Thursday, July 7, 2011

In Qatar, do think tanks Matter?



You could have never walked the corridors of Georgetown, Carnegie Mellon, Texas A & M, Northwestern, Weill Cornell, University College London, the Parisian HEC and even Virginia Commonwealth University in the same day except in Qatar. The tiny oil and natural gas rich country, which illustrates a unique model in the region, decided to be the quasi Washington D.C of the Middle East where its focus is on investing in the intellectual and cultural aspects.

One, however, cannot imagine Washington D.C with Georgetown but without Brookings and other well reputed think tanks. Therefore, in addition to the research centres which are stemming from Qatar Foundation and each of the aforementioned Universities, Qatar recruited not only Brookings Doha Centre, but also other multinational think tanks such as RAND Qatar Policy Institute (RQPI) and Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). They also incubated Azmi Bishara's Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies and the Arab Democracy Foundation whose Board of Trustees is chaired by Her Highness Shiekha Moza bint Nasser.

The Characteristics of Think Tanks

Before delving into why think tanks in Qatar don’t matter, it is necessary to understand the basic characteristics of think tanks. Although some scholars will simplify the definition of a think tank to a bridge between the civil society and the policy makers or the academia and the government, yet it is necessary to get a better understanding of think tank.

There is a conspicuous disparity in the definition of think tanks among scholars and experts depending on the milieu they exist. The traditional Anglo-American definition was driven by the legal boundaries and the characteristics of a democratic system and a developed society which are the importance of the public opinion, the existence of a strong civil society, a well-established tax regime, and the importance of the independence of research. However, the most suitable definition of think tanks today which fits our society is McGann’s definition of transnational think tanks. He defined a think tank as
a public policy research, analysis and engagement institutions that generate policy-oriented research, analysis and advice on domestic and international issues that enables policymakers and the public to make informed decisions about public policy issues. Think tanks may be affiliated or independent institutions and are structured as permanent bodies, not ad hoc commissions. These institutions often act as a bridge between the academic and policymaking communities, serving in the public interest as an independent voice that translates applied and basic research into a language and form that is understandable, reliable, and accessible for policymakers and the public. [1]
The one million riyal question would be, does a country like Qatar need more think tanks knowing that Qatar has an underdeveloped civil society, limited human capital and passive public opinion. And my answer to that simple question would be ‘NO.’ We rather need independent policy entrepreneurs from outside the policymaking milieu to introduce innovation — the generation, translation, and implementation of new ideas – into the public sector and assist in the nation building exercise.

Policy Entrepreneurship and Think and Do Tanks

One would argue that even entrepreneurs would require to work through certain legal entities and within a certain jurisdiction. And here comes the role and importance of think and do tanks which are involved not only in shaping policies but also in helping governments implementing them. This goes hand in hand with Joseph Schumpeter’s theories of entrepreneurship and innovation. Schumpeter is known as the "champion of innovation and entrepreneurship" and he asserted that innovation and technological change of a nation comes from the wild spirits. He also believes that innovation is the critical dimension of economic change. Schumpeter, in his second theory about entrepreneurship, added another dimension which is the importance of the large organizations. He asserted that innovation and the economy are driven by large companies which have the needed resources to invest in R&D. [2] Although his theories are focused on the role of entrepreneurship and innovation in the economy but they are applicable to the public policy milieu too.

The key success factor for such a suggestion is the motivation behind becoming a policy entrepreneur and starting a think and do tank. Unlike multinational think tanks, which depend on competent expatriate researchers and analysts, those think and do tanks should be founded by entrepreneurs who are integrated within the society and grounded in the local and relevant concerns of the people. Hence, policy entrepreneurs have a competitive edge since they are living the problem and they will be living the suggested solution. Those entrepreneurs would have a vested interest as they will be affected by their solutions. Moreover, they could evolve into being bureaucratic, political or executive entrepreneurs through holding positions within the governmental sector. [3]

There is no better place for a policy entrepreneur to grow in as the Washington D.C. of the region. Qatar's visionary leadership dedicated 2.8% of its GDP to be invested on Research and Development which was reflected in Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) and Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP). This level of unprecedented spending on R&D in the region made Qatar a haven to researchers and think tanks. However, the country would need to enforce policies that would encourage and support policy entrepreneurs for strategic considerations. The government would need to become an incubator for policy entrepreneurs through including and involving those entrepreneurs in their policymaking process in order to come up with policy solutions that could work for the society.

A valid argument might arise about the quality of deliverables and the experience and competency of these entrepreneurs. Not a single rational person would claim that they would be more professional or knowledgeable than those top notch policy analysts and researchers who work for RAND or Brookings. However, skills and competencies are attainable but entrepreneurs would have one thing, which no other competent analysts or researchers can have regardless of the years of experience that they have got and their educational background. It is Passion.

* The title of this article is inspired by Nicholas Carr’s famous article, “Does IT Matter.” It is my first article to be published in a newspaper. It was published in the Peninsula on the 20th of July 2011
  1. [Text] Bureaucratic Entrepreneurs: who hold formal positions in government, although not leadership positions; Political Entrepreneurs: who hold elected leadership positions in government; Executive Entrepreneurs: who hold appointed leadership positions in government 

5 comments:

Random & Peculiar said...

