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ორშაბათი | 13 ოქტომბერი, 2008

Policy Think Tanks | A Skeptical Assessment

Here is an assessment of policy research in Azerbaijan that we stumbled upon, in a yet-unpublished piece. It paints a stark picture, but we thought it provides food for discussion.
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"Existing policy institutions are mostly shadow organization of one individual, where staff is added on an as needed basis (for example one key organization does not even mention staff members on its websites). Ultimately these individualistic organizations demonstrate well the old guard categorization - one of three less-than-flattering categories -- 1) the fleers 2) the old guard and 3) the GONGOers - that Azerbaijan policy analysts fall into.

The fleers, often of the younger generation, fearing the future direction of Azerbaijan, have sought to ensure the possibility of legally remaining outside of their country of birth. This group has either

  • left Azerbaijan to pursue further education and career opportunities in European or North American destination, while staying in the research field; or
  • migrated to the private sector to large multinational companies in Azerbaijan, with the goal of attaining geographic mobility and potentially expatriate status in the mid-term.

The old guard are generally those who received training during the Soviet era. This group can maintain some distance from the government; however, the risk being self-absorbed and may well be spoiled by an overabundance of funding that often has accepted shallow and low-quality outputs. Generally, therefore, the old guard see very limited use in updating their skill sets, since they remain comfortable doing what they have always done.

The GONGOers (Government Organized NGOs) are a combination of younger and older Azerbaijanis, who work for NGOs or research organizations that are either directly or indirectly funded by the Azerbaijani government. They have at best a limited capability of pursuing independent policy research.
As a result, there are almost no human resources to do policy research and many efforts to improve the situation have failed, a situation further exacerbated by three intersecting problems create a negative perception of policy research in Azerbaijan.

  1. Azerbaijani universities (maybe with the exception of Khazar) are not incubating the skills necessary for the younger generation to carry out policy analysis. There are competent lecturers, but they are exception. Curricula remain outdated; while many students want to learn, they have little formal opportunity to do so. There are many brilliant young people (as seen in the lively discussions on the Azerbaijani Studies Group), but they are largely self-taught.
  2. The private sector in Azerbaijan, dominated by an inner circle close to key families, does not demand high quality research. Business grows through oligarchic capture, not by a detailed orientation toward customers. Thus, there exists little independent market research (though there are some organizations with potential for reform such as SIAR and ERA) that could form the nucleus for quantitative, evidence-based approaches to policy research.
  3. The Azerbaijani government does not encourage independent analysis. It does not release important data publicly and at times actively discourages independent analysis.

A policy vacuum is therefore expanding in the country, which has no capacity to reflect systematically on its own challenges, and therefore no ability to articulate constructive solutions. The vacuum is well illustrated by hard numbers: last year one international organization offering stipends received 25 highly competitive applications to a scholarship program in Armenia, 14 in Georgia (where a lot of the potential talent is busy in government), but merely four competitive applications in Azerbaijan. On a more substantial level, Azerbaijan's bad public policy is visible everywhere and the country can no longer ignore its fundamental problems by palliative spending.

While the picture painted is a stark one, there is an opportunity to develop a new cohort of policy analysts, rather than trying to work with current researchers. This should significantly improve the mid- to long-term outlook of Azerbaijani policy research with the hope that a more open society will slowly emerge, which is more attractive to the younger generation. Such a move should plant the seeds of a virtuous cycle of better policy analysis in a younger generation by..."

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Too rough an assessment? Is this not a bit too dark? What do you think? Comments welcome.
12.10.2015 | ორშაბათი

The development of Azerbaijani think tanks and their role in public policy discourse

[Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of blog posts co-published with On Think Tanks. The views expressed within this blog series are the authors alone, and do not represent the views of CRRC-Georgia.]

By Zaur Shiriyev

The development of local think tanks in Azerbaijan has taken a different route to that followed by most other post-Soviet states and Eastern European countries. In the Eastern Bloc countries, research institutes modeled on Western think tanks became increasingly popular following the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, in Azerbaijan this did not happen, largely due to domestic political developments in the early 1990s.
05.10.2015 | ორშაბათი

Think Tanks in Armenia: Who Needs their Thinking?

[Editor's note: This is the third in a series of blog posts co-published with On Think Tanks. The views expressed within this blog series are the authors alone, and do not represent the views of CRRC-Georgia.]

By Yevgenya Jenny Paturyan

Think tanks are considered to be an important part of civil society: providers and keepers of expertise on important social, economic, environmental, political and other issues. Organizations like Chatham House and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace come to mind. In addition to ‘pure’ think tanks, there is a plethora of organizations that combine research with advocacy and action, Transparency International being a prominent example.
29.09.2015 | სამშაბათი

The lay of the land: An interview with Hans Gutbrod on think tanks in the South Caucasus

[Editor's note: This is the second in a series of blog posts co-published with On Think Tanks. The views expressed within this blog series are the authors alone, and do not represent the views of CRRC-Georgia.]

