On request of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, Michal Vít, Research Fellow at the EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy (Prague, Czech Republic), shares the findings from the 2016 EUROPEUM’s Go To Think Tank Index presented earlier this year:
The recent development of perception of expert knowledge in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) shows significant redefinition of this in the public. That may be perceived from two different perspectives. Firstly, the way think tanks should develop and transmit their expert knowledge in the time, when emotions are winning over rational arguments. Secondly, the experience undertaken by think tanks affiliated to political parties in the CEE Region and lesson learned.
It is very difficult to expect that think tanks will be movers of a broader public debate, when using rationally grounded arguments. In the same context, it is impossible to expect that think tanks will play a role of opinion makers if basic conditions are not (often) met – such as institutional stability of financing and personal capacity. Without these basic elements, it is hard to imagine that think tanks will effectively contribute to public debate with expert knowledge without constant need to secure funding for another budgetary period. This leads to the most crucial point. Without institutional stability, it is very hard to work on a long-term goal – broadly recognised reputation. Only if the organisation enjoys a professional status based on the work done, it can influence public debate with a greater extent. It might sound trivial, but recent developments show that only reputation based on professional work can be a tool to justify its activities and relevancy in public debate. However, this is equally emotion-based on a current popular questioning relevancy of expert knowledge. The context matters, and think tanks should be careful, when contributing to public debate.
As for the second point, there is only limited number of examples demonstrating that think tanks affiliated to the parties are able to develop into respected partner for the latter. There is broadly missing commitment to approach think tanks as assisting to parties to develop knowledge that would be further used by them. Instead, parties often prefer short-term PR activities and not expert outputs based on certain level of professionalism. As a result, the role of think tanks in a broader public discussion is perceived solely as only campaigning for individual party and not aiming to raise level of public discussion.
This leads back to the beginning. If the role of think tanks should be higher and their activities more accepted, there has to be shared commitment towards both institutional and personal capacity in order to contribute to public debate with expert knowledge. Otherwise, the label of a think tank will be misused by those, who acquire emotion-based arguments only and destruct public debate by blaming the others.