Can Think20 Overcome the "Professional Blindness" Restraining G20 Policymakers from Fully Engaging with Emerging Global Challenges?

Ussal Şahbaz & Feride İnan



First thoughts from the Think20 Turkey Launch

Think20 (T20) Turkey kick off was held on February 11 in Istanbul with a large and diverse delegation from think-tanks from G20 and non-G20 countries. This post focuses on the potential role of the Think20 (You can also find the first impressions from the co-organizer of the launch event, CIGI, here).

T20 Turkey was officially launched in an opening speech by Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan. DPM Babacan, who spoke at the launch event right after G20 Turkey’s first finance ministers' meeting, not only provided details of the Turkish G20 Presidency’s priorities but also commented on how he envisioned T20's role in the G20 process:

"Sometimes we might suffer from professional blindness; some issues might go unnoticed... [We expect T20] to fill in the blanks and, most importantly—as the name Think Twenty suggests-to develop new initiatives, new ideas, new polices, and new projects. This is our major expectation of the T20: that is, innovativeness for G20 agenda. These efforts will be critical this year. We will be following up and monitoring the process closely."

As a global governance platform, the G20 is relatively young and its framework has been rapidly evolving since 2008 when the platform was elevated to the leader’s level. The G20 agenda, centered around an evolving set of themes, is debated by working groups, task forces and study groups - which include national bureaucrats and international organizations (IOs) and shapes G20 sherpas', ministers' and eventually leaders' agendas.

T20 is G20's youngest engagement group. Like G20, and other engagement groups, T20 does not have a permanent secretariat. Organizational flexibility has been the key advantage of all X20s to avoid a central bureaucracy that dominates the agenda and to be able to adapt to a challenging global environment.

However, it is difficult for national policymakers and IOs, tangled in their own bureaucratic and existential problems (in the case of IOs), to bring new perspectives to the table. This may indeed be what DPM Babacan referred to as "professional blindness" in his opening speech.

Innovative policy is more likely to come from outside national or international policymakers. Engagement groups are well placed to search for and to promote new ideas. Among all the G20 engagement groups, T20 is unique in that it does not advocate around issues. T20 presents policy options to the G20 - not recommendations. Also, think tanks are more freely and effectively future-oriented than both bureaucracies and advocacy platforms (such as the B20). Hence, - in addition, to addressing current policy issues and the needs of policy-makers - think tanks have the ability to focus on the big picture and can offer a long-range perspective of emerging global economic issues. In this relation, the T20 can and should provide “new initiatives, new ideas, new polices, and new projects” to feed into the G20 agenda, in particular, and into the global governance agenda, in general - including that of international organizations. In order to reap the benefits of this work, dialogue of G20 bureaucrats' with T20 and other engagement groups should go beyond the procedural outreach meetings, and constitute the core of new agenda-setting.

Influencing policy discourse is more than influencing policy at any one time. Or as Richard Baldwin - one of the keynotes at the T20 Turkey launch event - put it: “Policy influence is not an event but a process”. New ideas and their effective communication should have both short-run and long-run targets. Some of this year’s T20 ideas will influence the Turkish Presidency while others will influence next year's Chinese presidency. Some ideas may even raise questions regarding the future shape of global challenges that are difficult to spot.

Next week we will explore new perspectives that emerged from the first Think20 meeting in Istanbul.

Ussal Şahbaz is Director of the TEPAV G20 Studies Center

Feride İnan is a Research Associate at the TEPAV G20 Studies Center