The Role of Public Policy Research Institutions in Policymaking in Tunisia
Intissar Kherigi, Programmes Director, Jasmine Foundation for Research
Address: Kheireddine Pacha Avenue, Pacha Center, Bloc C, 5th floor (C-19), Tunis, Tunisia
Dr. Khalil Amiri, Vice-President, Arab Governance Institute, Tunisia
Full title: The Role of Public Policy Research Institutions in Policymaking in Tunisia
Policymaking in Tunisia has traditionally been a closed process under the tight control of central government. Following
the 2011 revolution, the policymaking space is opening up, with greater input by representative institutions, civil society
and the public. This paper seeks to examine the changing role of public policy research institutes in the post-revolution
policymaking process in Tunisia. Through interviews with state and independent policy research institutes, the paper
identifies the key challenges facing these institutes and presents recommendations to strengthen their role in promoting
government accountability and transparency and breaking down the information asymmetry between the Tunisian
administration and the public. Section One of the paper briefly reviews the tradition of public administration and
policymaking in Tunisia. Section Two presents an analysis of the current role of research institutes in policymaking.
Section Three presents findings based on the semi-structured qualitative interviews with representatives of research
institutes. Section Four presents recommendations to strengthen the capacity of policy research institutes to have a
meaningful contribution to policymaking.
1. Policymaking in Tunisia
In Tunisia, and more generally throughout North Africa, the influence of the Napoleonic models of the organic
state and the legal approach to organisation of public administration shapes policymaking practices.1 A plethora
of legal texts sets out the administration’s tasks to the smallest detail. The legal framework governing public
administration sets out a top-down approach to policymaking, which continues to be opaque, providing few
opportunities for participatory policymaking and marginalising contributions from non-governmental
In public policy literature, the policy process is often depicted as a cycle that begins with problem identification,
followed by the identification and analysis of policy options, policy formulation, implementation, monitoring
Figure 1. A diagram of the various steps in the policy cycle
Policymaking in Tunisia has traditionally been a closed and top-down process under the tight control of central
government. Input has mainly come from senior civil servants, and in some cases international donor
institutions and special interest groups.3 The process has traditionally been closed to participation by the public
or civil society. Interviews with administration officials indicate that prior to the revolution, a small group of
ministers and civil servants took decisions unilaterally under the direction of the President. The lack of
transparency opened up the state to “state capture”, where special interest groups and their allies within
government were able to direct state policies to serve the interests of individuals close to the ruling family.4
Policy monitoring and evaluation are also opaque processes. Prior to the revolution, officials complain of
statistics and data being manipulated to bring policy outcomes into line with pre-defined objectives – “policy-
based evidence-making.”5 While a plethora of observatories exist within the administration to carry out
research for the purposes of inputting into and evaluating policies, they were given very little space to conduct
rigorous research or put forward critical analysis. A senior official cited, for example, that the administration
had yet to conduct an evaluation of the 1993 investment code, a major piece of legislation that lies at the heart
1 Painter, Martin and Peters, B. Guy (2010), “The Analysis of Administrative Traditions” in Painter, Martin and Peters,
B. Guy (eds.), Tradition and Public Administration, pp. 3–16. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
2 OECD. (2013), Scan d’Integrité Tunisie: L’integrité en pratique. Paris: Organisation de Coopération et de
3 Rijkers, Bob, Freund, Caroline and Nucifora, Antonio. (2010), All in the Family : State Capture in Tunisia. Washington
DC: World Bank, accessed at: https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/17726.
4 Rijkers, Freund and Nucifora 2014.
5 Interviews with senior members of Tunisian administration, January–March 2014.
of the investment regime and has a significant impact on job creation, growth and regional development,
critical themes at the heart of the revolution.6
Monitoring of policy implementation is carried out by a number of bodies. The Court of Auditors monitors
public spending; however, its analysis focuses exclusively on whether budgetary and financial procedures have
been followed and does not examine the content of specific policies or their effectiveness or efficacy. The
Higher Committee for Financial and Administrative Auditing coordinates three executive auditing agencies that
monitor public spending; however, their reports are submitted solely to the Prime Minister’s office.
