On 23rdof May I attended an event in the Brussels-based foundation Madariaga entitled “Les Think Tank Européens et la crise” Apportent ils des solutions à l’UE? . Many promiment academics and managers from the most prestigious and renouned think tanks in Brussels were invited including Guntram B. Wolff, Pierre Defraigne, Benoît Lechat and Martine Royo et Stephen Boucher, co-authours of the book “Les think tanks, cerveaux de la guerre des idées.”
During the event many aspects of European intergarion were discussed and of course a lot of the debate revolved around the contributions think tanks have given to the current debates on the European crisis. Although the conversation slightly diverged from the original topic (the influence of think tanks), we did touch the issue of think tanks’ independence, financing, power, and polarization. An interesting point was made by Bruegel deputy director Guntram Wolff who explained how think tanks have a three-fold role of generating, selecting and promoting ideas. While Pierre Defraigne pointed out that Europe is experiencing richness in expertise but poverty in research his approach was more critical.
A crucial point of the discussion had been basically left untouched. During the Q&As session I commented that I expected this debate to cover the aspect of promotion. Compared to their American counterparts, European think tanks invest on average relatively very little (35-40% against 5-10%). We are in a situation where academics are building up a massive and monotonous information melting pot of European affairs research while they should be more focused on the implementation of information filtering.
Consequently, the panel asked me “Do you think it is matter of means, budget or business model.” In my reply I pointed out on how Sony Kapoor , the founder of Redefine became a prominent opinion leaders because he was the first European think tankers to provide some serious live-twitting about EU institutional events and at the same time he has been able to provide timely policy recommendations via his digital and social media planning. This happened with relatively low financing.
The lack of modernity in the communications strategies of European think tanks is also due to the fact the EU institutions themselves still remain highly anachronistic in their communications strategies. After attending a seminar a few months ago on the communication of EU funded projects I was astonished to see how so much money is still spent on paper-based communication and printed materials while at the same time there are also some 65.000 projects-related website that are unmanaged or simply abandoned. As an example, during this interesting event, I wasn’t given an internet password nor a Twitter hashtag to interact with other present participants
Secondly, European academics are very elitists. I have personally noticed a quite accentuated tendency from prominent academics in European TTs to be rather stand-offish and believe that implementing solid communication strategies to promote their research is absolutely secondary.
To sum up, European think tanks could learn a great deal from their American counterparts in dealing with, investing a coordinating promotion of their activities.