Feature Article of Friday, 27 January 2012
Columnist: Kobbie, J. Ato
“Such listings must be taken with a grain of salt” - Prof. Dr. Konrad Osterwalder, Rector, UNU
By J. Ato Kobbie, Managing Editor
[The Business Analyst, January 25, 2012] The screaming headline of a press release last Friday, January 20, 2012, "Imani Tops Africa in Global Ranking of Think Tanks", was enough for many-an-editor to consider the two-man Ghanaian shoestring operation team, best known for its fly-by-night essays that it passes off as "research", for a front-page recognition.
However, as is the style of The Business Analyst, per its motto – Going behind the numbers with objectivity – the paper went to the source of the report, only to find out that the screaming headline of IMANI, which was written in red, was only the first lie.
The actual ranking, dubious as it is, had the South African Institute of International Affairs at the top, with IMANI coming 9th ahead of continental power houses like IDASA and CDD. Strangely enough, IMANI failed to mention that even back home, the ninth (9th) place ranking was behind the Centre for Policy Analysis (CEPA), ranked eighth (8th).
Then came the follow-up in the first paragraph of the promo that the "think tank" sent to a tall list of recipients, dominated by media houses, aware of their gullible nature for which most of them are too lazy to conduct an independent investigation of such glorified 419s.
Hear Imani: "IMANI Center for Policy & Education, a public interest, research-driven, advocacy organisation based in Accra, Ghana, featured strongly in the 2011 ranking of think tanks across the globe released by a joint United Nations University (www.unu.edu) – University of Pennsylvania (www.upenn.edu) team."
Impressive! But that was not entirely true. At about the same time that IMANI was creating the impression that no mean an organization than the "United Nations University" (UNU) was recognizing them for their superior policy work, UNU was also boasting on its website that it had been "ranked among top global think tanks" by the International Relations Program of the University of Pennsylvania in the United States.
Even then, the rector of UNU, “Prof. Dr. Konrad Osterwalder" (as he's described on UNU's website) watered down his excitement with the caveat that "...such listings must be taken with a grain of salt..."
IMANI had confused two venues for a joint launch of the report, with a joint ownership or authorship!
The caution by the UNU rector becomes even more appropriate once you visit the Program's website (University of Pennsylvania) and are confronted with what seems like a sleek academic version of 419.
A quick look at the report, under the directorship of a “James G. McGann, PhD" throws up even more red flags: The reader is treated to a "methodology" that is long on dubious processes and name dropping but short on analytical rigor. We are told of a large (and nameless) number of experts and institutions who supposedly pored over nominations and came up with the ranking (793 "expert panelists", 150 "journalists and scholars", and 120 "academic institutions, among a long list).
A claim that ‘all 6,545 think tanks in the world were contacted and encouraged to participate in the nominations,’ appeared to crumble as all three think tanks initially contacted during The Business Analyst’s maiden verification, denied involvement at any level of the process.
The Centre for Policy Analysis (CEPA), Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), and ISODEC all denied involvement in the process.
“We were not involved and did not participate in any of the processes,” Mrs. Jean Mensah, Executive Director of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), responded to The Business Analyst’s e-mail enquiry.
Asked how the IEA heard about the results of the 2011 ranking, Mrs. Mensah said it was through the press release issued by IMANI.
Dr. Joe Abbey, Executive Director of CEPA, was at sea when the paper contacted him on Friday to find out if his outfit had received news of the 2011 Global think tank ranking report last Friday. “We were not contacted,” was his response to a direct question as to whether CEPA was involved at any level of the process.
But for IMANI Centre for Policy Education, getting ranked in three categories among the best think tanks in the world was what puts them ahead of their continental peers, Executive Director, Franklin Cudjoe told The Business Analyst in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
In addition to its ninth ranking among the top 30 sub-Saharan think tank rankings, IMANI was ranked 26th in the Most Innovative Policy ideas/Proposals category and listed also among think tanks with ‘Annual Operating Budgets of Less than $5 Million.’
The overall global ranking of the Top 50 Think Tanks outside the US, has Chatham House (CH), Royal Institute of International Affairs – United Kingdom, leading the pack.
Strangely, however, while Centre for Conflict Resolution of South Africa, which placed 2nd in the Sub-Saharan Africa category behind South African Institute of International Affairs, is ranked 49th in this category, the best in the Sub-Saharan African category did not feature!
It is unclear also why a research consortium such as the African Economic Research Consortium, located in Kenya or Conseil Pour le Developpement de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales (CODESRIA), located in Senegal, would be placed in the same sub-Saharan-Africa category with local think-tanks.
“It may be a misleading perception of performance of groups based on their media presence,” an analyst told this paper.
According to him since such reports inform policy makers in different jurisdictions in deciding on what group to support or deal with, it is important to ensure that such rankings are characterized by the best of standards, citing recent concerns regarding the work of rating agencies. Author:firstname.lastname@example.org