Research and Analytical Centers: “Oligopolization”

Natalia Ryabova

Summary

Forecasts for 2019, given in the last review,1 were generally verified. The total number of studies conducted in the sector has not decreased, mainly due to the fecundity of two research centers. Most centers are able to produce only one or three serious studies per year. At the same time, a few strong organizations expanded their research activities and interaction with the state.

Despite the election year, the demand for political analytics has not increased significantly. The topic of Parliamentary elections did not cause a surge of research interest, and the political forces themselves continued to work on their programs, mainly without the help of the expert community.

Trends:
International context

In early 2020, the 2019 Global Go to Think Tank Index Report of the University of Pennsylvania2 was released. The global trends described there are largely applicable to Belarus.

The number of registered research centers from Belarus remained the same – 22 units (a year earlier only one was added). Unfortunately, the report does not contain information about which centers are included in this rating. As before, not a single Belarusian center (out of twenty-two counted) was included in the top 90 research centers in Central and Eastern Europe, or in thematic sub-ratings.

It should be noted that in the second half of the year, due to the tense situation in relations between Belarus and Russia, interest in Belarus from foreign research centers sharply increased: a large number of analytical papers on our country in the context of international relations, security, etc. were published.

Key players and research

In general, the sector produced about the same amount of research in 2019 as it had a year earlier (about 60 units). However, these studies are unevenly distributed: the lion’s share of production is created by two centers. These are BEROC and The Research Center of the Institute of Privatization and Management (IPM); both centers specialize in economy, although their activities go beyond this topic. The other centers produce quite fewer researches.

The BEROC center is a confident leader in the number of studies released: in 2019, 20 analytical notes and studies were published, as well as 5 working materials (independently or in cooperation with other organizations). Six of 20 analytical notes are devoted to the green and circular economy,4 another block is research in the field of social policy, and the traditionally important block is macro economy. The research also focuses on gender, poverty, information and communication technologies (ICT), education, entrepreneurship, and modern University.

BEROC published quarterly economic reviews. Many materials are available only in English. The center held the IX International Conference on Economics and Finance, for the second time accompanying it with a conference for young scientists in the field of Economics and Finance. It also organized several events dedicated to the green economy and continued its active educational activities.

The “Minsk Dialogue” expert initiative has attracted Alexander Lukashenko as a key speaker to its conference for the second year in a row. The two-day forum “European Security: Step Back from the Edge of the Abyss”5 brought together more than 700 participants – experts, diplomats and representatives of international organizations. The initiative also organized other expert events, published four analytical notes, and six reviews on foreign policy and security. In 2019, the “Minsk Dialogue” initiative was registered as an institution.

The IPM research center conducted sociological research and created several types of research based on it: working papers and analytical notes/discussion materials – 14 units in total. Thematic focus is working conditions for small and medium-sized enterprises, social policy (demography, pension system), population values, poverty, high-tech Park (HTP), green economy, and trade. Work on the regional competitiveness Index continued. In addition, the center publishes a number of regular analytical publications – macroeconomic forecasts, annual reviews on the topic of poverty; it also issues current analytics and comments, and participates in joint research.

The flagship event of the IPM Research center, which is the Kastrychnitsky Economic Forum (KEF, held in conjunction with BEROC), was held on October 31 – November 1 under the title “The Invisible Hand of Leviathan”.6 Aleksandr Turchin, first Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus (until November 2019), was the “headliner” of the opening for the second year in a row. In addition to the Central KEF, regional conferences are held for the third year in a row (September–October). At the end of 2019, the KEF telegram channel invited subscribers to assess various risks for 2020 and presented the results of this “expert-popular vote” in a separate material.7

The Belarusian Institute for strategic studies (BISS) published several studies on education and democracy issues. Together with the expert network “Our Opinion”, the Institute issued 12 blitz comments, and also participated in the organization and conduct of the expert-analytical club together with “Our Opinion”, the Press club and monitoring Belarus in focus.

