Evidence-based information provided by credible think tanks is increasingly becoming more relevant and crucial, research experts said in a discussion in Jakarta on Friday (26/01). (Photo courtesy of ERIA)

Think Tanks Keep Semblance of Order in Topsy-Turvy World


JANUARY 29, 2018

Jakarta. As countries strive to tackle new challenges — from rising populism, terrorism to changing dynamics in world politics — evidence-based information provided by credible think tanks is increasingly becoming more relevant and crucial, research experts said on Friday (26/01).

At a discussion in Jakarta, Rainer Heufers, executive director of the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS), said think tanks now play a huge role to understand and unravel complex issues that many countries are facing, for example rising populism.

Heufers said we are living at a time when concepts and philosophical ideas born decades ago are finally becoming a reality, including globalization and universal human rights.

As these ideas spread across the globe, more conservative groups desperately try to counter them, with some resorting to "populist solutions."


Heufers said a populist approach simplifies complex matters to serve one's interests.

In democracies, problems start when the approach is used by groups with an authoritarian bent.

"Think tanks play a huge role… to disseminate rational arguments in 'edible language' that people understand and policymakers can deal with. This is becoming increasingly important in the present heated environment," Heufers said.

'Edible Language'

Rahimah Abdulrahim, the executive director of the Habibie Center, was the one to coin the phrase "edible language" earlier in the discussion.

She said the institute — long known as Indonesia’s leading democracy and human rights think thank —  finds itself doing more and more outreach work.

Her idea for an edible language comes from observing how information is disseminated on social media, especially among young people.

"An important part of our job is to spread information, so we've got to start using a more 'edible' language: something that’s more palatable for the youth and the general public," Rahimah said.

She said delivering information effectively is part of a think tank's task to "bridge the gap" between research and policymaking, where changes to improve people’s lives happen.

Disappearing Equilibrium

The chief operating officer of Economic Research Institute for Asean and East Asia (ERIA), Izuru Kobayashi, said in the discussion that the rise of China and the digital economy are affecting the world in an unprecedented way.

"Essentially, I think the global system's equilibrium is disappearing… we are living in a very, very dynamic situation," Kobayashi said.

He said Donald Trump's unexpected victory in the last US election could be a form of response from the developed world to this dynamic situation.

However, instead of creating more stability, it has instead contributed to increasing uncertainties.

"All of us really need to think about how we must respond to these fundamental challenges, and we need think tanks to help us find a way," Kobayashi said.

According to a former director of the Asian and Pacific Center for Transfer of Technology (APCTT), Krishnamurthy Ramanathan, think tanks can help governments address various issues by playing the long-term, objective game.

"Policymakers get so bogged down by day-to-day problems... they no longer get quality time to take a step back and look at these problems objectively to form long-term solutions," Ramanathan said. "This is where think think tanks come in."

The University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program will launch the 2017 Global Go To Think Tank Index report on Jan. 30.

Friday's discussion was part of a worldwide series of events held in conjunction with the report's launch. ERIA organized the Indonesian chapter of the discussion.