Challenges and Prospects: The Landscape of Think Tanks in Uzbekistan

Specialized research institutions, commonly known as think tanks, wield significant influence in the realm of policymaking. Through rigorous analysis and research, these organizations delve into a wide array of contemporary issues, both domestic and international, playing a pivotal role in providing invaluable insights and recommendations to public administration agencies. Serving as a crucial bridge between the domains of science and politics, these non-governmental entities assist policymakers in making well-informed decisions of significant consequence.

Almost each year, the University of Pennsylvania releases the Global Go To Think Tank Index Report, offering a comprehensive ranking of approximately 6,500 think tanks worldwide. According to this report, think tanks engage in research, develop analyses, and offer recommendations on pressing global issues. Furthermore, they play a vital role in increasing public awareness of policy matters, thereby facilitating rational solutions to societal challenges.

Think tanks typically operate independently and are affiliated with government agencies, political organizations, business circles, or function as non-governmental organizations. While their funding sources vary, most are tax-exempt entities in the United States and Canada. Regardless of their financial origins, these organizations are mandated to maintain transparency, divulging information about their income and sponsors to the public. Such transparency is indispensable for preserving public trust and credibility.

It is imperative for these institutions to uphold impartiality and objectivity in their research endeavors to dispel doubts about the validity of their findings. Ensuring transparency in financial activities and adhering to stringent criteria of impartiality are fundamental to preserving their integrity.

A significant majority (90.5 percent) of the world’s think tanks were established after 1951. More than half of them (55 percent) are located in North America and Europe. The United States, according the latest data by Statista, leads in terms of the number of research centers, boasting 1,872 institutions in operation, including 397 centers in Washington, D.C. and 177 in Massachusetts. Other leading countries in this ranking include China (512 centers), Great Britain (444), India (293), and Germany (225). Notably, some of the world’s most prestigious think tanks, such as the Brookings Institution, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Heritage Foundation, and RAND Corporation, are based in the United States, and the French Institute of International Relations also stands among these distinguished pioneers.

In contrast, the landscape of think tanks in Uzbekistan is considerably limited. According to the rankings of prominent research centers in Central Asia released by the University of Pennsylvania, some Uzbek think tanks have managed to secure notable positions. For instance, the Center for Economic Research (CERP), operating under the Administration of the President of Uzbekistan, stands at the 10th position among 58 scientific institutions in the region, marking an improvement from its 2016 and 2018 rankings.

Other noteworthy Uzbek think tanks mentioned in the University of Pennsylvania’s list include the Centre for Political Studies (22rd place), the Institute for Strategic and Inter-Regional Studies (26th place), and Tahlil Center the Social Research (32th place). Additionally, the Center for Development Strategy from Uzbekistan was recognized in 2018 as one of the 50 newly established global think tanks.

In Uzbekistan, the progress of think tanks faces several significant challenges. First of all, the scarcity of independent research centers, most of which are either state-controlled or government-funded, is a major obstacle. While some alignment with state interests is expected, the problem arises when all centers tailor their research to governmental viewpoints. Think tanks should offer unbiased, fundamental, and practical research to both the public and government agencies. This independence is vital for the benefit of both parties.

Second, the lack of adequate funding for think tanks’ operations poses a serious hindrance. Establishing and maintaining a think tank demands substantial financial resources, including funding for research projects, staff salaries, infrastructure, and outreach activities. Insufficient funding hampers think tanks’ ability to conduct in-depth research, organize seminars, and publish influential policy papers. Consequently, these institutions struggle to attract and retain top-notch researchers and analysts, limiting their capacity to produce high-quality, innovative policy solutions.

Third, limited access to information hampers research efforts. Valuable data is typically accessible only to government-affiliated centers, leaving other institutions with insufficient resources. Transparency is crucial; research findings and methodologies should be open to scrutiny to maintain credibility. In an environment with information deficits, think tanks find it challenging to fulfill their role effectively.

Fourth, there is a deficiency in proper training and education for policy-oriented analysts, exacerbated by outdated teaching methods. Analysts should be equipped with skills aligned with international standards, enabling them to interpret reliable information independently and use advanced data analysis tools. While analysts must work within the framework of government requirements, this aspect should not be the sole criterion for their qualification.

Fifth, there is a shortage of experts, especially in political economy and public policy analysis, due to the aforementioned challenges and the quality of education. Educational institutions must provide high-quality education to produce skilled analysts. Proficiency in English, crucial for accessing global scientific literature, is notably lacking. Analysts and researchers in Uzbekistan need to master scientific English to publish articles in prestigious journals and reach a broader international audience.

Sixth, there is a positive trend of think tanks and analysts engaging more actively with the public, although communication channels are not fully open yet. Social media platforms have enabled think tanks to reach a wider audience, meeting the increasing demand for expert opinions. This development aligns with the rise of consulting companies conducting political and economic research in Uzbekistan, reflecting a shift towards openness and international engagement in the country’s affairs.

On a more positive note, there is a growing trend of think tanks and analysts engaging more actively with the public, although communication channels are not fully open yet. Social media platforms have enabled think tanks to reach a wider audience, meeting the increasing demand for expert opinions. This development aligns with the emergence of consulting companies conducting political and economic research in Uzbekistan. On one hand, this trend signifies a profitable business opportunity. On the other hand, it indicates Uzbekistan’s move towards openness and the interest of international organizations in the country’s processes. This shift reflects a positive trajectory, indicating a more open and engaged approach to both domestic and international affairs.

To sum up, think tanks play a vital role globally in making well-informed decisions of great consequence. In Uzbekistan, while there are challenges such as limited independence, funding constraints, and lack of access to information, there are positive signs of progress, especially in engaging with the public and embracing modern communication methods. Addressing the challenges, particularly ensuring independence, providing adequate funding, enhancing access to information, improving educational standards, and language proficiency, will be essential for Uzbek think tanks to thrive and contribute significantly to the country’s policymaking landscape. Efforts in these areas can lead to a more vibrant and influential think tank sector in Uzbekistan, fostering a conducive environment for informed decision-making and policy innovation.

Alouddin Komilov
Alouddin Komilov
Alouddin Komilov is a research fellow at the Center for Progressive Reforms in Uzbekistan. Follow him on LinkedIn and X (formerly Twitter: @alouddinkomilov)