In the wake of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the September 2015 UN Summit, Think Tank Initiative (TTI)-supported institutions in Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Kenya are working to popularize the SDGs and to help integrate them into national development frameworks. This blog piece focuses on the important role these think tanks are playing to advance national-level progress towards the implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. It outlines a few exciting examples that the author is aware of through his personal interaction with these institutions and their initiatives.

[Editor’s Note: John A. Okidi is a Senior Program Specialist at the International Development Research Centre, working for the Think Tank Initiative. He joined IDRC from a background as a think tank researcher and manager.]

In many developing countries, think tanks effectively engage with development actors to provide evidence-based contributions to processes that aim to achieve national, regional and international goals and visions. Basically, think tanks stimulate evidence-based policy debates and policy formulation, and they participate in the monitoring and evaluation of policy implementation programs, potentially leading to policy reviews. In doing this, think tanks create evidence-based awareness about past, present and future development trajectories. In the process of such awareness creation, they contribute to local-context-relevant customization of global development agendas such as the SDGs and corresponding financing strategies. The outcomes of such engagements depend on a number of factors including relationship building in the research-to-policy-to-action spectrum, where context is a major factor.

Illustrating the roles of think tanks in pursuit of the SDGs

While there are many examples of this, here are a few examples from Uganda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania that demonstrate how think tanks are contributing towards the pursuit of the SDGs:

For several years the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC), a TTI supported think tank in Uganda, produced reports on the country’s progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the precursor to the SDGs. This think tank participated in a five-country study on costing out the MDGs. It also hosted a workshop with the United Nations Development Programme to review the findings of this study designed to inform the 2002 Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development – yielding the Monterrey Consensus. EPRC is now actively involved in popularizing the SDGs at the national level. It is also playing a major analytical role in integrating the goals in Uganda’s development strategies in the context of the country’s Vision 2040, which EPRC contributed to developing in close collaboration with Uganda’s National Planning Authority.

In Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Economic Policy Research Institute (EEPRI), a TTI supported think tank, is pursuing strategies, in collaboration with the United Nation’s agencies in Addis Ababa and academic institutions in Ethiopia to popularize the Post-2015 Development Agenda. In doing this, EEPRI is closely consulting with the country’s planning commission in order to integrate the SDGs with the Ethiopian Growth and Transformation Plan. In the context of Ethiopia being a federal state, EEPRI has also worked with the country’s subnational governments, supporting them to monitor their progress towards the Growth and Transformation Plan. This work with subnational governments is a strong foundation for effective participation of the think tank in various processes towards the achievement of the SDGs on the Ethiopian front.

In Tanzania, the Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF) a TTI supported think tank is undertaking important consultations with the public and policymakers regarding Tanzania’s position vis-à-vis the Post-2015 Development Agenda. For example, it has convened awareness-creation workshops in Zanzibar and in Tanzania Mainland on the Post-MDGs Agenda. Prior to the Addis Ababa Conference on Financing for Development in July 2015, the Government of Tanzania engaged ESRF to lead a discussion in Dodoma (the legislative capital of Tanzania) on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. In recognition of the critical role ESRF is playing in the country’s development process, the Executive Director of ESRF was included in the country’s delegation to the United Nations summit of September 2015, during which the Post-2015 Development Agenda was adopted.

Enhancing the roles of think tanks through collaboration

Beyond these country-level examples, collaboration among think tanks also serves to advance their roles in sustainable development.

In East Africa, the near-simultaneous oil discovery in Kenya and Uganda has prompted these countries to grapple with formulating country-specific mechanisms to manage revenue from oil, the exploitation of which is still to commence. In January 2013, EPRC hosted a conference that it jointly organized with the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA), with support from the Africa Growth Initiative of the Brookings Institution. The well-attended conference featured evidenced-based, forward-looking deliberations on effective oil revenue management for inclusive and sustainable development. Accordingly, the deliberations from that collaborative platform can influence the management of the prospective oil revenue towards the achievement of the SDGs.

At the global level, Southern Voice is a network that was created with TTI support and includes 48 developing country think tanks, including the institutions in Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Kenya mentioned within this post. Southern Voice was instrumental in rallying analytical perspectives of think tanks from the South and channeling them to inform various processes in the run up to the adaption of the SDGs. This group also worked to influence the design and implementation of strategies towards the achievement of the Goals. As a result of Southern Voice, it is anticipated that Southern think tanks will shape the dialogue around data, work with national governments to select goals and targets, and position themselves to actively track progress on the SDGs.

Southern Voice was instrumental in rallying analytical perspectives of think tanks from the South and channeling them to inform various processes in the run up to the adaption of the SDGs.

Supporting think tanks

Through these examples at the country, regional, and global level, it is clear that think tanks are influencing the global development agenda and can contribute towards the achievement of the SDGs. The difference think tanks make in development processes can be enhanced through dedicated support; as such, predictable, longer-term and flexible financial and technical support to think tanks is critical. As outlined here, this type of support can lay a foundation for sustainable institutional capacity development and foster responsive and forward-looking research that informs and influences development processes such as the Post-2015 Development Agenda.