The Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA) has been ranked the fifth best think tank in Sub-Saharan Africa and the second best in Southern Africa Development Community on “the most authoritative list of high performance think tanks in the world.” The latter is how the University of Pennsylvania, one of the prestigious institutions of higher learning in the United States, touts its Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program.
By placing fifth on the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) list, BIDPA beats all but one South African think tank – the South African Institute of International Affairs which is third on the list. The best think tank in Africa ÔÇô at least according to UPenn’s analysis, is the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis. Second is the IMANI Center for Policy and Education of Ghana and the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa in Senegal occupies the fourth spot. BIDPA is ranked above the following South African think tanks: African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, Institute for Security Studies, Africa Institute of South Africa, Centre for Conflict Resolution, Centre for Development and Enterprise, Institute for Global Dialogue, South African Institute of Race Relations, Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, Mandela Institute for Development Studies and Development Policy Research Unit.
Contrary to a cynic’s estimation of think tanks being “people who are paid to think by makers of tanks”, UPenn defines them as “public-policy research analysis and engagement organizations that generate policy-oriented research, analysis, and advice on domestic and international issues, thereby enabling policymakers and the public to make informed decisions about public policy.”
The 2014 nomination and ranking criteria includes the following: the quality and commitment of the think tank’s leadership – chief executive and governing body; the think tanks ability to assemble a critical mass of highly skilled, experienced and productive scholars and analysts who are recognized as either emerging or established experts in their respective area of research; the think tank’s ability to produce high quality, rigorous, policy-oriented research that is accessible to policymakers, media and the public; ability to recruit and retain elite scholars and analysts; the academic performance and reputation of the think tank’s scholars and analysts; media reputation (number of media appearances, interviews and citations); ability to use the Internet including social media tools, to engage with policymakers, journalists and the public; and the organization’s ability to produce new knowledge, innovative policy proposals or alternative ideas on policy.
However, the competition gets a little too fierce in other categories where BIDPA is compared with think tanks across the world. There Botswana’s premier think tank is not even mentioned in categories such as Top Education Policy Think Tanks, Top Energy and Resource Policy Think Tanks, Top Environment Think Tanks, Top Foreign Policy and International Affairs Think Tanks, Top Domestic Health Policy Think Tanks, Top Global Health Policy Think Tanks, Top International Development Think Tanks, Top International Economic Policy Think Tanks, Top Science and Technology Think Tanks, Top Social Policy Think Tanks, Top Transparency and Good Governance Think Tanks, Think Tanks with the Most Innovative Policy Ideas/Proposals, Think Tanks with the Most Significant Impact on Public Policy and Think Tanks with Outstanding Policy-Oriented Public Programmes.
UPenn, which is of the US’s elite (Ivy League) universities, says that its initial effort to generate a ranking of the world’s leading think tanks in 2006 “was a response to a series of requests from donors, government officials, journalists, and scholars to produce regional and international rankings of the world’s preeminent think tanks.”