One of the hot new topics in the development management world is knowledge management. Organizations use knowledge management strategies, tools, and practices to identify, create, share, store, and disseminate individual insights and experiences. Knowledge management tools reveal best practices and lessons learned, and inform policies. Some may argue that Africa lags behind in development due to inadequacies in education, technology, skilled professionals, and knowledge capture, and sharing. Is there a dearth of knowledge management in Africa?
Apparently not, according to Dr. James G. McGann, director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania. I had the opportunity to speak to Dr. McGann after his January presentation to the United Nations on the launch of the 2011 Global Go To Think Tanks Report and associated trends. This report is the first and most comprehensive ranking of the 6,545 world’s top think tanks. Think tanks are public policy, research analysis, and engagement organizations that enable policy makers, the media, and the pubic to make informed decisions on domestic and international policy issues.
According to the report, there are a total of 550 think tanks in Africa, comprising 8.4 percent of the world’s total think tanks. The inclusion of new ranking categories in developing countries sought to address the under-representation of think tanks from outside of the G7 countries. There has been a surge of locally-based think tanks that manage knowledge particularly in Africa and Latin America. As Dr. McGann notes, “Despite their continued low recognition, globally, regionally, and thematically, think tanks in BRICS states have been noted this year for their exemplary and increasingly influential work.”
Think tanks in Kenya and South Africa that were noted highly amongst world-wide rankings include the African Economic Research Consortium (Kenya), South African Institute of International Affairs (SAHA), Center for Conflict Resolution (South Africa), African Center for Technology Studies (Kenya), Africa Population and Health Research Center (Kenya), and the Center for Education Policy Development (South Africa). Four African think tanks were noted on the Top 20 Best New Think Tanks list, including the Casablanca Institute (Morocco), African Center for Leadership, Strategy and Development (Nigeria), Audace Institut Afrique (Cote d’Ivoire), and Amadeus Center (Morocco).
It is no surprise that the highest number of think tanks in Africa are in South Africa and Kenya, two regional economic powerhouses. The success of South African and Kenyan think tanks do not lie with their great numbers. Successful African think tanks collect, create, and share knowledge across country borders. Successful think tanks have a regional impact in their data scope, policy recommendations, and socio-economic implications.
I asked Dr. McGann further about the regional impact of think tanks, how he would measure the impact of successful think tanks in developing countries, and how he would sustain their impact regionally. He responded,
Certainly that was my recommendation—to create regional think tanks. Building capacity on a regional basis allows centers to serve regionally, especially when neighboring countries are in disarray or near failed. I think they heard that, I’m not sure how well they are incorporating it.
Why is implementation always the problem? For one, think tanks can only present data analysis and policy recommendations: they have no implementation power. And secondly, currently think tanks lack a regional strategic plan for capacity building in developing countries.
Socio-economic and geo-political issues in sub-Saharan Africa seldom take place on a country-level. Many circumstances effect countries regionally, particularly landlocked countries who may suffer due to turmoil in countries with ports. Therefore, I agree with the contention that think tanks should continue to represent regional issues and manage the knowledge so that it is distributed regionally. When considering how Africa will meet its economic and social development needs, strengthening thinks tanks regional capacity building is a crucial next step.
For more knowledge out of Africa, please keep an eye out for publications coming from these top-ranked think tanks:
Top Thirty Think Tanks in Sub-Saharan Africa
1. South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) – South Africa
2. Centre for Conflict Resolution – South Africa
3. Institute for Security Studies (ISS) – South Africa
4. Conseil Pour le Developpement de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales (CODESRIA) – Senegal
5. African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) – South Africa
6. Africa Institute of South Africa – South Africa
7. African Economic Research Consortium – Kenya
8. Center for Policy Analysis – Ghana
9. IMANI Center for Policy and Education – Ghana
10. Center for Development and Enterprise – South Africa
11. Free Market Foundation – South Africa
12. Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA) – South Africa
13. Centre for Democratic Development – Ghana
14. Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA) – Kenya
15. African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS) – Tanzania
16. Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC) – Uganda
17. Institute of Global Dialogue – South Africa
18. Initiative for Public Policy Analysis (IPPA) – Nigeria
19. Centre for Research and Technology Development (RESTECH Centre) – Kenya
20. Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF) – Tanzania
21. Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) – Uganda
22. Centre Ivorien de Recherche Economique et Sociale (CIRES) – Cote d’Ivoire
23. Centre des Etudes, de Documentation et de Recherches Economique et Sociale
(CEDRES) – Burkina Faso
24. Centre for Development Studies – Ghana
25. South African Institute of Race Relations – South Africa
26. Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) – Nigeria
27. Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) – Ghana
28. Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research – Ghana
29. Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA) – Botswana
30. Ethiopian Development Research Institute (EDRI) – Ethiopia