The think tanks in Ukraine are often forced to work for other purposes

The Razumkov Centre is a non-state analytical center in Ukraine, founded in 1994. The Centre’s experts carry out research in a majority of sociopolitical and socioeconomic spheres. The Centre is among the world’s few analytical institutions with a sociological service of its own. It has been more than once recognized the best analytical centre in Ukraine and in Central and Eastern Europe by The Global Go To Think Tank Index. The Center is a member of the Trans European Policy Studies Association, as well as an active participant in international forums. It also takes part in the “T20-Group” group of analytical centres preparing G20 summits.

This interview is published as a part of the interview series with the leaders of the think tanks within the framework of the project “Platform of Analytics and Intercultural Communication”. The project is being implemented by the Institute for European Policy (Berlin) in cooperation with the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation and Think Tanks Development and Research Initiative “think twice UA” with the support of the German Federal Foreign Office. The interview was conducted by Olga Lvova, Director of “think twice UA” and translated by Razumkov Centre.

Who should be considered the founding fathers of the Centre and what were the motives for organizing a research institute of this type?

In 2019, the Centre marked 25 years since it was founded. Its founder and initiator was Oleksander Razumkov who, in 1994, worked as the First Aide to Ukraine’s President, Leonid Kuchma. Later, he was Deputy Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council. Like-minded people were there along him, who decided to establish an independent analytical organization to provide objective, non-engaged, and politically neutral recommendations to the President and bodies of power. It was not by accident that the model of the analytical service of the Secretariat of the National Security and Defense Council was chosen. Then, Anatoliy Hrytsenko, a former President of the Centre, was its head, while a group of people who held positions of state experts became the basis of this team. Colleagues who worked as aides to Oleksander Razumkov joined in: Ihor Zhdanov, Valery Chalyy who were within the Centre’s circle of experts from the start.   In 1999, Oleksander Razumkov had passed away, and then the governing body of the organization previously called “The Ukrainian Centre for Economic and Political Studies” bestowed his name on the institution.

Many analytical institutions choose a certain sphere of studies and concentrate on it. Your Centre is among the few institutions where a big layer of directions is in the focus of research. How do you manage to organize work in such diverse spheres and still ensure high quality of analysis?

This was the design of the analytical centre worked out by its founders right from the start. The notion of national security embraces, in essence, all the spheres of the society’s life, where from you can distinguish policy’s directions.  Every problem is being considered by experts of different specialties, and to be able to do this, this versatility should be combined. This means that the issue is being studied from the point of view of its impact on domestic policy, economy, social policy, energy sector, foreign policy, international security, and national security and defense as such.  Such a comprehensive approach provides an opportunity to see a problem from different angles in every project, to see its impact on various spheres. This is especially important when you need to develop solutions and recommendations which is exactly what an analytical centre is working for. The model of foreign research institutions of universal character was taken as the example. Besides, our Centre is divided into structural units, “programs”.  A Director heads every program, and there are leading experts, experts, and scientific advisers in it. As for the latter, this is a position of its own, where people with already very high academic reputation work. As a rule, 3-5 experts work for every program, depending on the workload and project activity. We also involve people on contracts, we have a database of up to 100 experts who work with us regularly.

What do you consider to be the key attractive special features of your organization?

First, it is the multi-profile character which allows to apply the multidisciplinary approach within one organization and perform research of a more comprehensive character.

The second “attraction” are the Centre’s experts who combine two components. The first component here is their education, obtained in Ukraine or abroad, i.e. they are competent and professional, and they have experience of working as researchers in analytical or scientific spheres. The second component is their experience of work at Ukraine’s bodies of power, and this is the practical experience of how policy is being worked out, and how political decisions are made. This is a very precious skill because it does provide an opportunity for combining theory with practice and produce solutions which may be ready for implementation and can be easily read by the customers: politicians, public servants, state governance personnel, and the state’s leaders.

The third thing that distinguishes us is that we are, I think, one of the few analytical centres in the world with its own sociological service. In the United States of America, the Pew Research Center has a service of its own, and bases its activity on it. This is a costly pleasure, but it is very useful, as we use sociological data as a component in practically every case of our research projects on different topics.

How important is it for sociological data to be the basis or a component of research? What is the impact of this on the quality of research?

Sociological surveys are very important for developing policies. The society’s attitudes are, in essence, the background against which policy is being formed and certain political recommendations are being implemented. This is why we are capable of knowing the temperature, the degree of acceptance or non-acceptance of innovations from the start. This is very important from the general point of view of analyzing and forecasting societal processes.