They are mostly viewed at a macro level. I am not sure I do know the micro level of it as you may do.
First issue is the following definition of McGann's refereed in the article. The definition may seem a threat to policy makers, that may imply they are not knowledgeable in taking right decisions and do not know where to move forward from(I am not saying they are competent either). It may seem insulting to policy makers. However, for some it may be efficient for them to have an independent source giving them this advice. My question is this guidance or advice that may be offered, is there anyone listening to it? Applying it? I don't know if the reports the think tanks in Qatar do actually reach officials in how to manage their policies. Plus, if it does reach the officials. To be specific, does it reach directors at ministers, authorities, institutions, etc or much higher then these officials? Do they have the right to take this advice from such think tanks? Take in consideration each think tank has its own agenda of what should be done what should not be done. Regardless of it being foreigner or local. We can have a Qatari who may have communist and socialist ideas. Others may have nationalistic or liberal. What ever it may be each will have his or her on view. I know this will be bias. Make sure your bias is right for the country. It is impossible not to be bias. This is no journalistic agency following set of rules. Obviously, our country's right comes first.
The second issue Think and Do Tanks. This gives the idea of decentralization of the government, institutions, and other. If anything, Qatar is all centralized in decision making and other. Introducing that would require a strategy of sharing responsibility and understanding the goals of these institutions. Except if you are entering to enforce what you think is the goal for the nation. If this will work it will require some sort of Public-Private partnership between this think and do tank and whatever public body decision making. I am not sure how this mechanism would work and neither I am an expert in it. All I know is when there is a partnership there are concessions to be made, good or bad.

Random & Peculiar said...

The third issue is do not make the foreigner or expatriate an enemy. Yes, I agree with you they may have negative outlooks to our spending, behavior, society, tradition, practices and our practice of Islam. Know for a fact they make up at least 80% if not 85% of the country. However, eventually we need to include them in the picture. You may need to hand pick and filter them. Generally speaking I agree that a great number of the team should be local. If you will add foreigners I may sound sectarian in this. It would be good to add the major minorities. One for Arabs, one for Indians, one for Pakistanis (You may merge or separate those), one for Eastern Asians, and last one for Westerners. They shall aid you in floating up their views of the country and that is all. It is always beneficial to have numerous views. After all the other think tanks are Westerners which actually don't make 10% of the society. They relay their research to foreign nations so that they could have the ability to base their polices upon that.
The fourth issue. You know we have bright young Qataris. I know many people who are much more capable, eloquent, and knowledgeable then me. However, what makes us go on is our passion, motivation, persistence. I have limited knowledge of Qatar, society, and other.
Qatar is a society which needs to be researched from within from the ground. It will be a hard job for you and your partners to conceive many tenacious research projects on issues that do not come up to the foreign mind. From the culture of spending, to the culture of exploiting ones kindness, to culture of reading and writing, to the issues of attaining education or employment. I believe this think and do tank will be giving the policy and decision makers knowledge of their own people. Knowing and understanding the needs of the people is a necessary precondition to serving them well.

Hassan Al-Ibrahim said...

Think tanks constitute a threat to policymakers

McGann's definition actually is not a threat to the policymakers in Qatar as this is what RAND is doing now in Qatar. Think tanks can be perceived as both a tool of knowledge management and transfer and de facto incubators in where the policymakers sharpen their skills and gain competencies to become political leaders. This allows smooth transition when a change happens to any cabinet. For example both Dr. Abdulla Al-Thani and Sh. Hessa bint Hamad Al-Thani worked for RAND for a while and now they play an important role in Qatar.

Policy implementations

The implementation of the policy recommendations is something that I will discuss in later posts. RAND has adopted a style which is different from theirs in America which gave them a good push.
1. They were asked to come to Qatar by the government;
2. They partnered up with QF and had H.H as a co-chair; and
3. Their advisory board had influential people.
As you can see RAND does not interact with the public and have no media appearances in Qatar like what think tanks do in more developed societies. But again we have a passive role for the public opinion due to the absence of elections and underdeveloped civil society.

Now policy entrepreneurs should be creative in finding ways to influence policymakers and push for certain policy recommendations.

Influence of Ideologies and decentralization of government

In an ideal world a think tank should recruit people with different ideologies in order to challenge the ideas and come up with innovative solutions which fit the environment. It is the implementation of the ideas of Hegel through applying a Hegelian dialectical method.

I do not think their role is to decentralize the decision making process because think tanks are not decision makers. They provide policy recommendations and pieces of advice and then the government takes the decision.

The role of the policy entrepreneurs which I am calling for stops once the policy recommendations go through the legislative cycle and a programme is being set to implement it. A policy entrepreneur’s job stops when innovation is not needed and his role will intersect with political or bureaucratic entrepreneurs.

Hassan Al-Ibrahim said...

Now for the expats, I did not make them an enemy. In fact I have praised their skills and mentioned that they are more competent than the fresh Qataris. I have not rubbed in the issue of understanding the local context and I referred to the need to have policy entrepreneurs that live within the society which does not necessarily mean Qataris. However, I encouraged the enforcement of policies similar to those that has been put in place to support and encourage entrepreneurs in other sectors.

I am not familiar with any developed or even developing country that would encourage foreigners to design their policies and help implementing them because it is a national security issue. The only way I would encourage foreigners to be part of the policymaking process is through having a parallel policy of naturalization in order to embrace those who would add a value and would become part of this society. You can still get their input on your policies but not necessarily through allowing them to penetrate the policymaking milieu.

Finally, I do agree with your last paragraph and we do not think that a single think and do tank would be able to cover the existing gap and hence supporting policy entrepreneurs is important.

aparna john said...

Hi,The partners are jointly and severally liable for the partnership’s obligations for Business setup in Qatar. A non-Qatari may be a partner, though subject to restrictions under the 1990 Commercial Companies Law.