The post-revolution political context has seen a move towards representative institutions, participatory
democracy and greater government transparency. While the pre-2011 Parliament was largely a rubber-stamping
body, the National Constituent Assembly established in 2011 was given powers to scrutinise government
action, examine the state budget, question ministers and initiate investigations. The policymaking process has
opened up to some degree, with new legislation on access to information introduced and numerous public
consultations launched. Civil society organisations and the public have become more engaged in the
policymaking process, mainly at the phase of issue identification through advocacy, raising concerns about
specific problems and building up support for state action through mobilisation, social networks and media.
2. The Role of Research Institutions
There are over 6,540 independent Public Policy Research, Analysis and Engagement Organizations (also
known as ‘Think Tanks’) throughout the world.7 Only 5% are in the MENA region.8 Such institutions play an
important role in policy research, analysis and assessment throughout the world and increasingly in the MENA
region.9 Credible policy research institutions can promote accountability by acting as watchdogs on
government. They help raise awareness about issues and build support for policy changes, educate the public
about complex policy trade-offs, and enhance the quality of policy debates by interpreting issues for the wider
public. They also provide a forum for exchange of ideas between actors in the policy formulation process and
can play an important role in training policy makers for the executive and legislative branches of government.
Independent policy research institutions can provide valuable input to policymaking by doing what public
administration cannot – specifically, they have fewer bureaucratic constraints and can thus better leverage links
with academia and participate more broadly in collaborative research and domestic and international “issue
networks.” They are also better able to “telescope the policy function” (i.e., from data collection to policy
analysis to formulation) than government bureaucracies, which are often hampered by organisational
boundaries standing in the way of coordinating this process.10
7 McGann, James G. (2011), The 2011 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report. Philadelphia: University of
Pennyslvania, accessed at: http://www.gotothinktank.com.
9 McGann, James G. (2006), Think tanks and policy advice in the United States. Philadelphia: Foreign Policy Research
Institute; UNDP, “Arab think tanks claim role in influencing policy-making,” UNDP Press Release, 2013, accessed at
10 McGann 2006.
Socio-economic & cultural influences, donor policies
Figure 2. The operational environment of think tanks. (Source: ODI, Tools for policy
Independent research institutions can develop significant policy expertise that is consulted by state institutions
and political actors. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy, for example, is a small institute
(composed of 11 staff) consulted by legislators on approximately a third of relevant policy proposals. It is
regularly commissioned to produce evidence syntheses in areas of social policy and to testify before legislative
Government-affiliated policy research institutes can also contribute significantly to policymaking and
evaluation, becoming widely consulted by actors across the political spectrum. The Dutch National Bureau of
Economic Analysis (CPB), for example, was established in the 1940s to evaluate public policies. It is formally
part of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and its director is a civil servant appointed by the cabinet. However,
its reputation for credibility and rigor means that its analysis carries great weight across the Dutch political
spectrum. It is consulted by the Dutch parliament and even requested by parties to evaluate their electoral
platforms, enabling voters to compare and providing a basis for coalition negotiations. Its director notes that its
role is to, “provide arguments, and what voters do with the arguments is their job.”11 This provides impartial,
credible information, which is crucial in enabling voters to exercise their democratic rights in an informed
manner, thus enriching the democratic process.
Certain key factors are needed to enable research institutions, whether state or independent, to perform their
role of promoting accountability and better policymaking. First, they must have access to information – both
government data and their own evidence base in order to increase the supply of information and provide
alternatives to government data. This is particularly important in a post-dictatorship transitional democracy
such as Tunisia, where a history of state manipulation of information has eroded trust in official data. Second,
they must have sufficient credibility in the eyes of political actors, state institutions or the public in order for
their analysis to carry weight. This can be achieved through demonstrating impartiality and independence,
rigorous analysis, expertise, and transparency in the methodologies used.
Third, they must have access to the policy process. They need to understand the policy process, structures and
timelines in order to ensure the analysis they produce usefully ties into existing processes. Furthermore, such
institutions must be able to engage with their target audience, whether the legislative body, academic
community, civil society, or the public at large. The public communicative function of these policy research
institutions distinguishes them from academic research institutions that do not specifically seek to inform or
11 Rutter 2012.
influence the democratic process.