“Our Opinion” expert community continued to publish 20–25 analytical materials per month on political processes, security issues, public administration, international relations, economic, social, cultural and other policies. The results of several studies were also published. Traditionally, in June, The Belarusian Yearbook (in Russian/Belarusian and English) was published, dedicated to the results of 2018. The project “Our Opinion” participated in the organization and holding of meetings of the expert and analytical club.

The BIPART research center (at the SYMPA School) released a study on collective electronic communications from citizens in the context of human rights, and a series of studies on the interaction of local authorities and civil society. The center held open lectures and organized a conference “New Solutions for Public Administration”.

The Ostrogorsky Center published several studies in the field of education (commissioned by representatives of other research organizations), analysis and commentary, an overview of key events in Belarus Digest in English and Russian, and participated in the CIS Arbitration Forum.

The Institute for political research "Political Sphere" with the support of the Ostrogorsky Center released an analysis of the research and development sector (R&D), a new issue of the yearbook Homo Historicus and a new issue of the Belarusian Political Science Review. After a year-long break, the VIII International Congress of Belarusian Researchers was held in Vilnius in September 2019.

CASE Belarus (a member of the CASE research network) published its research on the lessons of economic transformation in Europe for Belarus, a number of scientific articles and public discussions.

Belarus Security Blog published monthly reviews of the national and economic security of Belarus, comments and analysis, video reviews, continued to prepare the radio program “Warta” and published the almanac “Warta”, organized discussions and lectures, held a conference dedicated to the memory of General Kyprian Kondratovich. The Eurasian security digest stopped its publication.

The Center for European Transformation (part of the international consortium “EuroBelarus”) published a report on the results of a pilot study on the accessibility of public spaces and events in Minsk, a report on the results of monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions by Belarus, began to produce an Index of blockchain and cryptocurrency regulation, published analytics and comments.

The center for analytical initiatives at the Liberal Club released a study on the work of business development councils and held several discussions.

The Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies published mostly analytics and comments, but there are no “massive” studies or reports for 2019 on the center's website.

The EAST center (Eurasian States in Transition research center, registered in Poland) released a study on civil society organizations in Belarus, a study on anti-Belarusian disinformation and propaganda. Some of the researches are available in Russian and English, and some are available only in English.

Expert network iSANS (International Strategic Action Network for Security): a notable phenomenon in this case is the preparation of the report “Forcing “Integration”: Russia's creeping attack on the sovereignty of Belarus”. The report was released under the “confidential” label and is presented in the off the record format.

The Strategy Research Center and the Mises Center produced analysis and commentary, and held a summer school for experts.

The Public Bologna Committee has published several monitoring reports on the implementation of the Bologna commitments, as well as a study on European values in the higher education system in the Eastern Partnership countries (initiated by the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum).

The Center for New Ideas released a Rating of Belarusian cities8 and an Index of the future of Belarus,9 published comments, infographics and podcasts. In early 2020, the Center decided to become an analytical center.

Independent Sociology felt somewhat better than in 2018, although the situation with the licensing of socio-political research has not changed. Both “old” and new organizations work in the market, which are mainly engaged in marketing research, along the way carefully measuring the socio-political “pulse”. This data is actively used by the media and analysts against the background of their general deficit. The results of the August survey of the Belarusian analytical workshop (BAW) were most-talked about, which recorded a decrease in the number of supporters of the Union with Russia.10

When choosing a method for collecting sociological data, researchers often turn to online surveys using the Belarusian panel of foreign organizations or drop-down windows on Belarusian websites. In general, access to and use of data appears to be expanding.

Research products are also produced from time to time by non-governmental organizations that are not research centers themselves. For example, the International Educational Public Association “ACT” annually prepares and publishes the NGO sustainability Index (together with USAID). The Office of European Expertise and Communications, as an educational organization, periodically organizes surveys and publishes their results. In 2019, the Office together with the Baltic Internet Policy Initiative presented the results of a study of the Internet audience “Public organizations and citizens' initiatives: the potential for participation”. Since this study is already the third, it can be considered as a consistent effort to study the NGO sector.

