Think tanks need to diversify to keep credibility, expert says at Saudi T20 Summit

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Think tanks in the Middle East and across the wider world need to ensure that they diversify the points of view and membership to maintain their credibility, Dr Robin Niblett, the director and CEO of UK-based think tank Chatham House said Sunday.

Niblett was speaking was speaking during the second day of the T20 Summit, a virtual event convened by Saudi Arabia, which holds the presidency of the Group of 20 (G20) for this year. Think20 (T20) is the G20’s research and policy advice network, serving as a place to generate ideas that the G20 can then implement.

“We need to be sure we are looking to include diverse views … If we want to be credible as think tanks in the future we have to be credible to the whole of society … that also applies a big challenge to Western think tanks,” Niblett said.

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Niblett went on to note that diversification is important in all aspects, including gender, race, and social economic background.

“Think tanks tend to be elite institutions that draw people from elite universities how can we be sure to get a full set of perspectives? … It’s a big challenge, but one that I think we are all up to,” he added.

Think tanks tend to be a place for experts to discuss potential new policies to address pressing needs of government and society. In general, think tanks are a relatively new institution, largely emerging in the latter half of the 20th century.

“When [Chatham House was] founded [in 1920] we were a relatively rare institution … now there are thousands … One of the things one is conscious of as a challenge is that there is a huge competition to be heard. There is competition not just among think tanks … but it is also a world in which we are competing with 24 hour news media, with incredibly robust social media,” Niblett explained.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has consumed global media and public debate this year, has further intensified this process, he added, with the high number of online conferences and webinars increasing the amount of information to be heard.

For the future, Niblett believes that think tanks need to focus on providing objective insights and retaining autonomy from government and corporate bodies. Niblett also argued that think tanks should pursue more partnerships to help with the difficulty of diversification.

“We need to look for opportunities for partnership … we need to be sure we are looking to include diverse views,” he said.

The two-day T20 Summit is the capstone event to the T20 summit season. The Summit will conclude on Sunday with T20 presenting its communique to representatives of the G20. The document comprises of 32 policy proposals across seven categories for consideration by G20 leaders at the G20 Virtual Leaders’ Summit next month.

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