3. An overview of Policy Research Institutions in Tunisia
Policy research takes place in three main arenas in Tunisia: the public administration, universities, and
independent research institutes.12 As of December 2014, Tunisia also has a permanent parliament with
significant powers to scrutinise government policy, as well as independent constitutional commissions with
powers to examine and advise on government policy.13
Tunisia has a large public sector, with 795,000 public employees.14 The government is composed of 19
ministries, many of which have their own institutes that carry out policy research and analysis. The Office of
the President has its own policy research institute.15 Our qualitative research covered three of these institutes:
the Centre for Research and Social Studies (under the Ministry of Social Affairs), the Institute of
Competitiveness and Quantitative Studies (under the Ministry of Economy and Finance), and the Tunisian
Institute of Strategic Studies (affiliated to the Presidency of the Republic).
Our research indicates that state policy research institutes have acquired greater research freedom following the
revolution. Like other parts of the administration, they were formerly subject to significant restrictions
regarding scrutiny of government policies. Interviewees indicated that prior to the revolution, research agencies
within ministries were seen as places in which to put undesirable employees, and such agencies were not
expected to produce any research output and were even actively discouraged from doing so. The findings of
the research, set out below, summarise the key challenges facing these institutes after the revolution.
There are approximately twenty independent policy research institutes in Tunisia.16 A number of them existed
before the revolution but the scope of their work was limited due to government restrictions. Since the
revolution, there has been a boom in independent policy research institutes, with some organisations producing
notable policy research and influencing policy dialogues in some sectors, despite their lack of a long track
The gradual opening up of the policymaking process through public consultations has created a wider space for
independent policy research institutes to contribute. A number of major public consultations have taken place
in the last three years, including the public consultation on negotiations to update the framework for political,
security, and socio-economic partnership with the European Union, the public consultation on the investment
code, and the public consultation on fiscal reform. Independent policy research institutes and other civil society
organisations have participated in these, inputting into discussions, producing research and submitting written
contributions. Our findings below summarise the experiences of independent policy research institutes, their
role in the policy process, and the challenges they face.
12 Tunisian universities contain hundreds of research institutes, and receive state funding to conduct policy research.
However, this paper does not address this sector – its breadth and complexity call for a dedicated paper on this topic.
13 However, these bodies have yet to fully commence their functions; it is too early to be able to comment on their
contribution to policy evaluation.
14 International Monetary Fund. (2014), Tunisia: Fourth Review Under the Stand-By Arrangement and Request for
Modification of Performance Criteria. Washington DC: IMF Country Reports 14/277, International Monetary Fund,
Middle East and Central Asia Department..
15 Tunisian Institute for Strategic Studies: http://www.strategie.tn/index.php/fr/.
16 Tarbush, Nada. (2010), Strategic Mapping of Think Tanks: Mediterranean Countries and Beyond. Marseille: Centre for
17 Mahroug, Moncef, “Le boom des think tanks en Tunisie,” Webmanager Center, 13 February 2014, accessed at
4. Qualitative Research
In order to collect information on how policy research institutes contribute to policymaking in Tunisia, we
carried out interviews with decision makers within these institutions.
Interviewee selection. To identify research targets, we referred to the available literature on policy research
institutes in Tunisia.18 We chose to interview three state policy research institutes and three independent policy
research institutes to gain an understanding of each sector. Within the state institutions, we interviewed
representatives of the Centre for Research and Social Studies, the Institute of Competitiveness and Quantitative
Studies and the Tunisian Institute of Strategic Studies. Within the independent institutes, we interviewed
representatives of the IDEES network, the Arab Governance Institute and the Jasmine Foundation. In each
case, leading researchers or directors of the institute were interviewed using a semi-structured interview plan.
Structure of the interview. Following the ODI’s model for the think tank environment, we structured our
interviews to assess four aspects: political context, production of evidence, links to other actors, and external
influences.19 We summarise the themes addressed by the interview questions below:
• Political context:
– What is the policymaking process?
– How does the institution perceive its mission and role in this process?
– Are you consulted by policy makers? Is there demand from policy makers for your input?
– How do you assess your role and input?
– Where do you get your sources of information?
– What are your main activities? What kind of evidence do you produce?
– How do you assess your impact and interactions with government and with the parliament?
– Who are the key stakeholders in the sectors you focus on?
– Do you have any links with them?
– How are your relations with the media, CSOs and the wider public?
• External influences:
– What are the main international actors in the policy process?
– What are your main sources of funding?
– What are, if any, the constraints placed by funding agencies?
