quotes Role of think tanks in the Gulf’s future

21 February 2021
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Updated 21 February 2021

Role of think tanks in the Gulf’s future

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 share some insights on their role in decision-making, and the reality — and future — of think tanks in the region.
A think tank is essentially an organization, corporation, or group that is distinct from the government and formed for research and advice on a range of policy areas using specialized expertise and the activation of networks. While most think tanks around the world are nonprofit and non-government, their projects may often be conducted for governmental entities as well as commercial clients.
Think tanks became very popular in the last decades of the 20th century; they were usually an indicator of a state’s development, its evaluation of scientific research, and its anticipation of the future.
The US was one of the first countries in the world to adopt 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 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.

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.

Eshraq M. Al-Haddad

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 analysis 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 analysis, like the type performed by the RAND Corporation, an American nonprofit global policy think tank founded in 1948 to provide research and analysis to the US armed forces.
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, such as the need to have consistent support from the government; the demand to meet new and evolving challenges; and the need to tackle the trap of systemic thinking, confirmation bias, and groupthink.
Research and innovation are part of Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Vision. This initiative will assist the government in achieving its planned goals by creating a culture of research and innovation.
Hence, I believe that it will be a source of inspiration for all think tanks in Saudi specifically, as this indicates that the Kingdom has determined and ambitious plans as a country to transform from a natural resources-based economy toward a knowledge-based one.
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 reviewed and action for the future designed.

• Eshraq Al-Haddad works in a nonprofit think tank in Saudi Arabia, with an interest in business, think tanks, and sustainability.