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Panel Discussion on Enhancing Afghan Think-Tanks Effectiveness

Mushtaq Rahim

Afghanistan Diplomacy Studies Organization (ASDO) hosted a consultation session on Thursday, 27 July 2017 to discuss ways for enhancing effectiveness of Afghan think-tanks. Representatives from the Center for Regional Studies (CRS), Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies (CAPS), The Afghanistan Committee for Peace, Reconstruction and Culture, intellectuals and researchers participated in the session. Participants outlined the importance of research for informed policy-making and strategic planning.

 

The session participants highlighted that although Afghanistan has a long history of social research, yet the areas of focus on studies have mainly concentrated on literature and history in the past. However, things have significantly improved vis a vis social research since arrival of International Community in the wake of 9/11 intervention in Afghanistan and there has been enhanced interest in research work. Nevertheless, general public still does not have enough understanding about research and as such they are not able to contribute on issues that could have significant impact on their lives.

 

The discussions also revealed that a number of think-tanks have been established over the course of last 14 years which have been receiving support from the International Community. As a result, the research work has gained ground among intellectual community. However, the participants believed that quality of work has not been up to the mark and as such the organisations have not been able to make an impact. The participants emphasised that Afghan think-tanks will have to improve quality of their work in order to be impactful and taken seriously.

 

The session discussants also outlined the fact that the Government of Afghanistan ignores research work, research inputs and as such has avoided taking Afghan think-tanks on board on issues of national interest. It was mentioned that although the previous governments allocated financial resources for research organisations, the current National Unity Government (NUG) has totally overlooked the area. The participants mentioned that national budget does not have any allocation for research work and even state run research organisations are suffering financially. In the meantime, the independent research organisations are catering to the needs of their clients rather than their own priorities or the needs of society. 

 

Building further on lack of Government support for research work in Afghanistan, the participants mentioned that in rest of the world, governments allocate hefty amount of money for research work. This is the reason why all national policy issues are research based. It was mentioned that the Afghan think-tanks will have to undertake a coordinated lobbying initiative in order to make the Government engage with think-tanks and involve them in policy formulation process.

 

The issue of lack of access to information was another key issue highlighted by the participants. They mentioned that although there is a law on access to information, it has not been fully enacted. It is not fully communicated and implanted impeding researcher’s access to information, especially in public institutions. The participants believed that as part of lobby with the Government, the issue of access to information should also be highlighted so that Government prioritizes public sector officials’ awareness raising on law of access to information.

 

The discussions also highlighted lack of public understanding of social research. The participants mentioned that many people do not understand significance of research for development of the society. As a result, they do not actively participate in research work and at most of the times they are reluctant sharing their authentic views. It was mentioned that unethical practices of researchers have also contributed to lack of trust of general public in researchers. Examples of such practices were offered and one such practice was mentioned that the researchers during their data collection give false promises of development activities to be undertaken as a result of their participation in research data collection. The participants mentioned that Afghan think-tanks will have to work towards raising public awareness as well as promotion of ethical practices in social research to earn confidence of the general public. It was also highlighted that the Government should also invest in public awareness building in regard to promotion of social research.

 

The panel concluded that there was need for establishing coordination mechanism for bringing Afghan think-tanks together. It was agreed that all think-tanks should lobby in a collective manner in order to enhance quality of work of the research organisations. Besides, it was agreed that coordinated lobby should be undertaken to improve engagement of thin-tanks in policy development and monitoring process. It was agreed that such sessions should be conducted on regular basis before a formal platform is established for coordination. The ADSO committed to carry these discussions forward through regular consultation sessions until a formal forum is established. Finally, it was decided that more think-tanks will be engaged in this discussion in future sessions so that discussions can be enriched.

 

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