Monday, December 28, 2015

People to rely on - Georgians and their social networks

[In this last blog post of 2015, CRRC Researcher Tamuna Khoshtaria reflects on one the most important aspects of Georgian society – people to rely on, i.e. relatives, friends, neighbors.]

When I was studying in Germany, the dormitory’s housekeeper told me: ‘I have seen students of many nations coming here to live, and many of them were homesick at some point, but for Georgians, it has always been the hardest to live abroad.’

He had a point. Now, almost ten years later, what keeps me in Georgia are, for the most part, my friends and the people I can rely on – my social circle. Many people around me feel the same way. The findings of CRRC’s 2014 survey on Volunteerism and Civic Engagement let us see how valuable social networks of friends, relatives and neighbors are for Georgians.

The overwhelming majority of Georgians (92%) say they have close friends. Of these, 21% report getting together with their close friends every day, 34% at least once a week, and a further 22% at least once a month. If we break down the data by gender, we see that compared to females, slightly more males manage to meet with their friends on a daily basis (24% vs 18%). Also, young people (18 to 35 years old) manage to get together with friends more frequently than those who are older (30% vs 16%).

At the same time, most people in Georgia are quite open to new friendships: 73% disagree with the statement that they already have many friends and do not need to make new friends. Roughly the same share (74%) agrees with the statement that they enjoy meeting new people.

Half of the Georgian public reports they have not gained new friends during the last 12 months. For those who did though, new friends are most often found through the old ones.

Note: Respondents could select more than one answer option.

Close relatives are another important part of social networks. Half of the Georgian population reports seeing close relatives who do not live in the same household at least once a month. The majority (66%) say they always or often discuss private problems with them.

Neighbors represent another important part of Georgians’ social networks. Fifty-six percent of the population says they know all the neighbors in their neighborhood. Another 24% says they know more than ten families in their neighborhood, and only 17% knows ten or less families. The share of those who know all of their neighbors is higher in rural settlements (68%), in the big cities (57%) and in other urban settlements (66%), compared to Tbilisi, where only about a third of the population (34%) report so.

Knowing their neighbors implies talking to them, and 64% of Georgians say they talk with their neighbors every day. Another 25% say they talk at least once a week. These talks with neighbors quite often turn into discussing different issues. Twenty-nine percent report always or often discussing common problems in the neighborhood, and 23% say they always or often discuss politics with their neighbors.

These results show that Georgians do not lead isolated lives. They have people around them whom they can trust and count on when it comes to good and bad times. Half (52%) of Georgians agree with the opinion that there are plenty of people they can rely on when they have problems, and 74% say there are people who would look after them if they needed to, without expecting any compensation. Importantly, this support seems to be a two-way street, as 64% of Georgians also say they can be helpful to many people outside of their families.

The people we are around and who we rely on could be the main motivation for many Georgians to stay in the country, even when there are possibilities to emigrate and improve one’s living conditions. Though it is hard to talk about others – I know I am one of those Georgians.

To learn more about the social networks of the Georgians, take a look at the data used in this post using our Online Data Analysis tool, here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

No, Putin is not winning Georgia away from Europe. Here are the facts.

[Editor's Note: This post was originally published on the Washington Post's Monkey Cage on Monday, December 21, 2015. The original post is available here. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of CRRC-Georgia or any of the sponsors of the survey which this article is based on. The data on which this article is based is available here.]

By Dustin Gilbreath

Last Friday, after years of diplomatic wrangling over the course of two administrations, the Republic of Georgia received a report from the EU green lighting visa free travel within the European Union in the near future. Yet, media accounts from earlier this year suggested that Georgia was undergoing a “Russian turn”.

That appeared to be true last May, when an NDI-CRRC public opinion poll declared that 31 percent of Georgians favored ECU membership. Have voters in the Republic of Georgia suddenly begun to prefer an affiliation with the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union over their existing affiliation with the European Union?

If true, it would be shocking. Since its independence in 1991, Georgia has favored Europe overwhelmingly. Polling has found levels of support for the EU that Brussels could only dream of elsewhere in Europe, and serious ongoing problems between Georgia and Russia would naturally strengthen those pro-Europe leanings.

Certainly, many observers have taken that poll number to heart. Nearly a dozen publications and organizations—such as the Financial Times, the Washington Post, Al Jazeera, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, the BBC, Foreign Affairs, Carnegie Endowment, and Brookings Institution—have cited the number. It even seems to have influenced a Roll Call op-ed, the first sentence of which cited “recent news accounts” on Georgia and Ukraine. Almost every news account on Georgia at the time cited the number.

