The Role of Think Tanks in Decision Making: A closer look at think tanks in the Gulf region
Think tanks play a crucial role in shaping strategies and policies, particularly in mobilizing knowledge and demonstrating evidence. They promote innovative change, building strong networks and communities where ideas are circulated, the impact of research and analysis is maximized, and actions are catalyzed. Particularly in the developed world, since the early 20th century, think tanks have been significant, especially in policymaking. In this article, I will be sharing some insights on their role in decision-making, and the reality – and future – of think tanks in the region.
Think tanks have become very popular in the last decades of the 20th century; they are usually an indicator of a state’s development, its evaluation of scientific research, and its anticipation of the future. The US is one of the first countries in the world that adopted the concept of think tanks. Many independent public policy institutes that worked on research and provided advice were found mainly in the US, with a much smaller number in other regions such as Canada, the UK, and Western Europe. The US depends on think tanks for research studies, reports, and recommendations in many economic, social, political, and cultural matters. There is hardly a member of parliament, a company, or a civil society organization that does not depend on a think tank for recommendations to help in making appropriate decisions for specific matters.
Think tanks in the Gulf region
Think tanks in the Gulf have become modern in their type of research projects as the region has expanded since the 1990s in terms of quality, quantity, and contribution. The role of think tanks in the region differs from their role in the West; many Gulf countries face different obstacles and challenges when it comes to playing an active role in policymaking. For any think tank to succeed, it has to offer research relevant to real challenges, and it must have the trust of decision-makers in the advice that it provides. Having said that, in this region, most stakeholders do not trust local think tanks to offer valuable research and knowledge or do not consider their analyses as reliable as those of foreign consulting/research firms.
Gulf think tanks are not taking their rightful place – their role remains inactive, not because of an inability to perform, but because of the nature of these countries’ political systems and regulations. However, I believe there is great potential to have more independent research and analyses, like the type performed by the RAND Corporation, an American non-profit global policy think tank founded in 1948 to provide research and analysis to the US Armed Forces.
The future of think tanks in the region
Think tanks in the region should make it their mission to define their future. It is also important to highlight that think tanks in the Gulf region should consider a few crucial obstacles in the future:
The need to have consistent support from the government
The demand to meet new and evolving challenges
The need to tackle the trap of systemic thinking, confirmation bias, and groupthink
I believe that on the way to 2030, in an increasingly changing society, think tanks must play their role in providing a space between policymakers, governments, research, academia, and media within which concepts and ideas can be discussed, strategies can be reviewed, and action for the future can be designed.