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Think tanks in Wales adding value

September 26th 2019

The Bevan Foundation hosted an informative seminar on ‘think tanks in Wales’ on Thursday 26th September.

Think tanks are a relatively new phenomenon in Wales. They take a variety of different forms, from civil society think tanks to university-based think tanks to political think tanks.  Our seminar, organised in conjunction with WISERD, asked what their contribution to public policy could and should be. It also asked if the concerns about think tanks elsewhere in the UK are relevant here.

L-R: Hannah Durrant, Auriol Miller, Jane Williams and Sally Power (chair of panel)

Victoria Winckler kicked off the discussion with an overview of literature and her findings from an analysis of Welsh think tanks’ current activity. She was followed by a panel discussion with Hannah Durrant of the Wales Centre for Public Policy, Auriol Miller of the Institute of Welsh Affairs and Jane Williams from the Morgan Academy.

After lively debate, we were joined by Frank Soodeen, Deputy Director External Affairs at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Frank described how JRF had radically changed its approach, not least because of concerns that a large-scale evidence-based exercise on what works solving poverty had not generated answers. Jo Salway, Head of Cabinet Office at Welsh Government, outlined the challenges that Ministers face in developing good policy. She too said that evidence does not always provide answers, and she also noted how the structures and culture within the civil service do not encourage creative thinking. Graham Winter then outlined how academics and others could contribute to the work of the Assembly.

This discussion touched on important issues about the relationship between evidence and policy and the willingness of governments to engage with third parties in developing new ideas as well as the issues facing think tanks as organisations.

Our report on think tanks will be published by the Wales Institute for Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods shortly.

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