But that number hasn’t changed since 2013, when the Caucasus Barometer examined support for Georgian Customs Union membership. Moreover, the number by itself is misleading. The data show far fewer Georgians are consistently pro-Russian. ”The Russian turn” has been overstated.

Two Unions, Four preferences

In August, Georgians were asked whether they approve of the Georgian government’s goal of joining the EU and whether Georgia should join the Eurasian Customs Union. Twice as many Georgians prefer the EU to the Eurasian Union, 61% to 31%. This has been largely consistent over time, although support for the EU has had its ups and downs with a slight decline in recent years. Nonetheless, support for the Eurasian Customs Union has never been more than half the level of support for the EU.

Georgians fall into four consistent groups about union membership. Here’s the largest one: 39% say they would vote for the EU and against the Customs Union (marked in the graph below as pro-EU). Only 15 percent would vote for the Customs Union and against the EU. The joiners, 12 percent, support membership in both unions. And the isolationists, 5 percent, would vote against both unions. Another 11 percent don’t know how they feel about either union, and 17 percent had responses that didn’t really have a clear interpretation.

Why would any Georgians support economic union with the nation’s former oppressor, Russia?

To read on, please visit the Washington Post's Monkey Cage:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What We Know About Volunteering in Georgia

[This post originally appeared in]

By Nino Zubashvili

Following the June 13, 2015 flood in Tbilisi, hundreds of volunteers helped to clean the disaster-affected zones of the city, which stirred the hope that volunteerism is on the rise in Georgia. In the past, studies on volunteering in Georgia conducted by non-governmental organizations (such as Helping Hand and the Civil Society Institute) claimed that volunteerism had not taken root in Georgian society, and CRRC-Georgia surveys have consistently shown a mismatch between attitudes and actions regarding volunteering in Georgia. Nonetheless, a closer look at the level of volunteering in Georgia, comparing it to Europe, and Georgian society's attitudes towards the importance of volunteering show fertile grounds for volunteerism in Georgia.

The mismatch

CRRC-Georgia's 2013 Caucasus Barometer survey findings show that 68% of Georgians find it important for a good citizen to do volunteer work. In contrast, only 19% of Georgians reported volunteering during the past six months before the survey was carried out in fall of 2013 - a clear gap between actions and attitudes. Interestingly, while the share of the population highlighting the importance of volunteerism for good citizenship increased between 2011 and 2012, the share of Georgians who actually volunteered did not change much. Notably, volunteering is still not considered as important as following traditions, voting in elections or supporting people who are worse off. 

Despite the existing mismatch, if we compare Georgia to other European states, the level of volunteering is not particularly low. A study on volunteering in the European Union carried out in 2010 by the British consultancy GHK Holdings Limited showed that the highest rates of volunteering hovered around 40%, but only in a few states (Austria, Netherlands, the UK and Sweden). In fact, European volunteering rates were largely comparable to those in Georgia, ranging from 10%-19%, and European states like Italy and Greece actually had even lower rates (less than 10%). 

Who volunteers, and who thinks it is important to volunteer?

When thinking about the prospects for the development of volunteerism in Georgia, it is important to know who tends to volunteer, which in turn would allow policy makers, NGOs and social entrepreneurs to understand where to best direct programs aimed at promoting volunteerism. The 2013 Caucasus Barometer survey findings show some differences in volunteering between socio-demographic groups. The elderly (aged 56 and older) are slightly less active (14% reported volunteering) than 18-35 and 36-55 year olds (20% and 22%, respectively), but this lower activity level could probably be explained by the infirmities of age. Interestingly, males tend to volunteer more than females (25% and 14%, respectively) and inhabitants of rural areas are slightly more actively engaged in volunteering (24%) than inhabitants of the capital (14%) and other urban areas (15%). In contrast to the European states studied in the above-mentioned GHK study, where the level of education tends to be connected with the level of volunteering, in Georgia an individual's level of education does not seem to matter with regard to involvement in volunteering. 

Like actual volunteering activity, attitudes towards the importance of volunteering do not change much by level of education, nor do they change by respondent's age or gender. Settlement type however, is a differentiating factor and fewer Tbilisians think that volunteering is important for a good citizen (60%), compared to other urban and rural dwellers (68% and 72%, respectively). This is all the more striking when we breakdown by age groups within settlement type. Even though the majority of volunteers following the 2015 floods were clearly young, in Tbilisi, young people were the least likely age-settlement group to think that volunteering was important for a good citizen. 