18 Tarbush 2010.
19 Start, Daniel and Hovland, Ingie. (2004), Tools for Policy Impact: A Handbook for Researchers. London: Overseas
4.2. Findings of the research
While the findings of the research apply directly only to Tunisia, they identify issues and challenges that are
relevant throughout the MENA region. Indeed, some findings confirm prior research on the subject on a
4.2.1. State Policy Research Institutes
• Clarity of Mission:
State policy research institutes continue to feel that they are marginalized from the policymaking process.
Following the revolution, they identified trends within government towards giving more space and support to
policy research. However, research continues to be undervalued and marginalized in the policymaking process
and no serious steps have been taken to institute evidence-based policy evaluation processes. That said, the
interviewees seem to circumscribe their own role as policy research institutes to purely technical functions
involving the analysis of data and synthesis of findings. They consider their role as being the presentation of
technical findings and use of rationalistic techniques such as cost-benefit analysis to identify the most effective
and efficient solution in technical and economic terms. The state institutes interviewed appear to prefer not to
engage in analysing policymaking processes themselves or giving prescriptive evaluations, leaving
recommendations to policymakers and their advisors.
• Technical capacities and resources:
State policy research institutes interviewed all complained of a lack of trained personnel, financial resources,
and adequate information systems. A key challenge is that research is still given little value within the
administration. The research institutes were not deeply involved in policy development or evaluation prior to
the revolution, when they were at times consulted only for the purpose of justifying pre-determined policy
choices. Thus, government did not invest significantly in their research capacities. They also complain, like
other parts of the public sector, that recruitment into the public administration is used more as a social
mechanism to reduce unemployment and social tension than to strengthen capacities by recruiting and retaining
the best talent.
State policy research institutes complained of high administrative overheads, with the percentage of researchers
out of total staff often as low as fifteen per cent. They also complained of a lack of qualified researchers in
important policy areas, such as socio-economic and governance issues. This shortcoming was partly attributed
to weak research units within local universities, where training in the area of policy research and analysis is
lacking, as well as a lack of interdisciplinary approach in university education, which means that they are unable
to find researchers with the necessary expertise. For example, one interviewee cited the fact that no Master’s
programme in health economics exists in Tunisian universities makes it difficult to recruit a health policy expert
with the required statistical expertise.
The most widely cited issue regarding capacity is the lack of financial resources. All state policy research
institutes interviewed pointed to the loss of talented researchers to international organisations, who offer far
higher salaries. Such institutes are thus unable to attract or retain the best minds. The lack of funding also
places constraints on their research output and they often use their personal contacts in academia to facilitate
Some state policy research institutes have recently engaged in capacity building efforts, such as the creation of
databases and data warehouses to host data in their areas of interest and enable more rigorous analyses.
• Access to Data:
The state policy research institutes interviewed cited difficulties in accessing public sector data from other
ministries. They complained of a lack of uniform system for sharing data across ministries or even within
ministries. A number of factors contribute to the difficulties in accessing high-quality public sector data. First,
data is sometimes unavailable because it is not collected. For example, a health policy researcher noted that
geographic data was not supplied in one data set, making it impossible to analyse the correlation of emerging
diseases with regional factors such as pollution or water quality. Furthermore, most data available are socio-
economic in nature. Information on governance, such as internal budgets, measures of corruption and public
sector performance indicators, is often unavailable. Researchers also cited the informal economy - estimated at
over 40% - as an issue as official statistics do not reflect a significant part of the economy.
Second, when data is collected, it is often not centralised or maintained in standard electronic format. Data are
often communicated in paper form from regional offices to their headquarters, making it difficult to share in a
timely manner. Third, the lack of clear, detailed privacy and confidentiality policies increases the risk associated
with data sharing for public administration officials.
A common factor cited by all interviewees is a culture of refusing to share data. Senior decision-makers cited
difficulties in obtaining even basic data sets, such as birth and death rates from the Ministry of Interior.
Researchers and even senior officials described having to resort to various strategies to gain access to data such
as relying on personal relationships with “data owners,” the public servants in charge of data sources, or
publishing inaccurate data in order to provoke authorities into releasing the correct information. All those
interviewed pointed to the practice of hoarding data and individuals, not institutions, own public sector data.
