January 29, 2015

Launching of 2014 Global Go To Think Tanks Index and Discussion on the Role of Think Tanks in Public Policy

A seminar was held on Thursday, January 22, 2015, at the University of Jordan's Center for Strategic Studies (CSS) concerning the role of think tanks according to the results of the University of Pennsylvania's annual report concerning think tanks throughout the world. Participants in the seminar included Dr. Musa Shteiwi, Director of CSS, Mr. Abdel-Elah Al-Khateeb (former Minister of Foreign Affairs), Dr. Al-Sadiq Al-Faqeeh (Secretary General of the Arab Think Tank Forum) and Mr. Fahid Al-Kheetan (journalist for Al-Ghad Jordanian newspaper). The participants provided comparisons of different think tanks and how they may contribute in forming and designing public policies and providing studies and consultations to establishments and societies. They also discussed the status of Jordanian and Arab studies in comparison with world centers.

Dr. Shteiwi provided an overview of the report stating that the annual report's results were released in 81 centers, 62 cities and 51 countries throughout the world, including Jordan. This world classification is provided by the University of Pennsylvania in the United States of America through its program "Think Tank and Civil Society Centers". The University of Pennsylvania designs an index (Global Go To Think Tank Index Project) to classify research centers which depends on four major indexes containing over 28 sub-indexes. Dr. Shteiwi also pointed out the importance of research centers and think tanks in providing public policy with up-to-date knowledge and especially policy alternatives and that the economic, political and social policies in the world are complex which requires decision-makers to make decisions according to objective knowledge-based policies. He also added that CSS is concerned with issues of national priority. CSS provides the society along with decision-makers with numerous studies and policy papers related to cases that are important to society and the nation. CSS also holds brain-storming sessions in order to reach a mutual understanding and building understanding among all parties involved. Dr. Shteiwi also emphasized that CSS provides all these services based on the vision of the University of Jordan in relation to providing service to the Jordanian society.

Mr. Abdel-Elah Al-Khateeb provided a comparison in which he discussed the relationship between think tanks and the executive and legislative branches of government and what the two branches can achieve together through partnership. He also emphasized the importance of autonomy for think tanks so that they can perform their duties fully and adequately, saying that think tanks may be considered as an important means between the government and the House of Representatives from one side and societies and public opinion on the other in order to come up with ideas and formulate scientific and objective debates regarding matters and issues that require important knowledge and experience such as income tax law, for example. Al-Khateeb added that public opinion polls conducted by think tanks play a role in developing the stance of the government and society together towards the matters which are the subject of public opinion polls, which makes think tanks of great importance in terms of providing service to both executive and legislative branches, which cannot be achieved by traditional media. Think tanks also play an important role in stimulating thinking and provide objective recommendations which are more persuasive to the decision-makers and the audience in general.

Dr. Al-Sadiq Al-Faqeeh (Secretary General of the Arab Think Forum) emphasized the important role for think tanks and the extent to which they can contribute in providing specialized and advanced consultations to governments and nations, providing illustrative examples from the Arab Think Tank Forum such as preparing a constitution that can benefit all Arab countries. Researchers and constitutional experts prepared a model for a modern and advanced constitution that conforms to objective and international standards. Dr. Al-Faqeeh pointed out the important role that the Arab Think Tank Forum played in the region and the role that think tanks can play in general, saying that establishments and centers that are concerned with thought and studies are undoubtedly influential and important centers; however, there is a lack of awareness concerning their role. He added that centers and decision-makers should reinforce the confidence between them through the awareness of the decision-maker regarding information and recommendations provided by the centers.

