The University of Pennsylvania has released the 2013 international ranking of think tanks, putting IMANI Ghana at number four in Africa, up from the eighth position it occupied last year.
That was after the oldest and most prestigious think tank rating system in the world, dating back to the late 1980s, had co-ordinated the inputs of nearly 2,000 leading experts in the world and after assessing the work of nearly 7,000 think tanks globally.
A report released by the university showed that though only two more Ghanaian think tanks – IMANI and ISSER - made the overall top 150 think tanks in the world segment of the rankings, more Ghanaian institutions emerged prominent when certain filters were used to balance the wide variations in budgets and national support received by different think tanks in different parts of the world.
For example, when the field is restricted to only think tanks in sub-Saharan Africa, as many as six Ghanaian think tanks feature, ranging from institutions best known for their effective advocacy, such as ISODEC, to more research-biased ones like CEPA.
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What is clear, though, is that think tanks that effectively combine both research and advocacy score higher points than those that excel in only one dimension, a fact that may have accounted for IMANI climbing four steps higher from its 2012 position to fourth, while CDD placed 13th, with ISODEC placing 49th.
When the experts picked the 80 top think tanks from around the world that maintain some focus on the domestic economy in their regions of operation, five African think tanks made it, with IMANI following closely behind the Kenyan Institute for Public Policy Research & Analysis (KIPPRA) as the top performers.
Despite their strong showing in the general index of top-ranked African institutions, Ghanaian think tanks, except IMANI, were unfortunately missing in some important specialised categories, such as skilful use of social networks, emphasis on innovative solutions, building of linkages in other regions with other institutions and direct impact on public policy, the report points out.
IMANI was also the only think tank from Ghana to feature on the global list of best think tanks with an annual operating budget of less than $5 million, ranking eighth internationally, as well as on the list of the 100 best think tanks operating outside the United States of America.
Commendably, the CDD joined IMANI on the list of the “80 top think tanks to watch in the world”, ranking 43rd, while IMANI ranked 30th, according to the report.
The question is whether think tanks and institutions like them in this country can truly make an impact in ways that promote socio-economic transformation through broad-based development. It is not enough to design great research and lead forceful advocacy on the issues, as the likes of IMANI, ISODEC and the CDD have been doing with great success all this while.
And it is certainly not enough to conduct research and advocacy with world-class flair so as to be recognised internationally.
What is most important is the capacity and ingenuity to channel that advocacy and research into mechanisms that steadily change the practical conduct of national affairs for the better.