Besides, we are conducting expert surveys: this is also an important tool of studying problem issues of the society’s development. It allows to gather colleagues’ opinions, try out your working hypotheses. Focus groups are quality research, the thing that provides an opportunity to assess, say, the emotional component as well, when we take a certain problem. You can talk to people, and see a live picture of reacting to various events, processes, and words.

Can you single out several projects that either influenced the formation of this or that policy, to your mind, or had a defining significance for the formation of the country’s agenda?

There are topical projects for developing certain policy vectors, resulting in developing certain conceptual documents. This was so with the project studying the sphere of national security and defense, and containing proposals for the military doctrine and for all the underlying documents in the defense sphere. Among the latter there is the project that came to completion more than a year ago, on developing the Energy Strategy of Ukraine up to 2035, approved by the Decree of the Cabinet of Ministers. The Razumkov Center was one of the leading developers of this document.

There are monitoring projects, they are also topical and urgent for the society. I remember how we conducted monitoring of the first 100 days of newly elected Presidents (this happened in Yushchenko’s time, as well as in Yanukovych’s time), and then monitored their activity over half a year, and then, a year. So, according to the results of the first half-year of Viktor Yanukovych’s activity as the President, we have composed an analytical paper and published it in a magazine with a cover showing lonely Viktor Yanukovych in the cabin of an empty airplane. The story was like this: if the things continue to unfold in the same way, he will leave Ukraine in this plane on his own. This happened later; but we had made some mistakes: it was a helicopter, not a plane, and he was not alone.

If we speak of large-scale themed projects of recent years, say, periodically recurring projects, these are studies of the process of the party system development. We have been conducting it since 2000. Its main starting points are electoral processes. In 2010, we have summed up the results of the 20 years of the multi-party state in Ukraine. Then, there was a magazine with the published paper, “The Party System Before and After Maidan”: this monograph has become a summing-up, of sorts, of the preliminary stage of studying the problems of development of parties and the party system in Ukraine.

For 20 years already, the Razumkov Centre has been the organizer of the permanent interconfessional Round Table, “Religion and Power: Problems of Interaction”. Every year, prior to these round tables, the Centre conducts sociological surveys to analyze the religious situation in Ukraine. The Centre’s constant partner in this project is the Konrad Adenauer Foundation’s Office in Ukraine.

There is the project called “Ukraine’s Citizens’ Identity: Situation, Trends, Changes”: We had begun working on this topic in 2006-2007, after the Orange Revolution when the question whether our society is divided had arisen for the first time. We had found a great number of threats then, and have been giving these materials, conclusions, and recommendations to the authorities: “Look what is happening!”, pointing to how serious the lines of sociocultural divide were of the interethnic juxtaposition, how powerful the influence from the side of Russia has been, including the influence on the military sphere.

We have conducted three large-scale studies of identity sphere processes after the Maidan, and their conclusions were used in several Presidential Decrees on political education. It was also then that the National Unity Council at the President was formed.

This means that the level of forecasting is rather high. Do you monitor what you have forecast?

Of course, we are doing this constantly. It is very interesting to follow your conclusions when you have the time dynamics. This provides an opportunity to compare research over ten years, say. Besides, in order to conduct more timely analysis and forecasting, since 2013 we have started the project, “Annual Results and Forecasts”. These papers are published in two languages, Ukrainian and English.

It is also worth adding that we publish a journal “National Security and Defense”. It is based on the projects’ results and contains many components: sociological components, descriptions and analysis of the results of various studies conducted in this sphere. We always take into account opinions on these problems of experts from other Ukraine’s and other countries’ institutions. So, this results in a huge material, a publication giving an opportunity to fully see all the components of the research, and to see not only it but also the process of its discussion. We also publish monographs as analytical papers, and publish the annual papers of the SIPRI (the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) in Ukrainian.

How efficient is your cooperation with domestic partners and what is the demand for your products among your key stakeholders?

Our products are in high demand because our colleagues have experience of working as public advisers to heads of parliamentary committees, and this is a long-standing practice. At different times, they also were members of consultative-and-advisory bodies at different bodies of power. Traditionally, we have had a very good cooperation with the Secretariat of the National Security and Defense Council.

In 2014, in the process of power change, when the vacuum of power emerged, we had even offered our shoulder to lean upon, to a certain extent, having substituted for those analytical units of state structures that were incapable of working for some time. Also, in 2014, when Oleksander Turchynov was Acting President, we had seriously helped with our recommendations. While the Parliament was being formed, we did our bit in developing the coalition agreement, and the Cabinet of Ministers’ program.  Such cooperation depends, to a great extent, on personal contacts because if you know a person they will come to you for constructive advice. I have to say that, with the exception of Yanukovych’s presidency period, we have always had efficient contacts with authorities, in different institutions: in the Parliament, in the President’s Administration, and in the Government.

