TCS Daily

Think Tanks on the Move

By Pierre Garello - January 13, 2005 12:00 AM

All of us have been in contact with ideas of freedom for years or even decades and we have embraced them whole-heartedly. But once people get these ideas, how do they go about developing them? In particular, how do they put them into action? And what is the point of fostering good ideas if you can communicate them to no one?

The past year was exceptional for European free-market institutes. It was marked by two new significant events that aimed precisely at providing the keys to answering such questions: the first meeting of the European Resource Bank, held in Borovets, Bulgaria, and the first European think-tank school, organized in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The idea of a Resource Bank is simple: to gather individuals who share the same values and goals, and to exchange with them experiences and ideas. For, indeed, the "ultimate resource" available in order to bring wealth and peace to this world is made of those individuals who are attached to the principles of property and responsibility and are anxious to implement them.

Hence about 80 individuals from 20 countries and around 30 think tanks and institutes of all sorts met in Borovets, Bulgaria, on October 29-30. Among representatives from the "old" and younger think-tanks were those from the new ones presenting their brand or sometimes just a desire to start NGO activity. To this list must be added individuals who came to the meeting to share their particularly rich experience, such as Mart Laar, Barun Mitra, Hans Labohm, and Milen Veltchev. (More information can be accessed at

One may wonder whether it is not an old-fashioned idea to meet physically while it is so cheap nowadays to communicate through the Internet or cell phones. Why should busy people spare several days to join a conference in a remote corner of Bulgaria's Rila Mountains?

The event in Borovets confirmed there were a number of compelling reasons for doing so. One way to put it is by referring to Friedrich von Hayek's distinction between tacit and scientific knowledge: on the web you can get the "scientific knowledge" -- knowledge about new policies implemented here and there, knowledge of arguments designed to oppose silly policies, knowledge about good books, about history.

During a Resource Bank meeting people get the "tacit knowledge" -- knowledge about individuals, about how to present an argument, about the intensity of some fears or convictions, about what issues, according to colleagues, should receive priority ... plus an array of other things that you will never find in a book or on the net. Both types of knowledge are complementary and necessary for success.

The second event was organized by the Lithuanian Free Market Institute (LFMI). LFMI got the idea for the first European think-tank school from the need that the institute as well as many of its partners had experienced during more than ten years of work, the need to deepen the knowledge, and to improve the skills, of think tanks and their staff.

In Europe and in the United States one can find many books and manuals about the management and fundraising of non-profit organizations, among which public policy institutes belong. However, during various meetings and events leaders and staff members of non-profits continuously point to a lack of practical knowledge and experience as well as a lack of time to acquire such know-how. Non-profit organizations also do not have time to take the long theoretical courses that educational establishments offer, and consultancy services are for many unaffordable.

These assumptions urged LFMI to offer a unique form of exchanging practical knowledge among public policy institutes, a think-tank school. The first think-tank school in EU member-states was organized on November 11-14 in the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius. This was a several-day seminar during which representatives of think-tanks taught one another by drawing on their own experience and practice.

Topics for the seminar had been offered and announced in advance. They were introduced by organizations that are prominent and acknowledged leaders in the given areas. The school brought together 22 representatives of various public policy institutes from 12 countries. Participants were selected based on their needs to enhance skills and their possibilities to share experience. The invitees included not only public policy institutes from the EU member states and acceding countries but also representatives of neighboring countries. This was meant to create conditions to share more diverse experience and to advance cooperation among think-tanks in a broader region. The school gathered together mainly leaders of public policy institutes.

Alberto Mingardi from Italy's Bruno Leoni Institute, who was among the seminar participants and speakers, said of the school, "Among the many events organized for advancing cooperation among free market think tanks, the think tank school stands alone as far as quality is concerned. It was very exciting to stay in a group of people highly determined to change the world for the better, and eager about improving the quality of their work in shaping the public opinion. If some others can follow your path, all over Europe, perhaps our battle is not lost."

The participants of the first think-tank school not only supported the LFMI's initiative to hold more think-tank schools in the future. They also announced their plans to hold such events themselves.

Pierre Garello is Director of Academic Affairs, IES-Europe, France

Ugnius Trumpa is President, Lithuanian Free Market Institute



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