Between survival and development: The Challenges and Prospects of Think Tanks in the Western Balkans

Conference for managers of Think Tanks in the Western Balkans, Vienna

Bereich: Forschungspolitik & Entwicklung

Datum: 20. - 23. Februar 2017

2nd Conference for Managers of Think Tanks in the Western Balkans entitled "BETWEEN SURVIVAL AND DEVELOPMENT: THE CHALLENGES AND PROSPECTS OF THINK TANKS IN THE WESTERN BALKANS" was organised on February 20-23, 2017 in Vienna, Austria. The organizers of the conference are the Open Society Foundation and the Center for Social Research Analitika BA. Representatives of the Centre for Social Innovation - ZSI, Klaus Schuch and Ines Marinkovic introduced the institute to participants and shared some experiences in work with Western Balkan region.

Conference Introduction

Many factors are challenging the think tank industry, both globally and in the specific context of the Western Balkans region. The traditional business model of independent think tanks, based on producing lengthy reports for decision makers, is facing serious disruption. On a more global level, challenges come from insecure funding, the entry of new competitors into the policy ideas market, such as NGOs, bloggers, advocacy organizations, universities, social networks and consultancy companies. A rapidly changing technological environment linked to the shifting preferences of target audiences and acceleration of information flows adds another level of complexity to an already volatile environment. Forces beyond think tanks’ control are changing the nature of knowledge production and policy-making processes.

Within the specific regional context of the Western Balkans, think tanks are facing several additional challenges, such as strong illiberal tendencies, limited human resources, frequently shifting donor preferences, and the absence of a proper link between think tanks and decision makers, who rarely seek out advice from independent sources. In particular, illiberal tendencies and the rise of populism may severely restrict access to decision makers and pose a substantial threat to the very survival of think tanks. In such a context, the situation might become even more difficult, as independent research centers may be forced to take sides in an increasingly polarized political arena and run an ever-greater risk of becoming targets of political pressures and interferences.

However, there are also important opportunities that result from the dynamic context as described above. For example, the growth of digital media has created opportunities to reach new constituencies and reduce some of the costs associated with traditional media activities. Moreover, new technological advancements have made cooperation, coalition building and advocacy activities much more accessible and potentially more efficient and effective than was the case before. By forging diversified and dynamic ecosystems of cooperation, think tanks may be able to create an interdisciplinary research environment and strong advocacy coalitions that have the capacity to tackle complex and pressing issues in a timely manner. Last but not least, an ongoing surge in populism and illiberal political culture has rejuvenated political activism, opening opportunities for reinvention of the role independent research in such a dynamic political context.

Given the combination of global and regional challenges and opportunities, this conference attempts to explore the potential for a more influential future of the policy research sector in the region and beyond. As such, although the debate will touch upon relevant trends in the sector in general, it will be firmly rooted in the context of the Western Balkans. The conference is concerned with how various challenges and opportunities might impact the think tank industry in the region. The key questions it seeks to answer are: Do think tanks in the Balkans have what it takes to evolve and thrive in a rapidly changing and potentially hostile context? How can think tanks surmount the challenges they face in order to create sustainable business models, achieve impact and stay true to their mission?

Typ: Veranstaltungen anderer Institutionen

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