What is the basis for such cooperation? You can often hear in Ukraine that there is no public financing.

This cooperation unfolds on the awareness of the societal mission of the Centre, on the aspiration to help Ukraine, with our own effort, become an independent, democratic, rule-of-law European state.  This is why we are looking for ways and means to help state authorities with our work (of course if the authorities’ goals and actions are consonant with our values).  We are looking for donor money for doing research helping the country solve the most urgent problems, we conduct research in the spheres where we are competent, and we offer our developments and recommendations to the state authorities. Every specific authority may pay attention to these recommendations and research or not, but there they are.

This means that the work of the Razumkov Centre in this case is a “volunteer effort” of sorts, when we help the authorities using the money we attract from outside sources. The situation is different in most developed countries: it is the authorities that commission research of this kind, while both state-run and independent analytical centers compete for receiving commissions. I don’t even speak here of the most favorable conditions when the authorities provide institutional (constant) financing to analytical structures. This model is more characteristic of the countries of Western Europe.

According to the TTCSP (Think Tank and Civil Societies Program) ranking of the Lauder Institute of the University of Pennsylvania, the Razumkov Centre is recognized as one of the best analytical institutions of not only Ukraine but of Central and Eastern Europe. What would you like to attain more, as an organization?

We are Ukraine’s only analytical centre in the Top 50 of the world’s analytical centres. According to the 2019 results we have become the best analytical centre of Central and Eastern Europe and, in several more nominations, we were among the best in the world.

We are working on the basis of three-year strategic plans. They are being reviewed and renewed, we are defining new goals. Over the period ending in 2019, we have set ourselves the task of expanding our international cooperation and institutionalizing it, and entering the international expert networks. We have attained this goal, to a certain extent. Over these years, the Centre joined the Trans European Policy Studies Association (TEPSA). We are active participants in international forums. And here is what is important and interesting also: we participate in the group of analytical centres called “T20-Group” preparing G20 summits. It is understood that Ukraine is not yet a member of G20, and may never become one, but a Ukrainian analytical centre is already represented there. These are the forums of the Nobel Prizes laureates, and they provide opportunities to hear and become aware of the world’s agenda, be informed of the latest trends and of what is happening, of what the best minds of humankind are thinking.

In addition to this, we have established bilateral cooperation with leading analytical centres of the USA, the Atlantic Council first of all, with Chatham House in Great Britain, with Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik in Germany, conducting joint events with them.

We will be setting further tasks for ourselves for the coming three years, as there are many challenges for the world’s think tanks, and there are challenges of a permanent character, but there are also absolutely new challenges, consonant with the times. Among the newest trends are the use of big data, and transforming your research into accessible forms.

The problem of involving young people, and women, and of providing for their career growth in think tanks becomes very topical in the world. As for the involvement of youth in the work of analytical centres, this really is a challenge and a problem. A school needs to be set up, but a special project is needed for this, while again there is no money or human resources for this.

Let us return to the James McGann ranking at the University of Pennsylvania. On the one hand, this is a unique research in the world, but on the other hand there are claims that it does not fully reflect the situation in the analytical community.

I have followed this activity and these rankings from earlier times than we started being listed there. I think I have started doing this in 2007. By then, only one participant from Ukraine had made it to the TTCSP ranking, and it is even hard to identify it now: the Ukrainian Centre for European Policy Studies. Then, the colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania, began compiling the database of analytical centers of different countries. Ukraine had a solid representation in this database: 43 organizations. In 2007, we had also implemented our own project, “Non-governmental Analytical Centers in Ukraine”, having analyzed the real state and problems of analytical centres as of that time. However, our first study of this topic dates back to before the Orange Revolution, to 2003. I mean we had been aware of what was happening to analytical centers in our country.

As for McGann’s methodology, this is a multi-stage selection providing that people already informed of these problems make it to the survey. I think that the fact that many people take part makes this survey more objective and all-rounded: we see experts and journalists there, as well as public servants, meaning that many people are involved.

Of course, sometimes there are inaccuracies in the ranking, say, mistakes in the names of organizations from a certain country. The inaccurate information of this kind may affect perception of this ranking but these errors are a drop in the ocean. There are more than 8,000 analytical centres from different countries in the TTCSP database altogether, and several thousand people take part in the ranking process. There is another special feature: a great number of the ranking’s nomination categories, and very precise criteria for the ranking. There is simply no other ranking for analytical centres in the world which would be more all-embracing and comprehensive than this ranking. There are other rankings but they have significantly smaller numbers of nomination categories, like the “Prospect” journal ranking.