Interview by Dustin Gilbreath

Dustin Gilbreath: You recently recently pointed out that think tanks in the South Caucasus have come a long way in recent years, but that they still face challenges on some of the fundamentals – quality of research, policy relevance, funding, and operational acumen.  At the national rather than regional level, what are the relative strengths of and challenges before the think tank sector of each country?
28.09.2015 | ორშაბათი

Thinking about think tanks in the South Caucasus

[Editor's note: This is the first in a series of blog posts co-published with On Think Tanks. The views expressed within this blog series are the authors alone, and do not represent the views of CRRC-Georgia]

By: Dustin Gilbreath

Starting from similarly troubled slates at the turn of independence, the South Caucasus countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia – have diverged over the last 25 years, and the region is an interesting case of divergence despite similarity. While in Azerbaijan the government is squeezing the last bit of free expression from the country, Georgia is having its problems but is by far the freest place in the region. Armenia still has space for engagement, but it is not as open as Georgia.
18.05.2015 | ორშაბათი

Attitudes reported by Georgian parents and the qualities they find important for children to learn

he vast majority of Georgians (90%) agree with the statement that one of their main goals in life has been to make their parents proud, according to the 2008 World Values Survey (WVS). It would be hard to overestimate the importance of family for Georgians, and the same is true for the attention paid, on the one hand, to raising children and, on the other hand, caring for elderly family members. But ...
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19.05.2014 | ორშაბათი

Paternalism in Georgia

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, paternalism is “the interference of a state or an individual with another person against their will motivated by a claim that the person interfered with will be better off or protected from harm” (from the Latin pater for father). Simply put, paternalism refers to treating people as if they were children. The Caucasus Barometer (CB) assesses attitudes toward governance among Georgians. Who thinks citizens should be treated like children by the government (i.e. the paternalistic view) rather than as employers? Using data from the CB 2013, this blog post focuses on the following qualities of citizens: education level, economic condition and source of household income in order to better understand this paternalistic view in Georgia.
02.06.2014 | ორშაბათი

Finding a good job in Georgia

Data on employment and perceptions about work present an interesting lens on Georgia. This is especially true since the official unemployment rate is 15% according to Geostat in 2012, and 31% of the population is unemployed and seeking work in Georgia as of September 2013, according to the National Democratic Institute
28.07.2014 | ორშაბათი

Are more educated women in Georgia choosing not to have children?

Some social scientists, such as Satoshi Kanazawa, argue that a woman’s education level can impact her willingness to have children. However, Linda Hirshman, a scholar of women’s issues, questions Kanazawa’s findings by arguing that reproduction is a culturally-inflected decision. Additionally, Gary Becker hypothesizes that women with higher education might not feel economic pressure such that marriage is economically advantageous.
19.10.2015 | ორშაბათი

Do Think Tanks in Georgia Lobby for Foreign Powers?

[Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of blog posts co-published with On Think Tanks. The views expressed within this blog series are the authors alone and do not represent the views of CRRC-Georgia.]

By Till Bruckner 

If you work on policy issues in a transition or developing country, you probably know the standard line on think tanks by heart. Local think tanks build domestic research capacity, improve policy formulation processes and outcomes, and enrich and enhance democratic debates, thereby contributing to the emergence of more democratic, wealthy, and equitable societies. (Yes, you may copy and paste this into your next fundraising proposal if you wish).
26.10.2015 | ორშაბათი

Common challenges, common solutions

[Editor's note: This is the sixth in a series of blog posts co-published with On Think Tanks. The views expressed within this blog series are the authors alone and do not represent the views of CRRC-Georgia.]

By Dustin Gilbreath 

So far, in this series think tankers working in the South Caucasus have reflected on the issues challenging their countries’ think tank sector. In many ways, some fundamental problems lie at the heart of the specific problems, and I think they can more or less be summed up as problems with language and audience; quality of research; funding; and transparency. This post takes a look at one of these challenges – language and audience – and considers some things that might nudge the region’s think tanks forward.
27.09.2011 | სამშაბათი

Georgia's desire for NATO membership

On September 15th 2011, the former American Ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker, delivered a speech at the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies about NATO’s past development, present capabilities and future challenges. The second part of the speech addressed relations between NATO and Georgia. According to Ambassador Volker, the enlargement of the alliance will not be on the agenda during the next summit in Chicago.
14.04.2010 | ოთხშაბათი

Research on Education of IDP Children in Georgia

On 29 March the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) held a presentation in Tbilisi of the research report “Not Displaced, Out-of-Place – Education of IDP children in Georgia”. The research project examines the academic performance of children in so-called Abkhaz public IDP schools in comparison with children in local schools. The research was conducted in the 13 remaining Abkhaz public schools for IDPs that were established in the early 1990s, in the newly established Tserovani School for children displaced from South Ossetia, and in local schools.
10.10.2010 | კვირა

Survey of PhD Students in Georgia

We recently undertook a small online survey of PhD students at Georgia's two major universities. This comes at a time when significant programs and support are already available to Georgian PhD students: CSS is launching a new PhD program, ASCN is offering significant research opportunities, the US Embassy will launch a program with Ilia State University, and now there is CARTI as a further opportunity.
09.12.2010 | ხუთშაბათი

PISA 2009 | Results for Azerbaijan

Every three years, a range of countries take part in the educational PISA tests, an assessment of the competencies of 15-year olds. The tests are organized by the OECD, and have led to soul-searching and vigorous educational reforms in various countries. In the 2009 round, 34 OECD countries and 41 partner countries took part.
17.03.2008 | ორშაბათი

PISA in Azerbaijan | Take 2 | great maths scores

In a previous post we wrote about the PISA scores of 15-year olds in Azerbaijan. As you may recall, PISA is an international test of competency, primarily focusing on reading, mathematics and science. Azerbaijan deserves particular praise for participating in this challenging international exercise: the results in science were not altogether flattering, but it's better to take part than to stand aside, and it can only be hoped that Georgia and Armenia will also be taking part soon.
09.07.2008 | ოთხშაბათი

Caucasus Data | Language: Russian versus English?

Recently, we happened upon an article that talks about the use of Russian across the Caucasus. Is Russian becoming obsolete? According to the article, some Georgian politicians suggest this is the case. At the same time, the article points out that the uptake of English is too slow to replace Russian as a lingua franca.