1st MEF Open Discussion: "On Think Tanks"- Synopsis

The first Maghreb Economic Forum Open Discussion, featuring Think Tank expert Enrique Mendizabal, who discussed the definition and nature of think tanks, how they operate in different contexts, and their role in democratic transitions. Check out this overview of the event!


  1. 1st MEF Open Discussion: "On Think Tanks" - Enrique Mendizabal
  2. MEF launched its first Open Discussion on February 11, 2016 at its Headquarters. Around 25 key people took part in the talk. Enrique Mendizabal, the Think Tank expert of onthinktanks.org, sought to answer the following four questions:
  3. Are think tanks a cause of democracy?
    Could they undermine democracy?
    Are they a consequence of democracy?
    Can they exist in the absence of democracy?
    Using as examples the following 4 cases:
    The cases of the US, Germany and Britain
    The case of Aid
    The case of Chile
    The case of China

  4. His main conclusions, which suggest that the relationship between think tanks and democracy is at best uncertain, are:
    - Not all democracies are the same -so not all will lead to the formation of the same number or type of think tanks
    - Think tanks can undermine democracy – it will depend on the principles of their funders, leaders and staff.
    - Think tanks can emerge in the most anti-democratic of environments (even as opposition)
    - Think tanks can drive and contribute to democratic transitions –both with ideas and with the practice of democratic principles
    - Single Party States can be sponsors of think tanks
    - Single Party States can also close them down at any time

  5. He recommends that for Think Tanks to contribute positively to democratic transitions (to be “good” Think Tanks) they should:
    - Undertake quality research and analysis
    - Not take advantage of weak democratic institutions (e.g. the media, parties, parliament, the civil service, academia)but instead seek to strengthen them –to play the long game
    - Seek to inform policy openly, not privately
    - Bring the public along with them rather than leave it behind
    - Be transparent (about funding, methods, values)
    - Cherish a good debate –especially those where you will learn a thing or two
  6. The attendees interacted dynamically with Enrique through insightful questions and comments. We are happy to have shared knowledge with other Think Tank and NGO members and we are proud to have hosted such an open conversation, which will be the first of many upcoming events!
  7. To attend our next MEFOD, send us a request on contact@magef.org and we will add you to our database!
  8. Like us on Facebook and Tweet us to read our upcoming research studies and get more updates about our work.
  9. Check out all photos of the event on our Flickr account.

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