How to be an intellectual in a new political environment? 7th Think Tank Conference

Interaction, trust, leadership: talking about the think tanks impact on today’s policy processes “in non-academic language”.

On December 12, the 7th Annual Think Tank Conference was held to discuss the role of intellectuals and think tanks in policy processes and their impact on Ukraine’s development.

“The think tanks represent the most skilled part of civil society, which do not only send inquiries to the government authorities, but also have certain tools at their disposal”, said Oleksandr Sushko, Executive Director of the International Renaissance Foundation in his opening remarks.

Do intellectuals have an influence on public opinion? What is their role in developing the vision of the country development: authors, masterminds or critics? Are think tanks ready to work in the new political environment? How to re-format communication / analytics products to get the state authorities interested? How can state authorities and think tanks work together to address important public policy issues? Can a government research contract become a procedure for such cooperation?

These and other issues formed the basis of discussions at this year’s Conference.

Oleksandr Sushko said that at present think tanks can be discussed in three dimensions, which also represent challenges:

    • Measuring “think tanks – state authorities” interaction. This process has always been uneasy, because such interaction depends on political will as a key factor. Today the situation is uneasy, but at the same time there are opportunities out there. The office holders lack competence, so it is important to know how they are able to interact with those who have corresponding competencies.
    • Engaging with the other part of civil society. In the end of the day, it has been always difficult for anyone to interact with the elites. That is why it is important to keep a leadership position. Since civil society is not homogeneous to stand at ease with such leadership, efforts should be made to establish quality interaction.
    • The issue of trust in a broader sense – relevant for the whole society.

In conclusion, Oleksandr stressed the importance of cooperation in synergy format in such difficult times.

Think tanks interaction with other sectors was highlighted by Evhen Glibovytsky, expert on long-term strategies, member of the Nestor Group and Univ Group:

“It is important to make sure that think tank community is able not only to speak in a ‘plain language’, but to also understand other communities across sectors, and do so in an institutional format. Only then we will be able to come to an entirely new level of discussion”.

Louise Morsing, Deputy Head of Mission, First Secretary of the Swedish Embassy in Ukraine, commented on the impact of think tanks on reform and engagement with the state authorities:

 “Speaking about the political situation in Ukraine, including reforms, civil society is an important component of these processes. It can and does make an impact. Therefore, if all stakeholders are considered and engagement is organized based on transparency and inclusivity, ultimately, political processes will become more effective. Finally, I would like to quote our Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven: “We believe in Ukraine, Sweden believes in Ukraine, Ukraine is Europe”.

The conference delegates also discussed the role of “intellectuals” and whether they have an influence on public opinion.

Alona Getmanchuk, Director of the Center for New Europe, expressed her concern regarding today’s crises in the world, which influence the role of “intellectuals” in the policy processes. She said that the time, when governments deliberately invite intellectuals to pave the way in the interaction between the authorities and the expert community, is almost over.

“In Ukraine, this is a fairly new role. If we talk about what Ukrainian intellectuals should be like today, it is important not to confuse “intellectuals” and “moral authorities”, which happens very often in our country. In my opinion, this confusion speaks of a lack of a good university”, said Olesia Ostrovska-Liuta, General Director of the Mystetskyi Arsenal (Art Arsenal), member of the CEDOS think tank.

What should be the role of intellectuals in developing the vision of the country? Volodymyr Dubrovsky, Senior Economist at Case Ukraine, said:

“The Revolution of Dignity raised the question: “Are we active players?” I once had a discussion with Timothy Milovanov. He said that you should clearly differentiate where you are an expert and where you are an activist, but I do not think so. During and after the Revolution of Dignity, we all had to move beyond our roles. Speaking of political processes, intellectuals often think they should be part of teams. However, in such a position, they will be in any case influenced by political technology, which is not the right thing to do. The role of intellectuals today is to rise above all “quarrels” and think visionary”.

* The Think Tank Development Initiative is being implemented by the International Renaissance Foundation in partnership with the Open Society Initiative for Europe (OSIFE) with the financial support of the Swedish Embassy in Ukraine.

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