The human rights organization Human Constanta together with the Baltic Internet Policy Initiative conducted a study of the attitude of Belarusians to human rights in the digital environment. The international non-profit organization Pact commissioned a national survey (conducted by MIA Research), based on which analytical notes were published in late 2019 – early 2020 on the attitude of Belarusians to reforms, the social contract, foreign policy, gender issues, civil society, media and the role of the state.

The State Research Sector followed the usual trajectory: it provided decision-making within the state apparatus and published very little material in the public domain. Often the results of research in the form of articles of varying degrees of detail were published in scientific or departmental journals, but this cannot be applied to the scientific developments. The intersection point of the two sectors is specialized events and conferences, for example, the conference “Problems of forecasting and state regulation of socio-economic development” or the already mentioned “Minsk Dialogue” and KEF.

A significant event was the establishment in February 2019 of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Research (BISR) for the purpose of providing information and analytical support for the activities of state bodies and officials in strategic areas of foreign and domestic policy. Together with the BelTA Agency, the Institute initiated the project “Expert Environment”, one of the issues11 of which was devoted to the increased volume of analysis about Belarus – mainly foreign. ISANS and BISR were also cited as examples of foreign analytics.

The discussion of demand for analytics as such under the existing system of government was interesting. According to Oleg Makarov, Director of BISR, decision-makers in Belarus (both in government and in business) are used to making their own decisions, they do not understand that analytics can improve the efficiency of this process. It becomes the reason why analytical work is not perceived as a profession. According to Oleg Makarov, the state should pay attention to this problem and literally “bring up” the analytical sector.

Influence on policy and relations with stakeholders

State

As noted above, some events and conferences become visible points of intersection of analytical centers and government agencies (Minsk Dialogue, KEF, Internet Governance Forum, etc.). There are also joint consultations, seminars, presentations, etc. Analytical centers also participate in public discussions of draft laws.

It is difficult to quantify this cooperation, but given the relatively small number of resulting products and the traditionally wary attitude of government agencies to outside analytics, it is possible to say that it is still poorly developed. The existing level of cooperation varies depending on the sphere: the state tends to take into account economic analysis, but in the sphere of human rights, public administration, ecology, etc. the situation is different.

Civil society organization

Civil society organizations are slightly more frequent than before turn to think tanks for research, although they still do it rarely. Expanding this practice is hindered both by the precarious situation of the third sector itself, and by not fully formed demand. On the other hand, NGOs are increasingly aware of the importance of empirical data for their activities, so they have started to order more sociological research, studying their audience or a certain segment of their own activities.

MEDIA

Media and research centers continue to cooperate. The media seek comments and analysis, and research centers publish their materials and research results in the media (both independent and state-owned, with varying success).

In addition, recently the level of journalistic analysis seems to have become more noticeable. As an example, the publications of Artem Schreibman on the website of the Carnegie Moscow Center can be mentioned.

Political parties and movements

Parliamentary elections were held in Belarus in 2019, but there was no significant and visible expansion of cooperation between the research centers sector and parties. It certainly took place – especially in the case of parties and movements, rather than individual candidates – but it was often a case of an order “from friends”. It is difficult to identify the signs of institutionalization of cooperation.

Conclusion

In light of the complex and alarming processes taking place in the world (relations between Belarus and Russia, the energy issue, coronavirus, etc.), the demand for fast “explanatory” analytics will increase. But this is unlikely to affect “heavy”, serious analytics.

For the same reasons, there is a relatively high demand for analytics in the field of economy, international relations, security, and in view of the election year – in the field of politics. In other areas, due to reduced attention, “self-ordering” or the influence of individual projects will be more vivid.

The research sector will produce the same or fewer full-fledged studies due to the difficult financial situation. The process of “oligopolization” will increase.