanks, governments and international organisations grappling with the challenges confronting developing and transitional countries. To be sure, there are important differences and sensitivities to acknowledge when designing the GDN that flow from the challenges associated with developing and transitional countries. However, these considerations should

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