The Think Tanks and Civil Societies Programme (TTCSP) of the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania ranked world’s leading think tanks in a variety of categories. TTCSP has documented and studied these institutions for more than 27 years with the help of more than 1,796 peer institutions and experts from all over the world. In 2018, Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka, think tank under Ministry of Defence, ranked 101st in the Asia Pacific category.
To mark the global release of the “Global Think Tank Report 2018”, TTCSP requested the major cities around the world including Paris, Beijing, Washington DC, New York and 150 other cities to conduct a discussion on “Why Facts and Think Tanks Matter in 2019”. INSSSL was invited to conduct this discussion from Colombo on 31st January 2019 with the participation of scholars and representatives of other think tanks.
Director General Asanga Abeyagoonasekera of INSSSL chaired the discussion. The panelist who shared their inputs were Professor Chandra Embuldeniya, distinguish fellow of INSSSL, Dr. Ranga Jayasuriya, journalist and senior fellow, Ms. Kasuni Ranasinghe, Research Analyst and Ms. Natasha Fernando, Research Assistant who highlighted the importance of the role of think tanks play in government and civil societies around the world.
In the introductory remarks Director General Abeyagoonasekera spoke of the value of think tanks has been appreciated by many societies in today’s volatile geopolitical environment, specially think tanks could assist to design better policy and for predicting future trends. As such, he stressed the importance of think tanks in providing reliable, well researched information to make appropriate decisions on complex and challenging issues. To this effect, he highlighted how Sri Lanka’s think tanks are underfunded; primarily through lack of attractive wages to researchers is a key challenge. The Director General compared Sri Lanka to countries like India and Singapore, whose policymakers both invest and consult more extensively with think tanks. He said that with his experience working at foreign policy think tank and security think tank, Sri Lankan government has miserably failed to recognize and invest in research and in think tanks.
Ms. Fernando emphasized that think tanks should act as a bridge between academic and policy making communities, serving in public interest as independent voices and disseminating knowledge to wide audiences. To enhance the quality of research outcomes, Ms. Fernando accentuated the importance of facts and the fact tank approach for more informed decision making.
Ms. Ranasinghe, highlighted the importance of factual based evidence in decision making and the role of think tanks as shadow leaders providing guidance to the political leaders. Leaders should utilized think tanks to identify the priority needs of a country and then to convince the public about the priorities. For these developments, Ms. Ranasinghe emphasized that think tank should come out from its traditional role of “researcher” to the position of “Strategic advisers”, having potentials to predate future circumstances.
"To achieve these objectives, he explained that think tanks needed to be depoliticized and provided more autonomy"
Dr. Jayasuriya spoke about the vital roles which think tanks play in predicting future political events, and providing the expertise for governments to achieve their objectives. Regarding the latter, from a Sri Lankan context, he spoke of how think tanks could have played a role in helping the government come up with an effective strategy to counter baseless allegations of war crimes levelled against the Sri Lankan military. To achieve these objectives, he explained that think tanks needed to be depoliticized and provided more autonomy. Dr. Jayasuriya argued that this would increase the possibilities of policy makers receiving objective, high
quality - advice.
Finally, Prof. Embuldeniya spoke about how think tanks can help solve problems and serve as an asset to state resources. Addressing the issue of think tank proposals largely not being adopted by policymakers, Prof. Embuldeniya suggested establishing a committee that can convey the proposals presented by think tanks to policy makers who can then implement it. He introduced a performance evaluation framework for think tanks and requested INSSSL to work with other local think tanks to develop the proposed framework.