DEVELOPING THE PROFESSIONAL COMMUNITY OF POLICY RESEARCH PROVIDERS IN UKRAINE When operating in more developed professional settings, donors do not execute quality control functions. Their role is to support research and policy analysis that helps further their objectives, be it human rights, environmental protection, or liberal values. The quality control function is implicitly outsourced to relevant epistemic communities. The quality of outputs is rigorously peer-reviewed – often explicitly, by editorial boards, bloggers, and colleagues at conferences and seminars. There is intensive competition among university departments, think tanks, and individual experts. A bad paper will not be published in a journal. It is less likely to be cited or promoted through social media. And it will hurt the author’s reputation and may cost one in terms of promotion, research, and consulting opportunities. None of this is present in Ukraine. First, Ukraine has no policy research market in the proper sense of the word. There are many sellers, but very few buyers other than the donors. Second – and crucially – Ukrainian NGOs are operating in what can be best described as a professional vacuum. In that sense, Ukraine is not much different from most other transition countries where social sciences, economics, and public policy are emerging fields characterized by fuzzy professional standards. Outside a few individuals, there is no professional community to speak of in any of the relevant academic disciplines. There are no established journals or blogs in which social science research is discussed, let 22
INTERNATIONAL DONORS, THEIR CURRENT STRATEGIES AND FUTURE ROLES
alone properly reviewed. It goes without saying that peer review – the foundation of quality control in the West – is absolutely ineffective under these circumstances. Moreover, while an increasing number of researchers affiliated with Ukrainian think tanks have been educated in the West, their incentives to exert effort in rigorous research, writing, and continuous education are considerably weakened in the absence of proper peer pressure and quality control. Put simply, they assimilate to the environment. Donor programs that fail to take the “professional vacuum” factor into account are doomed to produce low-quality results. Still worse, they provide organizations with a signal that “anything goes,” creating perverse incentives for learning. Such was, for instance, a weakness of the USAID-financed “Strengthening the Think Tanks” program in Russia that did little to raise professional standards or build the institutional capacity of independent research organizations.22 At a minimum, donors should require or arrange for a mandatory external review for content and style.
Eric Livny the author of this report served on the Steering Committee of “Strengthening the Think Tanks” from 2004 to 2006.
Expert survey by KIIS 2012
In Search of Its Voice