A 20-member delegation from the Shandong Institute of Political Studies, China, visited the SSRC to learn about the Council and the role of think tanks in policymaking.
Mary McDonnell provided context for the discussion by diagramming the overall American academic system, outlining where think tanks, public and private universities, US government institutions, philanthropic organizations, and nonprofit, nongovernment organizations such as the SSRC are situated in this landscape. She gave an overview of the history and mission of the SSRC, and our four pillars: creating new knowledge, strengthening interdisciplinary social science capacity, improving academic work, and informing relevant actors to better inform the policy environment. She noted the Council’s long engagement in Asia, given the importance of this region. Thomas Asher, director of the Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa Program at the SSRC, discussed some of the current academic debates surrounding the role of think tanks in America today, including their level of political independence and the extent of their influence on US policymaking.
Tatiana Carayannis, deputy director of the SSRC’s Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum (CPPF), provided an overview of CPPF, which is in essence an external “think tank” for the United Nations. CPPF supports the UN’s peace operations by bridging networks of researchers and specialists to provide independent policy research to the UN. Caryannnis provided concrete examples of when the work of CPPF had led directly to policy outcomes. She also introduced the CPPF’s China-Africa Knowledge Project, which is aimed at deepening the quality of research on issues of China-Africa engagement, as well as building a network of Chinese researchers interested in international relations and the work of the United Nations.
Van Tran, associate director of the Vietnam Program, stressed the importance of building individual and institutional interdisciplinary social research capacity in order to produce the quality evidence needed to inform the policymaking process, and to communicate the results effectively; the Council has supported these sorts of efforts in Vietnam for 30 years. Tran shared how the SSRC’s role in fostering collaborative networks between Vietnamese and American scholars helped increase contemporary knowledge and mutual understanding after the war and contributed to the normalization of relations between the two countries. Through the current longitudinal, multidisciplinary Population Health Study, the SSRC has provided extensive research training for local researchers, examined the impact of donor-supported primary health related projects and government policy changes, and engaged a range of stakeholders through the dissemination of data and analysis, publications, conference presentations, and policy roundtables.