When an individual leaves the administration, critical data are lost, leaving significant knowledge gaps.
All representatives of state policy research institutes noted that international agencies often have far greater
access to government data than government institutions. Tunisian public officials were far more open to
sharing data with international institutions, apparently due to their influence, reputation, and potential career
opportunities, all of which incentivise data sharing.
• Cooperation between institutes:
The research identified a significant degree of overlap in the areas of research of state policy research institutes,
and very little communication or coordination amongst them. The interviewees identified a plethora of state
observatories and research institutes, some overlapping, especially in multi-disciplinary areas such as
employment, investment and regional development. They noted that state research institutes often work on the
same policy problem without communicating with each other. This leads to inefficient use of the resources
allocated for such institutes, already very limited. The reason cited for this overlap is that observatories and
institutes are often created and managed by a given Ministry, which is reluctant to cede its authority over a
certain policy area. Furthermore, there is no clear framework of process for sharing information between state
institutes, which means that they are often unaware of the work being conducted by other state institutes. This
is compounded by poor communication processes overall –studies and reports are poorly disseminated and
web sites often out of date.
• Links to the Legislature:
None of the state policy research institutes interviewed indicated that they had been consulted by parliament,
despite a lack of in-house expertise within the Assembly, its very limited administration and lack of experience
of exercising rigorous executive oversight. No systematic processes exist within the Assembly for
consulting state research institutes or drawing on their research.
4.2.2. Independent Policy Research Institutes
• Clarity of mission:
Independent policy research institutes interviewed showed widely differing perceptions of their role
in the policymaking process. Some organisations perceived their role as purely technical, involving the
analysis of data and synthesis of findings. Others aspired to undertake more comprehensive policy evaluation
but are still acquiring the networks and capacities to enable them to do so. Few organisations aspired to play a
role in advocating for certain policy recommendations or proposals. There appears to be a struggle to define
their mission and a hesitation to step too close to ‘politics,’ in a nascent democracy where politics is often
perceived in a negative light due to political polarisation and conflict.
• Technical capacities and resources:
Interviewees expressed a lack of capacity and resources to engage in wide-ranging policy evaluation. They all
pointed to lack of research funding as a major constraint on their ability to recruit the expertise needed. They
cited lack of domestic funding sources as a particular challenge, linking this to the lack of value given to policy
research by state institutions and society more widely. They also pointed to a lack of familiarity with the model
and role of independent policy research institutes in Tunisia, and that the successful development of such
institutes will require a change in mentality among government, academia and the public.
• Credibility, image and perception of intellectual integrity:
There were very few independent policy research institutes prior to 2011. Given their lack of track record and
the polarised political environment in Tunisia, independent policy research institutes cite challenges regarding
public perception of their impartiality and independence. They expressed concern that the polarised political
environment compels all researchers to align themselves according to political affiliation, and that it leaves little
room for rational analysis, research collaboration and exchange, and measured public debate.
In the context of an emerging democracy, independent policy research institutes in Tunisia appear to face
difficulties in establishing a space for exchange and critical policy debate. They have a significant challenge in
developing reputations for intellectual integrity and credibility, especially given the public’s wariness of the role
of special interests in funding media and civil society organisations. The lack of domestic funding opportunities,
suspicion of international funding and lack of established tradition of independent research institutes contribute
to distrust regarding independent research institutes. Some of the institutes have tried to address this through
transparency about the data and methodology used as well as outreach to experts and actors from all
• Accessibility and quality of public sector data:
The independent policy research institutes interviewed cited difficulties in accessing public sector data in a
timely fashion. They complain of an information asymmetry challenge – they encounter difficulties in accessing
the information required to conduct independent analysis and evaluation. They also complained that data
shared by government is sometimes incomplete or of insufficient quality to enable meaningful analysis. The
same factors as highlighted above regarding data sharing within public administration affect independent
institutes’ access to information. All interviewees noted that while new regulations to facilitate access to
information have been passed since 2011, access is difficult to obtain in practice.
• Inclusion in policymaking processes:
Traditionally, policymaking has been conducted within a tight circle of senior administration and government
officials. Sometimes, it was driven by the special interests associated with the senior political actors in the
former regime. A recently published study reports that the investment code and investment authorisations were
engineered to ensure significant advantages to the ruling family of Ben Ali.21 Naturally, policy evaluation could
not be inclusive in such a context, as opening up the policymaking process would make it harder to engineer
the desired policy outcomes and conceal their potential negative socio-economic impacts.
