Policy Think Tanks | A Skeptical Assessment
- 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.
- 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 Curricula remain outdated; while many students want to learn, they have little formal opportunity to do so.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.
- 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.
- 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.
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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.
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