The role of think tanks in enhancing policy uptake

The continent has also experienced a boom in the innovative use of information and communication technology (ICT) for financial services and mobile phone-based money transfer and related products.

Africa is today at a critical stage of its development. Over the past two decades, the continent has experienced a major transformation in economic growth, sound policies, and reforms that are improving institutions and governance.

The continent has also experienced a boom in the innovative use of information and communication technology (ICT) for financial services and mobile phone-based money transfer and related products.

Despite this progress, African countries still face many macro-economic, socio-cultural, political, security and environmental challenges. Addressing persistent policy challenges such as burgeoning youth unemployment, developing leadership and critical skills, changing mindsets, creating an enabling environment for private sector development, and building or strengthening key institutions remains a priority.

As such African think tanks have a critical role in supporting African countries to address development challenges through their support of evidence-based policy design, implementation, and monitoring, capacity development activities for state and non-state actors, and provision of platforms for stakeholder engagement, dialogue, and advocacy.

For them to deliver on their mandate, a conducive policy environment and transformative leadership in both state and non-state sectors are required.

Think tanks support non-state actors to enhance their participation in the policy process through:

 Convening actors with a policy mandate to debate emerging policy and development issues.

 Increasing awareness among key players in the policy arena, through forums such as round tables, dissemination workshops, seminars, and conferences.

 Equipping those working on policy issues through tailor-made training targeting specific stakeholders in the policy-making process.

Technical support by think tanks

Several think tanks having recognized the capacity gaps amongst different stakeholders, adopted strategies aimed at equipping stakeholders who come into contact with different policy issues with the requisite capacity for different purposes as elaborated below.


Think tanks conduct training to enhance critical and technical capacity among stakeholders, including policymakers, the public sector, the private sector, and civil society. The agenda of the training varies based on the targeted group. Those directed to the public sector are aimed at strengthening policy planning and implementation, economic analysis, and public-sector management.

Private sector training is aimed at improving business performance and corporate governance. Training directed to CSOs, and other non-state actors is aimed at building capacity to engage with stakeholders, particularly the public sector, and strengthening policy advocacy capacity. Training conducted is either short-term or long-term.

The short-term training offered is for a range of topics including policy and law formation; economic management and governance; gender; trade, diplomacy, and foreign affairs, particularly negotiations skills, private sector, research analysis largely focused on economic analysis; and monitoring and evolution and project management.

Some of the short courses are training of trainers. These courses are largely offered to community leaders. The course modules are often tailor-made and often administered either in part or in whole by a third party an individual or institution.

The long-term courses are in the form of PhD and master’s degree programs, some offer sponsorship opportunities. The focus is economics, including economic policy, public sector management, banking, and finance. The overall objective is to increase the pool of skilled professionals.

This is offered by African Capacity Building Foundation supported Institutions such as Africa Research and Resource Forum (ARRF), Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), Kenya School of Monetary Studies (KSMS), Public Sector Management Training program at Africa University (PSMTP-AU) and African Economic Research Consortium (AERC). The key beneficiaries are public sector officials, universities, or students mostly from the same jurisdiction.

Providing technical support to government and other stakeholders through taskforces and working groups.

Task forces and working groups are membership-based thematic interagency multistakeholder forums that are spearheaded by their respective government ministries for a specific time with clear terms of reference. Institutes such as the Centre for Policy Analysis (CEPA), The Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF), and the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) participate in task forces and working groups that are mandated to undertake different initiatives including policy reviews and policy advisory services.

The key role played by think tanks in task forces and working groups is aimed at building skills and knowledge in effectively reviewing or implementing policies. This offers a great opportunity for think tanks to develop capacity amongst relevant stakeholders on a variety of subject areas.

Mentorships and fellowships

Think tanks provide internship opportunities, particularly to the youth and women to expose the graduates to research, analytical processes, and work experience. The Young Professionals Program is an annual mentorship programme that competitively selects applicants from both the public and private sectors to undergo rigorous training in public policy research and analysis and publish research outputs. The Young Professional graduates are expected to return to their former places of work to continue supporting development with evidence-based policies.

The collaborative implementation approach of the Collaborative Ph.D. Programme (CPP) training program by the AERC continues to rationalise the use of scarce resources, achievement of economies of scale, reduction of isolation of Departments of economics, and fostering of intellectual exchange, thereby improving the quality of Ph.D. education in Sub- Saharan Africa. Furthermore, the collaborative feature of the model continues to provide a basis for standardisation and quality control.

CPP continue to be extremely of high quality both in terms of content and resources (both human and physical) for its delivery. The course materials are to be both of high quality and useful in applied contexts. Taskforces, working groups, mentorships, and fellowships offer an opportunity to promote the transmission of capacity developed. Hands-on training is an important capacity development tool. Beneficiaries trained should thereby be positioned to contribute to building a pool of skilled professionals.

Additional mechanisms such as study tours; engaging short-term visiting scholars and skilled volunteers have been adopted by some institutions however at a small scale. The key benefit of this strategy is that it is targeted at obtaining specific knowledge, skill, or technical capacity.

In conclusion, capacity development and technical assistant programmes by think tanks and policy centers need to be well designed, properly targeted to the audience, relevant, and gender sensitive. This calls for a mechanism to systematically obtain the capacity needs of stakeholders.

Training institutions and universities also need to ensure they are responsive and able to meet emerging challenges which calls for continuous focus on skills building and development.  Training, overall, if well designed, relevant, and property targeted is critical in enhancing the quality of research as the beneficiaries are well equipped with the relevant analytical tools and research methodology to undertake rigorous studies.

Effective monitoring and evaluation systems are critical in generating lessons aimed at continuous improvement. Resource mobilisation strategies should also be designed and implemented that ensure capacity development and technical support initiatives have the necessary human and financial resources.

  • Zvendiya is an independent policy analyst. These weekly New Perspectives  articles, published in the  Zimbabwe Independent, are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge,  an independent consultant, managing consultant of Zawale Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe (CGI Zimbabwe). — [email protected] or mobile: +263 772 382 852


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