When policymaking was based on evidence, it largely relied on internal studies by state agencies and ministries,
or for major reforms, studies conducted by international institutions, either those providing financial and
technical assistance or international consulting firms commissioned by the state. Many policy-related initiatives
related to sectors such as rural development, poverty reduction, SMEs, or energy, are coordinated and
commissioned by international institutions with the resources to sponsor such research.
Our research found that many local experts are engaged in policy evaluation only via international institutions,
and not directly through domestic institutes. The stifling political environment under dictatorship and historic
practice of relying on international agencies means that they developed greater expertise, access to data, and
credibility in the field of policy research, ensuring they continue to be called upon by government actors. This
has created a cycle that is difficult to break. Existing research supports these findings. For instance, a study by
the UN Development Programme states, “most evidence on governance is currently being produced
predominantly by international actors who have the option of influencing country-based policy by scoring and
ranking countries. In-country producers of governance evidence may, in contrast, suffer from questioned rigor
and/or independence and may be burdened not only with technical capacity deficits but also with the burden
of managing relationships with government and other civil society.”22
• Cooperation with similar institutions:
The research identified weak institutional relationships among independent policy research institutes and
between them and other stakeholders in the policy process. While such institutes often overlap in terms of
areas of research, this is desirable, as it contributes to a richer research output from a range of political affinities
21 Rijkers, Freund and Nucifora 2014.
22 Nicola Jones et al, The Role of Think Tanks and Research Institutes for More National Ownership and Alignment of Evidence to
Policy, UNDP Governance Centre, Oslo, Discussion Paper 24, 2009.
and platforms. However, all those interviewed reported that they would like to have more collaboration with
other independent policy research institutes but that no platform exists to facilitate this.
• Links to the Legislature:
While the National Constituent Assembly, Tunisia’s legislative body in operation between 2011 and 2014, had
the task of scrutinising government action, it lacked the professional research services capable of supporting its
members and committees in the evaluation of policy and policy proposals.23 Its members often complained that
their executive oversight role was often reduced to approving budgets and laws without having sufficient
resources or knowledge to examine the issues in depth.
The independent policy research institutes interviewed indicated that they had seldom been consulted by
parliament, and that when they were, it was at very short notice before the discussion of a bill, not allowing
time for meaningful input. In order for members of parliament to meaningfully engage with such institutes, it is
necessary to have support staff to research and summarise evidence and to arrange consultations with such
institutions at appropriate notice. Such capacities are currently lacking, meaning parliament is relying on a
limited evidence base, largely composed of experts who are already known to parliamentarians, academics who
have built a national reputation or those who have regular appearances in the media. Alternatively, political
groupings call on those experts or organisations close to them to provide input. There are no systems in place
to systematically engage with a wider range of experts and policy research institutes.
• Relationships with media and civil society:
The independent policy research institutes interviewed stated that they seldom engage with domestic media and
rarely contribute to framing the public debate on policy issues. The research identified a lack of proactivity in
reaching out to the media and the wider public. Some of those interviewed stated that they do not see public or
media engagement as part of their remit, and prefer to engage only with experts and researchers. All of those
interviewed appeared hesitant to engage with domestic media, complaining that it does not allow for measured,
rigorous debate of complex issues, due to media polarisation and lack of specialised journalists who seek and
value scientific expertise. They also cited a need to build up capacities and produce more research before
engaging with the public and developing their outreach.
The contribution of policy research institutes, whether state or independent, to the evaluation of public policy,
is important within democratic systems that seek to expose state action to oversight and accountability, and
which seek to deliver better policy outcomes for the public. Policy research institutes can help to contribute
to developing more informed public debate in which all citizens can actively and authentically
participate in rational deliberation about common concerns. The political changes taking place in Tunisia
after the revolution open up a window of opportunity to strengthen the use of evidence in the policymaking
process and force government to look more closely at the impact of its policies and open up policymaking to
wider scrutiny and participation.
The recommendations below draw on the research findings to propose ways forward for strengthening policy
research institutes’ contribution to the evaluation of public policy.
