Edna Jaime Treviño, founder and CEO of grantee México Evalúa, discusses how think tanks can help make more effective public policy.
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Think tanks are sources of ideas and proposals on topics such as security, justice, education, employment, inequality, and, recently, health. We strive to bridge academic knowledge and government practice. Our research seeks to help society better understand how government is operating and pinpoint areas where citizens should demand better results.
However, in recent years, there has been a severe questioning of technical knowledge from the mouths of politicians and public officials around the world. In the UK, those calling for Brexit said: "We have had enough of the experts." In the United States the Trump Administration’s denial of science has led to gutting regulations that protect American’s health and safety. In Mexico, not long ago, elected officials told us, "it does not take much science to govern." We think tanks, with our studies, data, and methodologies, have become demoted to invited guests—sometimes uncomfortable ones—to discussions about public policy.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed that landscape. Science, expert knowledge, and evidence-based decisions have returned to their rightful place in government decisions. The world admires countries that, with science as a shield, have managed to contain the impact of the first wave of the virus and questions leaders who, ignoring specialists, believe more in their political instinct than in hard evidence.
The medical response to the pandemic is only the first battle. Behind the virus and its tragic human consequences come the social and economic consequences. The most obvious and threatening is the global recession, the depth and duration of which remains to be seen. Changes and challenges will also come in the areas of public finance, health, public security, law enforcement, education, and the fight against corruption. The world’s ability to design and implement effective, efficient, evidence-based public policies subject to evaluation and accountability mechanisms will be even more important in a post-pandemic world characterized by governments with limited fiscal resources and increasing social demands.
Think tanks will have to adapt our work to this "new normal." Our recommendations will have to be more concrete and applicable than ever. Without losing sight of the long term, we will have to strive to help governments resolve the here and now. With a global mindset, we will have to make a major effort to strengthen institutions from the local point of view, because we have learned that this is where the best solutions to great challenges arise. And, of course, we will have to be closely aligned not only with the government and experts, but also with society, with which we must have a more direct dialogue.
This is how México Evalúa visualizes its role in the post-pandemic world. Throughout our first 10 years, we have had the invaluable support of important allied organizations in Mexico and beyond, of leaders from civil society and of foundations, universities, and grassroots groups. Building on what we have accomplished in that decade, we move towards the future convinced of our values: technical rigor, political independence, freedom of thought, democracy and accountability, and the ongoing search for justice. These are the values that will give us the strength we need to face the challenges that lie ahead; they will serve as a solid base to fight for a better Mexico and world.
Edna Jaime Treviño
Edna has more than 25 years working with organized civil society to transform Mexico’s public policies. She is the founder and CEO of México Evalúa, a think tank dedicated to analyzing and evaluating of public policies on public spending, security, justice and anti-corruption.