After coordinating the inputs of nearly 2000 leading experts from around the world, and after assessing the work of nearly 7000 think tanks globally, the University of Pennsylvania has released the 2013 international ranking of think tanks.
This is the oldest and most prestigious think tank rating system in the world, dating back to the late 1980s.
Though only two Ghanaian think tanks – IMANI and ISSER – made the overall top 150 think tanks in the world segment of the rankings, Ghanaian institutions emerged more prominent when certain filters were used to balance the wide variations in budgets and national support received by different think tanks in different parts of the world.
For example, when the field is restricted to only think tanks in Sub-Saharan Africa, as many as 6 Ghanaian think tanks feature, ranging from institutions best known for their effective advocacy such as ISODEC to more research-biased ones like CEPA.
What is clear though is that think tanks that effectively combine both research and advocacy score higher points than those that excel in only one dimension, a fact that may have accounted for IMANI climbing four steps higher from its 2012 position to 4th , whilst CDD placed 13th and ISODEC 49th respectively.
When the experts picked the 80 top think tanks from around the world that maintain some focus on the domestic economy in their regions of operation, five African think tanks made it, with IMANI following closely behind the Kenyan Institute for Public Policy Research & Analysis (KIPPRA) as the top performers.
Despite their strong showing in the general index of top-ranked African institutions, Ghanaian think tanks, except IMANI, were unfortunately missing in some important specialised categories, such as skilful use of social networks, emphasis on innovative solutions, building of linkages in other regions with other institutions, and direct impact on public policy.
IMANI was also the only think tank from Ghana to feature on the global list of best think tanks with an annual operating budget of less than $5 million, ranking 8th internationally, as well as on the list of the 100 best think tanks operating outside the United States of America.
Commendably, the CDD joined IMANI on the list of the “80 top think tanks to watch in the world”, ranking 43, while IMANI ranked 30th.
The big question is of course whether think tanks and institutions like them in this country can truly create impact in ways that promote socio-economic transformation through broad-based development. It is not enough to design great research and lead forceful advocacy on the issues, as the likes of IMANI, ISODEC and the CDD have been doing with great success all this while.
And it is certainly not enough to conduct research and advocacy with world-class flair so as to be recognised internationally. What is most important is the capacity and ingenuity to channel that advocacy and research into mechanisms that steadily change the practical conduct of national affairs for the better.
As the study accompanying the rankings put it, what is critical is:
“The impact on society: direct relationship between the organization’s efforts in a particular area to a positive change in societal values such as significant changes in the quality of life within respective country (amounts of goods and services available to citizens, state of physical and mental health, quality of environment, quality of political rights, access to institutions).”
How have Ghanaian think tanks, including internationally recognised and highly ranked IMANI, ISSER and CDD, fared in this all-important and crucial respect?
Given the constraints that exist in our society, with the low media interest in policy, high functional illiteracy, and the private sector’s tendency to operate on anecdotal evidence rather than conduct empirical research, our think tanks have actually achieved some interesting results.
IMANI, for instance, was recently at the forefront of moves to reform food and drug regulation in Ghana. It has waged relentless battles to shape pensions reforms. Its consistent attacks on the one-time premium idea as unsustainable have been roundly vindicated.
ISODEC has been so influential in defining the debate in utilities policy in this country that all sides of the issue are still compelled to reference their own arguments to the dividing lines drawn by ISODEC. The effective halt to the privatisation of the main utilities are clearly attributable to the work of this left-leaning organisation, with considerable implications for how governments rethink the subsidy model and related issues.
Using their Afrobarometer methodology, CDD has turned the measurement of citizen sentiment into an empirically driven science that has influenced how governments in Ghana and beyond communicate policy intent to the population.
There is definitely much more to do, but compared to other sectors and institutions in our national life, Ghanaian think tanks definitely deserve recognition for showing the excellence that is possible in Ghana when Ghanaians put their minds to it, and their shoulders behind the cart.
Sammy Darko, a journalist and writer, is a Senior Associate of the African Liberal Media Fellowship.
For interviews with board members and fellows of IMANI, please contact Patrick Stephenson and Lolan Sagoe Moses on 0243336819 and (233) 020 8337858