The level of volunteering that followed the Tbilisi flood and Georgian society's agreement that volunteering is important show that there is potential in the country for the level of volunteering to increase. Policy makers, civic society and social entrepreneurs alike should consider ways to work off of the obvious spirit of volunteerism embodied by the cleanup efforts and the already supportive attitudes towards volunteerism in Georgia. 

Interested in more data about volunteerism? Check the upcoming Caucasus Barometer 2015 data that will be available by the end of the year or take a look at the 2014 Volunteering and Civic Participation in Georgia survey at

Monday, November 30, 2015

Public opinion on Georgia’s EU membership prospects in 2015

If a referendum were held tomorrow, a majority of the Georgian population (61%) would vote for the country’s membership in the European Union, according to the fourth wave of the Knowledge and Attitudes towards the EU survey carried out by CRRC-Georgia for the Eurasia Partnership Foundation in May of 2015. But anyone familiar with the situation in Georgia and the politics of EU enlargement understands that EU membership is, at best, a long term prospect for Georgia. The country’s democratic consolidation and economic development, in addition to the settlement of the oft mentioned territorial conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are crucial to Georgia’s prospects for becoming a candidate for EU membership. With this in mind, what does the Georgian public think about the country’s EU membership prospects?

Generally speaking, Georgians are optimistic in their outlook on the country’s EU membership prospects. This optimism though appears to have declined in the last two years. While in 2013 roughly a third of the Georgian public believed the country would become an EU member state within five years or less (from the period of survey fieldwork), today roughly a fifth of the population believes so.

Skepticism about eventual membership also appears to have increased. While a negligible share of the population once reported that Georgia would never join the European Union, today approximately one in ten Georgians think so. Over time, the share of Georgians who are unsure of whether Georgia will ever be an EU member state has remained relatively stable at approximately two fifths of the population.

Despite the optimism still remaining about eventual membership prospects, most Georgians recognize that the country has a fair way to develop. Between 42% and 52% of them believe that Georgia is not yet ready for EU membership when it comes to Georgian legislation’s harmonization with the EU’s, having a competitive market economy, the protection of human rights and, specifically, minority rights, rule of law, and the formation of democratic institutions. The share of the population that believes Georgia is more ready than not for EU membership in the fields noted above is between 20% and 32%.

The Georgian public recognizes a number of structural barriers as impetuses to eventual EU membership. The most commonly reported barrier is the unresolved territorial conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia (43%). This is followed by political instability (28%) and an underdeveloped economy (21%). The next two most frequently reported barriers are related to foreign policy – Russia (17%) and a lack of political will from the EU (12%).

Note: A show card was used. The respondents could choose up to three answer options. 

The Georgian population is aware of the barriers to the country’s membership in the EU, and between 2013 and 2015 the assessment of the country’s prospects to become an EU member have become more realistic. Take a look through the 2015 Knowledge and Attitudes towards the EU survey data using CRRC’s Online Data Analysis tool, here.

Parenting, gender attitudes and women’s employment in Georgia

In Georgia, unemployment is high, and it is higher among women than men. Policy changes are definitely needed not only to increase the employment opportunities, but also to ensure more equal employment opportunities for men and women. However, survey findings show that changes in Georgians’ attitudes towards gender roles are no less needed, as the population does not always support the idea of women having paid jobs – especially so, when they have young children. This blog post looks at what the population of Georgia thinks about working mothers and their ability to care for their children.

Women’s employment can be beneficial for families and societies in many ways. The potential benefits for children when they have working mothers were recently described in an article published by the Harvard Business School. The findings of a cross-national survey covering 24 countries suggest that it is good for children under the age of 14 if their mothers work, instead of staying at home full time. The study showed that the sons of working mothers are more caring for family members compared with the sons of stay-at-home mothers. Probably more importantly, daughters raised by working mothers had greater career success and more stable relationships than the daughters of stay-at-home mothers. Other studies indicate that the relationship between women’s attitudes early in life towards gender roles and their later employment is recursive: “women’s early gender role attitudes predict their [adult life] work hours and earnings, and women’s work hours predict their later gender egalitarianism” (Corrigall and Konrad, 2007).

