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Think Tanks Discuss Role In Global Issues

UNITED NATIONS , Jan 25 2015 (IPS) - A panel discussion last week focused on the connection between inter-governmental organisations and think tanks, especially how think tanks help to shape transnational policy issues at institutions like the United Nations and governments around the world.

The event coincided with the launch of the 2014 Global Go To Think Tank Index report, probably the most comprehensive ranking of the world’s top think tanks.

The meeting featured a conversation with New York’s leading think tanks, philanthropists, and scholars who discussed the importance of think tanks in peace and security, human rights, and transnational threats.

The panel was chaired by Amy Gadsden, Executive Director of Penn Global at the University of Pennsylvania and a welcome speech was given by Amr Nour, Director of the United Nations Regional Commissions Office (RCNYO).

Stephen J. Del Rosso, Programme Director, International Peace and Security, International Programme, at Carnegie Corporation of New York said the role of think tanks is to be a facilitator or enabler: “We are neither producers nor users of the work that we create or fund.”

Panelists also explored the interdependence between think tanks, universities and foundations. Think tanks produce policy insights and recommendations. They have project timelines, and produce multiple products that try to meet policy makers needs.

Warren Hoge, Senior Adviser for External Relations at the International Peace Institute (IPI) spoke about an ambitious IPI project starting this month: The Independent Commission on Multilateralism (ICM), which will identify policy proposals to enhance the multilateral system’s ability to respond to new global challenges.

The ICM will be chaired by former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, co-chaired by Foreign Minister of Norway Borge Brende and Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird.

Joseph Saunders, Deputy Program Director at Human Rights Watch said think tanks mainly play two major roles: an agenda-setting role and holding governments and the U.N. system to commitments they have already made. “We see ourselves as fact finders,” Saunders said. “We claim to speak with authorities because we know the situation,” he added.

The issue of transparency and funding think tanks was also addressed. “It is important to be transparent about who is funding what, ” Del Rosso noted. Nour explained there are two sources of funding for the U.N. – “a regular budget and voluntary contributions.”

Critics say think tanks tend to reflect a relatively narrow view of reality. Rather than producing new ideas they are often validating policies. But think tanks have an ability to convince stakeholders, something that governments are not always able to.

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