The Role of Think Tanks in Handling Covid-19

After the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in Indonesia, government policies in dealing with it often reap a variety of responses. The role of Think Tanks as knowledge producers becomes increasingly crucial in providing policy input based on risk analysis and mitigation. This article give you the insights during KSIxChange #19 with Philips J. Vermonte (Executive Director, CSIS), Edbert Gani Suryahudaya (Researcher, CSIS) and M. Habib Abiyan D (Researcher, CSIS) along with moderator Vivi Zabkie (KataData Insight Center).

China, South Korea, and Singapore are considered to be successful in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. The Executive Director of Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Philips J. Vermonte said that their key to success was not in the ideology or their form of government, but in two matters.

“It’s not a matter of democracy and non-democracy, but a working and disciplined bureaucracy, which means good governance, and trust in science by implementing evidence-based policies,” Philips said during the KSIxChange 19 online discussion entitled “The Role of Think Tanks Amid COVID-19 Pandemic” on Tuesday, March 31, 2020.

China, which is not a democratic country, is handling the COVID-19 pandemic with quarantine policy. While South Korea and Singapore have successfully dealt with the pandemic by means of rapid tests. Their handling follows the actual data and conditions to produce the right policy. Philips predicts that economic and social conditions of these countries will recover quickly after the pandemic can be overcome.

To learn from the success of these countries, Philips said the Government of Indonesia needs to understand COVID-19’s behavior in making decisions. The government cannot produce appropriate policies without the participation of all elements of society, including think tanks that can provide multidisciplinary studies.

“Think tanks such as CSIS can be a platform that provides multidisciplinary studies supplied to relevant government agencies,” Philips said.

Philips acknowledged the use of data and science in government policy making has not been the tradition in Indonesia. State research institutes should serve as think tanks that regularly produce studies for policy reference, without which government agencies and the private sector would be speculating. In other words, government policies will be effective and efficient if they are based on data and science.

CSIS researcher M Habib Abiyan explained, to fight COVID-19, Indonesia needs innovative policies and tactics that can overcome sectoral silos between the central and regional governments, as well as between ministries/institutions. The first policy should be to prepare for the worst case scenario, such as if COVID-19 occurs along with natural disasters, to mitigate the risks in communities.

Second, to promote policies to strengthen medical capacity, including health workers, medicine, to health equipment to detect or cure COVID-19. Third, to strengthen interaction with countries that have survived the pandemic to good practices, support Indonesia’s domestic needs, and facilitate Indonesian scientists to join the international network of COVID-19 control.

Lastly, to promote policies related to the mobilization of national resources from the non-government sector. Habib sees that the contribution of the private sector is still very small due to the limited information they get. The Indonesian government must move faster to formulate these matters. Think tanks can be involved to provide recommendations for strategies that the government can take.

“Non-governmental organizations and civil society can be proactive if the government is also proactive,” Habib said.

For the private sector to actively assist the government, CSIS researcher Edbert Gani Suryahuda suggests that the Indonesian Government be more transparent and encourage collaboration with think tanks. The crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic is not only one of public health, but also an economic and social crisis. Collaboration with think tanks is needed so that the impact of the pandemic does not get out of hand.

“The government must provide access for experts to analyze data,” said Gani.

The central government needs to ensure information and data transparent to leverage the resources available in society and local governments to handle this pandemic. Gani said that lack of information justified by arguments of stability will actually have an adverse effect on society. The information vacuum provides space for entrepreneurial conflicts, creating massive hoaxes and disinformation. Panic buying, for example, is one such effect.

Another benefit of collaboration with think tanks is that it helps the government analyze minor details beyond priority policies. Collaboration can also be used to prevent data biases that lead to mistargeted policies.

“Without clear data available, we do not know what kind of fight we should fight when facing Covid-19,” said Gani.

CSIS Director Philips J. Vermonte hopes this pandemic will serve as a lesson for the government to want to invest in research and education to foster a research ecosystem and synergy of studies. The aim is to create good governance and shape community preparedness in facing disasters. For now, Phillips suggests that all elements, including the government, research institutions, the private sector, and communities can collaborate and work according to their respective fields.

“Problems like a virus pandemic must be understood scientifically, not politically. The politics should move aside for now because what is important for policy is data, not politics,” said Philips concluding the discussion.

This online discussion involving 200 people is part of KSIxChange discussion series that has been held 19 times by the Knowledge Sector Initiative (KSI). KSIxChange 19 is a form of support to the government to involve research institutions as think tanks to produce public policies based on research evidence and good practice. Data-based policies will create solutions that are more inclusive and appropriate to the needs of the public.**

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