23 See UNDP. (2014), Project of Support to Constitution-building, Parliamentary Development and National Dialogue
in Tunisia. Tunis: UNDP, accessed at: https://undp.unteamworks.org/file/444175/download/483618.
• Review of state policy research institutes and their mandates:
A review and reorganisation of state policy research institutes, their areas of work, mandates, and research
programmes is urgently required in order to address overlaps and ensure more efficient use of resources. All
such institutes could be placed under a single government coordination office, to be given the capacity and
resources to coordinate their work. This would facilitate coordination and information-sharing, avoid
duplication, and clarify research programmes and mandates.
Coordination between state and independent policy research institutes should also be institutionalised, and
sharing of information and collaboration encouraged, potentially through regular policy fora in specific policy
• Institutionalisation of the policy consultation process:
The offices of the Prime Minister and the President of the Parliament should establish a database of civil
society and policy research institutes to invite to policy consultations. The consultation process should be
formalised, with clear timelines and procedures. Sufficient information should be shared ahead of time online
or directly with civil society and policy research institutes in order to allow for meaningful input.
• Formalising public sector data access policies:
The public sector possesses or can potentially collect, organise and share a wealth of data with policy research
institutes and the wider public. This would improve governance, policymaking, and even inspire private sector
research and ventures. One of the obstacles is the lack of clear, detailed policies regulating how data should be
collected, stored and shared. Civil servants tend to err on the side of caution by keeping data confidential when
policies are unclear or broadly discretionary. All aggregate non-sensitive public data, not only socio-economic
data but also governance data such as performance of public sector institutions, should be collected and shared
in a timely and transparent manner with the public, ideally online, according to clear documented policies.
• Capacity development for policy research institutes:
Policy research institutes should create data warehouses, develop analytical models, set clear systems for
recruitment and retention of qualified staff, and think more creatively about how to secure financing to
perform quality studies. A priority for policy research institutes is to address the “credibility gap” through
rigorous research methodology, transparency about their data and methods, use of peer review mechanisms,
outreach to experts and actors from all political and ideological backgrounds, and openness about their funding
sources, in order to establish a good track record and strong public communication and outreach.
International development agencies should launch programmes to build the capacity of policy research
institutes as an important actor in the policy process. The state should provide a tax-friendly regime for
independent policy research institutes.
• Fostering local and regional relationships and creating fora for policy research institutes:
Fora for policy research institutes should be created nationally and regionally to help them network, build
partnerships, disseminate and review their research, and improve the quality of their output. Building regional
partnerships between policy research institutes would be beneficial as they share some common features in
their policymaking context. Partnerships should also be encouraged between institutes in developing and
developed countries, especially when they share common “policy platforms”, especially on transnational issues
such as international trade and migration.
Public financing should be made available to independent policy research institutes based on objective criteria.
Performance indicators such as policy impact, research quality and number of peer-reviewed publications
should be used to help incentivise actors to produce research that contributes to improving the quality of
policymaking. Partnerships between local policy research institutes and local bureaus of international
institutions should be developed further.
• Creation of parliamentary policy research services:
Parliament must develop an in-house research unit to collate evidence produced by policy research institutes,
academics and international organisations and provide independent, objective analysis of policy issues. This
unit should provide on-demand research to committees and individual members and produce publications
(briefings, fact-sheets, in-depth analyses and studies) as well as centralising reports produced by the government
and administration. The unit should also organise seminars and briefings for members upon request and
maintain a database of experts and research in various policy fields, to provide a resource for committees
needing specific expertise. The parliament library should also maintain a physical and electronic research
collection, with trained staff to assist members in accessing resources.
The Parliamentary research unit could also provide an impact assessment service to provide assessments of the
likely economic, social, and environmental and other impact of policy options, as well as providing a database
of all policy reviews being conducted by government departments and public institutions. This would improve
the quality of parliament’s input into the policy process and provide busy members of parliament with easy
access to a broad range of expertise.
• Investing in the training of researchers and specialised journalists:
Public bodies should be created to invest in training programmes for policy researchers, specialised journalists,
and civil society organisations in key policy areas, to help build their capacity to produce quality policy research
and input into policymaking processes. Partnerships could be encouraged between these public training bodies
and universities through internships, events and projects.