This large-scale work is done by the University of Pennsylvania’s interns under the guidance of Dr James McGann. They do not receive any payment for this, this is their volunteer work, so they should be thanked for doing this at all. What should also be said is that over the time of its existence, the world’s leading analytical centers started to treat this ranking seriously.  When multimillion-budget centers from big countries say “we have got a place there, and we are proud of it”, this does prove the fact that this ranking has truly become something that is recognized. Another thing points to this, too: the ranking’s presentation has already become a global event: it happens simultaneously in more than 130 cities on every continent. I also want to emphasize that the ranking categorically bans self-nomination, and this is very important. Accordingly, in order to gain a place in the ranking, you have to be recognizable, to be present in media, while the main thing is to be present in the community of the analytical centres in question, so that the analytical centre is known and its papers are read.

Was there anything that you personally were surprised at in this year’s ranking of analytical centres, and how do you assess the presence of Ukraine’s analytical centres in it, compared to other years?

I consider the results of this year’s ranking completely objective. Of course, we rejoice at our first place in the regional ranking as this is the first No.1 for Ukraine altogether. However, the stability of positions in the world rankings for us is no less important. It is very good that there are now more analytical centres from Ukraine in the ranking, we are happy for our colleagues who are mentioned there for the first time. In general, the ranking’s results are a test of sorts, indicating at what should be worked upon more in order to be always up to the mark.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of our Ukrainian analytical centres?

Compared to many neighboring European countries, even to the EU member states, we have analytical institutions of a high level. The culture of formation of our analytical centres is specific. Of course, evolution processes do influence it but this is not “out of good life”. I think, some analytical centres have partially deviated towards advocacy and towards media environment. They become more adaptive to their customer and lose the depth of research. If we accept that the analytical centre’s research is the evidence-based research, there is less and less research of this kind, with research based on opinions and judgements becoming more plentiful instead.

Аdvocacy, where part of analytical centres have gone, is a tribute to donor’s requirements of the time, whereby the donors, among other results of the projects, want to also see the implementation of solutions devised by analysts. The analytical centres  today have to persuade the public that this or that policy is necessary and useful, and they have to persuade policymakers that this has to be done. So this transposition, to a certain extent, of a different agenda, not the one that analytical entities themselves would like to shape, but the one that comes from outside, is one of the trends of today, regrettably. This means that this is a limitation of analytical centres’ independence in choosing the topics that they study.

The Ukrainian analytical centres are directly dependent on donors. What is your assessment of their support?

For the Ukrainian analytical institutions, the donors are mostly charity foundations, domestic or foreign, as well as international development agencies: local representations of international organizations and of foreign countries. In our circumstances, this is both good, and not very much so. This is good because there are some accessible sources of financing research at all, and not so good because a donor would always have an agenda of its own, as well as its own interests.

It is good to be an analytical centre in Germany, for instance, where there are at least four big corporate foundations financing research. We do not have this. It is good to be an analytical centre in the United States where private philanthropy is well developed. We do not have this. What we can pin our hopes on? On those donors who we manage to persuade that research should be supported.

Today, we may already place our hopes on EU programs, on participation in “Horizon 2020”, on certain joint projects, but the problem with donors lingers: the analytical centres’ research is not the sphere they will finance in the first turn. The lack of constant financing of non-project, institutional activity, of current activity is also a huge problem for our analytical entities. It is it that those donors should pay attention to who set the goal of helping develop civic society institutes in Ukraine, as analytical centres are a special subdivision of those institutes.

What are the plans for 2020, and what both the Ukrainian analytical centres and donors should pay attention to? And why?

A number of challenges face Ukraine, and the country has to provide adequate response to those. In this, the interests of the state, of the civic society, and of our international partners coincide. These are, in particular: ensuring the defense capacity of Ukraine in view of the Russian aggression; a resolution of the conflict in Donbas and development of approaches for the return of Crimea; this is the continuation (despite the change of power) of the Eurointegration process and, respectively, fulfillment of the reform agenda; this is developing the strategy of Ukraine’s development during the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with adapting its economic and social potential to these requirements.

Analytical centres have to play an important role in looking for such answers. In order to be prepared for fulfilling this mission, they have to retain what matters most: their intellectual potential, their capability of conducting research work, their qualified staff. Without this, they are at risk of becoming PR companies or resident commentators for TV channels. The analytical centres’ major efforts should be applied to making their main product: quality analysis, research with political recommendations. It would be good if donors share this approach.

The original interview in Ukrainian can be found here.