A critical analysis of the role of think tanks in Kenya’s Economic Policy

Njeru, Alex Ndungu
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Strathmore University
This research sought to examine the part played by think tanks as actors in economic Policy Advice Supply in Kenya. The study employed an exploratory qualitative research approach with a purposive sample of think tanks that had a focus on economic policy and the government’s Ministries, Department, and Agencies that were involved in economic policy planning, formulation, implementation and evaluation. The findings showed that think tanks played a role in economic policy making through four main approaches: capacity building; economic policy research and analysis; advocacy and policy engagement; and through the use of consultancies. Key areas of involvement included agenda setting, participation in policy formulation and contribution to economic policy content. Key informants pointed out that most policy advice from think tanks was supply-driven rather than demand-driven. In addition, there seemed to be a communication buffer, between policy technocrats and think tanks, which reduced the participation of think tanks in economic policy advice. The convergence of Policy Advice Supply and Policy Advice Demand was found to be when technocrats in government communicated their policy advice needs clearly and unambiguously and when think tanks possessed the technical capacity to provide the policy advice. The study established that the endogenous factors that determined the ability of think tanks to play a role in Kenya’s economic policy were: technical capacity; reputation and social capital; corporate governance and communication capital. The exogenous factors that were found to have an effect on think tanks’ influence on economic policy included donors who had both macro-level and micro-level effects on think tanks; a think tank’s mandate and categorization; political leaders/political culture and political freedoms. The research recommends that think tanks should consider and involve public sector officials in the design and execution of their policy advice. In addition, think tanks should endeavor to re-orient their policy advice supply to be demand-driven rather than supply-led. A useful way of actualizing the link between Policy Advice Supply and Policy Advice demand is for both think tanks and government agencies to establish exchange programmes between public sector officials and researchers in think tanks. This would give think tanks the opportunity to get acquainted with the socio-political dynamics of economic policy formulation, implementation and evaluation. In addition, policy makers in government would have a chance to help think tanks to distill their policy advice products to have a structure and language that would appeal to policy advice demand. Areas of further study include the role of the leaders in think tanks and government institutions in influencing the contribution of think tanks to economic policy.
A Thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Masters in Public Policy and Management at Strathmore University
Think tanks, Economic Policy, Capacity building