• Promoting quality public policy research in academic institutions:
Universities are the first place where future policy researchers are trained. Academic institutions can play an
important role in public policy research. They employ full-time faculty and enjoy a continuous supply of
graduate students who can contribute to research projects. They provide the basic research output that can
enable independent policy research institutions to generate concrete policy proposals and meaningful policy
Under dictatorship, Tunisian universities could not freely research important public policy issues. Today,
significant capacity building and research funding should be directed to promoting public policy and
governance research at universities. The portion of research funds dedicated to social sciences and specifically
policy analysis and research should increase, which would help create employment in the social sciences
research field (whose graduates face high unemployment rates). Promoting cooperation with universities
outside Tunisia would help universities to share expertise and access further funding.
It is critical for state institutions responsible for higher education to encourage the development of new
interdisciplinary university courses that can provide valuable expertise for policymaking in today’s complex
world, such as masters programs in governance, specific policy sectors (e.g. health policy) and public policy in
general. This would fill the skills gap policy research institutions are facing. Collaboration and data sharing
should be encouraged through policy fora and national strategies to promote research in fields of strategic
significance. Furthermore, government should encourage the establishment of masters programs in public
administration to reduce the burden on the national school of administration and allow it to focus on core areas
The countries of the Arab region are facing critical economic, social and political challenges. Government
policies continue to marginalize significant sections of the population – this marginalization is built into the
structures of the policymaking process, which continues to be largely opaque to external scrutiny. A research
revolution is needed to open up these processes and reorient them towards greater accountability, wider
participation, and responsiveness to the needs of the population.
More inclusive and participatory policymaking processes can produce more stable, coherent, and effective
policies aligned with public needs. In democratising countries such as Tunisia, policymaking processes are being
opened up to greater scrutiny and participation. However, to allow meaningful scrutiny and informed
participation, greater expertise is needed to critically assess policies and measure their impact. This is the role
that must be played by policy research institutes. Our research shows that such organisations are developing a
stake in the policymaking process in Tunisia, using new spaces for policy research and critical engagement to
scrutinise and question government policies, challenge policy frameworks and raise new policy problems.
In order for these institutes to play a more effective role in policy evaluation, they need to overcome significant
challenges relating to technical capacities, data access, funding, public perception, institutional relationships,
engagement in policymaking processes and outreach to the media and the public. They are also in need of a
‘research revolution’ in society to raise the value of research as a public good that is central to good governance
and social and economic advancement and wellbeing. If the institutional obstacles mentioned can be addressed,
policy research institutes in Tunisia can contribute significantly to developing new forms of monitoring and
assessing government policies that can assist the state to design more effective public services, help legislative
and constitutional bodies to hold government accountable, and raise public awareness of how their government
is conducting their affairs.
Jones, Nicola, et al. (2009). The Role of Think Tanks and Research Institutes for More National Ownership and
Alignment of Evidence to Policy. Oslo: UNDP Governance Centre, Discussion Paper 24.
Mahroug, Moncef, “Le boom des think tanks en Tunisie,” Webmanager Center, 13 February 2014, accessed at
McGann, James G. (2011), The 2011 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report. Philadelphia: University of Pennyslvania,
accessed at: http://www.gotothinktank.com.
McGann, James G. (2006), Think tanks and policy advice in the United States. Philadelphia: Foreign Policy Research
OECD. (2013), Scan d’Integrité Tunisie: L’integrité en pratique. Paris: Organisation de Coopération et de
Painter, Martin and Peters, B. Guy (2010), “The Analysis of Administrative Traditions” in Painter, Martin and Peters, B.
Guy (eds.), Tradition and Public Administration, pp. 3–16. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Rijkers, Bob, Freund, Caroline and Nucifora, Antonio. (2010), All in the Family : State Capture in Tunisia. Washington
DC: World Bank, accessed at: https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/17726.
Start, Daniel and Hovland, Ingie. (2004), Tools for Policy Impact: A Handbook for Researchers. London: Overseas
Tarbush, Nada. (2010), Strategic Mapping of Think Tanks: Mediterranean Countries and Beyond. Marseille: Centre for
UNDP, “Arab think tanks claim role in influencing policy-making,” UNDP Press Release, 2013, accessed at
UNDP. (2014), Project of Support to Constitution-building, Parliamentary Development and National Dialogue in
Tunisia. Tunis: UNDP, accessed at: https://undp.unteamworks.org/file/444175/download/483618.