From left: Dr Farhan Nizami, Director, Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies; Ahmad Mohammad Al Astad of ECSSR, and Dr Elsadig ElFaqih, Secretary-General of Arab Thought Forum in Jordan, at a panel discussion in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Think tanks in the UAE play a key role as the country seeks to become one of the world’s most innovative within the next seven years, experts said on Wednesday.

Experts say think tanks contribute to government efforts to tackle important issues such as economic growth, energy security, institutional capacity and political turmoil in the region.

“The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) has been a standout in the region, contributing to new solutions and bringing knowledge and expertise to help GCC governments foster regional trade and economic development and provide expert analysis for global policy-making,” said Steven Bennett, Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer, The Brookings Institution.

ECSSR has been joined by two new think tanks — the Emirates Policy Centre and the Delma Institute — to support Emirati decision makers with innovative research in nearly all areas of public policy, propose good governance, make better policies and promote better and more effective government.

The UAE is already the most innovative Arab nation.

“In our increasingly interconnected world, where the news cycle has gone from fast to the speed of light fast, from 24 hours to 140 characters, policy-makers and opinion leaders need think tanks more than ever,” Bennett told the audience at a conference on the Role of Research Centres in Supporting Public Policy, organised by the ECSSR to mark the 20th anniversary of the centre.

According to a 2013 report issued by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) at the University of Pennsylvania, there are nearly 7,000 think tanks worldwide and that number is growing.

Dr Ebtisam Al Katbi, Chairwoman of the Emirates Policy Centre, told Gulf News great achievements in the UAE show a blend between political will and specialised view. The founding fathers of the UAE were aware of the need to consult with experts on any decision they wanted to make. This is evident in the experiences of Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum.

“When Emirates Policy Centre (EPC) was established, it has tried to comprehend and outmatch existing experiences to design a vision based on taking part in policy-making by using the latest methodologies and adapting them to fit the nature of the country and the region.”

EPC provides strategic analysis, policy papers, studies, and research to help decision makers reach an accurate and realistic understanding of the interests and security of the UAE and Arab Gulf states;

It prepares risk assessment papers in all fields and holds strategic debates to foresee trends of policies and regional and international geopolitical projects, and the extent of their impact on the Arabian Gulf region.

Delma Institute was established as an independent research house and provides public policy research, analysis and advice. “Our advisory work aims to help policy-makers understand and make informed choices about issues of national and international concern,” said Mishaal Al Gergawi, managing director of the centre.

“The Delma Institute in specific aims to create a balance between research, analysis and public outreach,” Al Gergawi said.

Al Gergawi said all research institutes in the UAE and around the world, including Delma, strive to advise best practices and recommendations to policy-makers. “However, it is important to stress that Delma is not a think-tank, hence its role is not only policy-relevant, but also scholarly-relevant. This tension between ideas and policy usually seen in traditional arguments on the role of think-tanks in the world, is approached differently by Delma’s module of Advisory and Public Research. Our impact is yet to be measured given our young age in the UAE.”