Mr. Fahid Al-Kheetan, a journalist in Al-Ghad Jordanian newspaper, emphasized the relationship between think tanks and the media, saying that the think tanks were exposed to a wave of impressions conveyed through the media criticizing their role in society. He further stated that the media falsely accused think tanks of establishing illegitimate relationships with countries overseas. The media also doubted the reliability of the studies and public opinion polls conducted by the think tanks. Al-Kheetan also observed that this wave of doubt and false accusations almost disappeared, putting think tanks in a place where they can provide service to the media in partnership with the different available media outlets in order to provide a better understanding for matters and issues discussed in the media. At the same time, think tanks also play an important role in studying and analyzing such matters and issues. Al-Kheetan also stated that through his career as a journalist and a writer that he observed that the media plays a crucial role in providing societies and decision-makers with information regarding think tanks and their role in reinforcing policies which are built on professional studies and knowledge, which results in the creation of a new culture that is based on openness between think tanks from one side and the media from another.

Participants in the seminar emphasized the importance of think tanks and the role they play in conducting studies and providing consultations and debates over policies and stances and how the centers can make up for the lack of interaction between decision-makers and public opinions and that think tanks can achieve more results than those achievable by the media.

A number of people participated in the seminar and commented on the report and comparisons between think tanks which included several researchers and scholars, including Mr. Adnan Abu-Odeh, former Minister of Information and former Chief of the Hashemite Royal Court and retired lieutenant general Mahmoud Rudaysat and retired lieutenant general Mohammed Farghal, who is the Director of the Center for Strategic Studies for Retired Military Personnel and Dr. Hannah Al-Sadiq Al-Qalal from Ben Ghazi University and Dr. Khaled Shnaykat, Director of the Jordanian Society for Political Science and Dr. Walid Abu-Dalbouh, Professor of Political Science at the University of Jordan and Dr. Fatima Zubaidi and Dr. Ala'uddin Al-Tarawneh from CSS, along with a number of journalists and interested researchers from CSS. It is worthy to note that this international classification provided by the University of Pennsylvania in the United States of America through its program (Think Tank and Civil Society Centers) provides an index to classify think tanks worldwide (Global Go To Think Tank Index Project) which depends on four different factors containing more than 28 sub-indexes. The centers are arranged according to region and areas of specialization or work. A total of 9,681 think tanks worldwide were classified. Out of those, 521 think tanks were in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. 400 other centers are located in the Arab World. 40 centers are located in Jordan.

The results of this classification were at the regional, Arab World and national levels. CSS was in 10th position in the MENA region. This means that CSS advanced 5 positions since its last position in 15th place in 2013. Regionally, Carnegie-Lebanon took 1st place; Al-Ahram Center for Studies and Policies in Egypt took 2nd place; the Center for Studies at Doha, Qatar, took third place; the Turkish Center for Economic and International Studies took 4th place; the Israeli Center for National Security Studies took 5th place; Al-Jazeera Center for Studies in Qatar took 6th place; the Turkish Social and Economic Foundation took 7th place; the Gulf Center for Saudi Research took 8th place; the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Israel took 9th place.

CSS took 4th place at the Arab World level. This means that it advanced 4 places since it took 8th place in 2013. Al-Ahram Center for Studies and Policies in Egypt took 1st place. Al-Jazeera Center for Studies in Qatar took 2nd place. The Gulf Center for Saudi Research took 3rd place.

CSS maintained 1st place among other Jordanian think tanks. On the international level, CSS took 62nd place as one of the most important in the field of defense and national security (Defense and National Security Think Tanks). CSS took 3rd place in the Arab World in the same field and 5th place regionally. The Arab World centers were ranked as follows: the Regional Center for Strategic Studies in Egypt took 1st place and Al-Ahram Center for Studies and Policies in Egypt took 2nd place.

CSS took 48th place as one of the most important research centers in Foreign Policy and International Affairs Think Tanks. It ranked 3rd place regionally and at the Arab World level. Al-Ahram Center for Studies and Policies in Egypt took 1st place. The Gulf Center for Saudi Research took 2nd place. CSS maintained its 1st place position among other Jordanian research centers.

The report points to the developing importance for think tanks in forming and evaluating public policies at the national and international levels despite the humble number of Arab think tanks compared to their counterparts at the regional and international levels, which reflects the needs of these think tanks for additional technical and financial support to empower them to play their role in conducting scientific research and developing and reviewing social, economic and educational foreign policies.