What matters more? The quality of the evidence brought to public policy debates or the funding of the underlying research?

Posted on March 13, 2013  /  0 Comments

It is perhaps a sign of their efficacy that think tanks in India have come under the gun, on the ground that they are funded by foreign sources and are therefore “subversive.”

Rohini Nilekani, a significant philanthropist in her own right, has made a powerful argument on the contributions made to Indian public policy by think tanks and the questioning of some of these organizations obtaining some of their resources from outside India.

The piece in Open on ‘Foreign Funding of NGOs’ with the subtitle ‘Should FDI in India’s thinktank sector worry us?’, has served its purpose by triggering a long-overdue reasoned debate. The author lays out various questions that might warrant their own conference or white paper. Yet, I feel the questions should not stop at the sources or levels of foreign support to thinktanks. The more critical issues are those around the status of policy formulation in India and what goes into it—the rigour of intellectual debate, the quality of evidence, the voice of experts and practitioners, the focus on beneficial outcomes for current and future generations, the accountability of decision-makers and implementers, etcetera. Put simply, how is policy in India made, and to what practice does it lead?

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