GCC Think Tanks gather in Salalah to discuss their Impact in Societal Development - Regional Programme Gulf States
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AFKAR is the Arabic term for “ideas”. The Dialogue offers constructive and sustainable ideas on how Think Tanks can contribute to empower the public, private and civil society sectors to jointly capitalise on opportunities in relevant matters of public concern. The event has drawn the attention of a great variety of regional and international Think Tanks, policy research institutes and GCC officials. It was organised by Tawasul – Global Connection Center, in partnership with Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) Regional Programme Gulf States. Other partners included the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA, GCC Area Office), Bridging the Gulf Foundation, and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).
During the morning session, lively discussions evolved around the questions of stakeholder engagement and impact measurement. Both are key topics when it comes to the effectiveness and sustainability of research aimed at enhancing policy-making. “There is an urgent need for dialogue and debate, to come to an understanding of the roles and responsibilities of Think Tanks and policy research institutes within civil society in the GCC,” said Nasra Al Adawi, Tawasul’s CEO. Al Adawi further emphasised the necessity to develop tools and mechanisms to effectively measure the impact and outcome of a Think Tank’s efforts in both qualitative research and outreach. “These tools are essential for the effectiveness and sustainability of our work”, she added. Tawasul has recently published a significant report on “Enhancing Sustainability”.
Dr. Obaid Al Younossi, director of RAND Qatar Policy Institute, and his colleague Sarah Al Dorani gave a presentation on how their research has influenced government policy concerning school transportation in Qatar. They focused on the mechanisms of interaction between the Think Tank and the respective stakeholders. The subsequent discussion was based on a paper prepared by Hania Bekdash, Project Coordinator at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, Beirut. The paper outlined the status quo of the practice of impact measurement in GCC research institutes and addressed difficulties Think Tanks encounter. Bekdash suggested mechanisms and practical tools for improving the process of monitoring and evaluation, reaching from research outlining to influencing decision-makers. The steps from data collection to public outreach and the interaction with the various stakeholders were discussed in smaller working groups. The findings of these discussions will be incorporated in the paper and a committee of researchers will work on a manual on practical tools and best practices in systematic impact measurement.
The evening session offered a public platform for finding new approaches on the topic of 'Youth Participation and the Future'. This issue is of major concern within the entire region. The panel was hosted by the Omani journalist Fatima Al Araimi and included Dr. Saad Bin Tiflah Al Ajmi, Former Minter of Information in Kuwait and lecturer at Kuwait University, Sheikh Sultan Al Qassemi, blogger and analyst from the UAE, as well as Fadi Salem, Director of the Governance and Innovation Program at the Dubai School of Government. Also a considerable number of youths participated in the discussion. Dr. Ajmi emphasised the importance of teaching youths the principles of dialogue and pluralism. He further pointed out that bureaucratic and cultural obstacles should be removed, and that the young generation should be given opportunities to take their future into their own hands. Sheikh Al Qassemi suggested to directly involve researchers and qualified bloggers in government decisions by offering them positions as ministers in portfolios in which they are experts. He encouraged young people not to rely on older generations for solutions, but to invest their time in reading relevant literature and to find their own answers to the burning questions of the day. Fadi Salem pointed out the tremendous opportunity social media offer for informed societal and political activity. He indicated the main problems in Gulf societies as the lack of freedom of speech, the lack of vital civil societies and the lack of parliamentary power. Through social media, youths have found channels to overcome these obstacles on the long run, and the authorities will not be able to stop the abundant flow of information. Also Think Tanks should grasp this opportunity to produce high-quality research and impact policy-making, Salem added.
AFKAR2 attracted experts, researchers and intellectuals from distinct Think Tanks and policy research centres throughout the Gulf. Representatives from Kuwait University, RAND Qatar Policy Institute, Doha Centre for Media Freedom, the Emirates Foundation and Silatech participated in the event. Also members of the Omani Shura Council were present. Tawasul and KAS Regional Programme Gulf States organise regular steering committee meetings in cooperation with regional experts, to advance the ideas discussed in the dialogue and to incorporate the needs and interests of decision makers, the private sector and civil society organisations alike.