In light of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, think tanks worldwide are working to study the spread of the virus and global attempts to combat it. In this context, a virtual symposium was held last week, bringing together distinguished figures from organizations around the world. It was organized by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program of the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. About 300 researchers and chief executives representing 170 institutes from 65 different countries participated in the symposium. Among the participants was the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah).
Over the past two months, the economic and social fallouts of the virus have been clearly apparent worldwide. Resolving this health crisis depends on the discovery of a vaccine that totally destroys COVID-19 — otherwise its role will be limited to lowering the number of deaths and easing the pressure on health systems.
This pandemic could impact think tanks, especially their work environment, research streams and financing. Due to lockdowns and curfews in cities around the world, think tanks are not currently able to hold workshops, conferences and open discussion forums. This is in addition to a decline in their ability to regulate work timings, which will, of course, affect productivity.
For these reasons, one solution could be to create a virtual work environment that enables the members of think tanks to communicate during their working hours and talk during specific periods of the day. This is in addition to organizing conferences and workshops via videoconferencing technology and supporting information technology teams to ensure such activities run as smoothly as possible.
With regard to the impact of the virus on research streams, it is expected that there will be a shift in research focus. Also, while it is probable that conventional armed conflicts will see a slowdown, it is likely that virtual and cyberattacks will surge. It is also expected that human activities that depend on mobility, huge public gatherings, tourism and travel will also see a decline. Therefore, think tanks should focus on the impact of this virus on the nature of human activities and how societies are likely to adapt and survive in the age of COVID-19.
This is in addition to a need to measure the changes happening to human behavior, beliefs and ideas in light of the impact of the virus on established ideologies and belief systems. There should also be studies on how the virus has impacted key economic sectors, such as tourism and aviation, as well as the socioeconomic consequences of the virus, such as unemployment, declining incomes, and a potential rise in crime and social disorder.
On financing, it is to be expected that the ability of think tanks to finance themselves will weaken in the coming period. Hence, there is a need for them to address this challenge by maximizing resources and lowering expenditures. Think tanks must study the financial packages introduced by policymakers to see whether they can apply for funds to compensate for the decline in their private financing sources. This is in addition to scaling down office space and cutting administrative jobs concerned with running and regulating the physical work environment, which has now become virtual in most cases.
For this reason, I suggest that think tanks should fine tune their human resources on a short-term basis and discuss with experts the possible solutions to the aforementioned challenges. This is in addition to providing suggestions and policy papers to decision-makers that could be useful in resolving some of the problems caused by COVID-19.
Part of their budgets should be reallocated to recruit volunteers and researchers to devise low-cost, practical applications that help communities overcome the obstacles they face during this period of crisis.
Think tanks should focus on the impact of this virus on the nature of human activities.
During this critical period, think tanks should also play a proactive role in providing morale-boosting services to society and be supported financially to allow them to accomplish their respective missions.
As Saudi Arabia is hosting the G20 summit in November, the T20 — an international think tank network — will play a critical role in providing much-needed policy advice to member countries. Thus, we believe that Saudi think tanks need to work together to devise initiatives, ideas and proposals to enrich the G20 summit. These should then be shared with other think tanks worldwide to enable an exchange of views on the pandemic and to come up with proposals to contribute to curbing the disease. This strategy will also contribute to rendering the Kingdom’s hosting of the summit successful, creating a qualitative transformation in the work of the T20, developing its tools, and increasing its responsibility.