what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


A cold but gloriously sunny morning here in Sofia (although eastern Bulgaria being lashed with rain and snow) – Vitosha’s 2 peaks capped in light snow making a marvellous backcloth for cycling on the cycle lanes, up Vitosha Boulevard to the old market area in the search for a tea set for entertaining. Then on to Sofia Art Gallery to buy the best book I know about Bulgarian painters in a European language (Die Bulgarischen Kuenstler und Muenchen - whose CD I had bought earlier but was not quite legible). Its focus is the influence of Munich’s Art Academy on Bulgarian painting in the century from the 1850s and it gives more then 40 painters a few pages each– many of them unknown to me. The route took us to the University area – so I decided to have another look at the Ilya Beshkov sketches I had been shown at a favourite gallery there – and bought three (including the one shown above which would have been very suitable for yesterday's post).

A friend recently asked for my recommendations for think-tanks which covered public management issues. My immediate thought was Demos and the Institute for Government which won last year’s UK Prospect Magazine’s Think Tank of the Year award) and which published in 2009 an important paper assessing how the British civil service compared globally. Despite this comparative element, however, most of their papers are, by definition, too tied to the current British (English) political agenda – which made me wonder about European Think Tanks.
The Wikipedia entry on the subject is actually quite useful – with good historical comment and a lot of links But a real find was a special website - On Think Tanks - which tries to pick up on ongoing themes. There are apparently now more than 6,000 such bodies in the world – a far cry from my early days when only the Rand Corporation and The Brookings Institute existed (we never thought of the Fabian Society in those terms). They seem to divide into four types –
• those which are strongly linked with academia and focus mainly on economic issues
• those which are explicitly sympathetic to a political party or set of political principles (the Fabian Society; the French political clubs)
• those funded (generally on a clandestine basis) by commercial interests to make the world a safer place for their pursuit of profits – particularly the extractive and drug industries. The campaigning journalist George Monbiot wrote recently about this. And the Mother Jones journal gave some useful examples of the link between funding sources and results. One website simply tracks the right-wing thinks tanks set up quite explicitly to protect the professedly "free market” agenda.
More entrepreneurial ones (a lot of which are found in central and east Europe) which offer bright ideas from a position of apparent independence

Of course, all Think Tanks profess their independence and rigour of methodologies but it is interesting that the European Commission is trying to insist that all Think Tanks register in the Commission’s Official Register of Lobbyists (albeit in a special section)
And, inevitably, we now have global league tables of Think Tanks – drawn up apparently with a highly arbitrary methodology
Diane Stone is a good analyst on the subject (not to be confused with Deborah Stone who wrote the best book on policy analysis – Policy Paradox!) who co-authored in 2004 what looks to be a great book on the global ThinkTank phenomenon Think Tank Traditions – policy research and the politics of ideas which has chapters on the various key countries. And you can read here a list of the German ones
Finally, a couple of speculative pieces on how Think Tanks need to smarten up their act – one which focuses on methodology; the other on technology

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