In October 2014, CRRC-Georgia conducted a nationwide public opinion poll for the National Democratic Institute (NDI) on attitudes towards gender issues in Georgia. A representative sample of 3885 respondents was interviewed in order to explore their attitudes towards women’s participation in society and politics as well as ideas about how to improve women’s position in society.

The survey’s results indicate that female unemployment may not be considered a serious problem by Georgians, because women are believed to be capable of self-realization even if they do not have a job. Moreover, unemployed mother’s children are believed to be better off compared to the children of employed mothers. The chart below shows that 65% of Georgians believe “It is better for a preschool aged child if the mother does not work” and a smaller but still considerable share (37%) is more radical, disagreeing with the opinion that “Employed mothers can be as good caregivers to their children as mothers who do not work”. Over half (55%) of Georgians think that because of household responsibilities, women cannot be as successful in their career as men, and just below half of the population (44%) think that “Taking care of the home and family satisfies women as much as a paid job”.
Exploring these findings by gender shows that women are less likely to share traditional views regarding gender roles. Women are especially critical of the opinion that “Taking care of the home and family satisfies women as much as a paid job”, and 54% of Georgian women disagree with this opinion compared to 39% of men. It is also noteworthy that men have slightly but consistently higher rates of answering “Don’t know,” or refusing to answer these questions, which might mean that they are not really aware of women’s preferences and abilities when it comes to work-family balance.
Exploring the data by age shows that there is a tendency among young people to hold slightly more egalitarian views on gender roles compared to the older generations. Those who are 56 and older are less likely to think that “women and men equally need a job to feel self-realized,” than their younger fellow citizens.
To sum up, the data suggests that the higher level of women’s unemployment in Georgia compared to men’s may be caused, to a certain extent, by public attitudes towards gender roles. The good news is that women and young people share more egalitarian views, suggesting that the vicious circle between attitudes towards women’s employment in Georgia and their actual employment may have already started break down.

To take a deeper look into the data, explore it on our Online Data Analysis tool.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Awareness of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement in Georgia, one year on

The June 27, 2014 initialing of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement, a wide reaching, largely economic treaty, was marked with celebration in Tbilisi as the fruit of a long running diplomatic effort to tighten ties with the European Union over the course of three Georgian administrations. To date, 27 EU member states have ratified the Agreement. The EU has become a more important market for Georgian goods since the signing of the Agreement, with the share of total exports to the EU increasing from 21% in the first eight months of 2014 to 28% in the same months of 2015, according to Geostat data. Using the findings of the 2015 Knowledge and Attitudes towards the EU survey carried out by CRRC-Georgia for Eurasia Partnership Foundation, this post looks at public perceptions of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement one year on and, specifically, examines whether Georgia’s ethnic minority population’s awareness of the Agreement has increased since 2013, when a previous wave of the same survey was conducted. 

While in 2013, before the initialing of the Association Agreement, 19% of the population of Georgia reported having heard of the Agreement, today 63% report so. It should be noted, however, that this impressive increase is a measure of reported awareness and does not necessarily reflect the accuracy of information people have about the document. 

Characteristics of those aware of the Agreement fall along the lines to be expected. While half of those with secondary or lower education report having heard of the Agreement, the same is true for three quarters of those with tertiary education. People aged 36 to 55 years old are slightly more likely to report knowing about the Agreement. Interestingly, according to findings of other surveys, representatives of this age group tend to be the most informed about other issues as well, such as, NGOs. Representatives of the youngest and oldest age groups are equally aware of the Agreement (60% and 58%, respectively, report having heard of it). Finally, as is commonly found with other knowledge questions in Georgia, residents of the capital are most informed, with three quarters reporting awareness of the Agreement compared with slightly over half of the residents of other urban and rural settlements. Interestingly, men report having heard of the Association Agreement slightly more frequently than women (67% compared with 58%).

Considering that the previous, 2013 wave of the EU survey found a considerable discrepancy between awareness of the Association Agreement between Georgian speakers and ethnic minority populations, it is important to take a look at this issue in 2015. While reported awareness of the Association Agreement increased by roughly five times between 2013 and 2015 among the non-Georgian speaking, ethnic minority population (from 6% to 26%), this is still half the level of awareness of the Agreement that Georgian speakers report. 

Importantly, the non-Georgian speaking ethnic minority population who have not heard about the Association Agreement are more willing to get more information about the EU than are Georgian speakers who have not heard of the agreement. 

*Note: Only the answers of those who reported that they had not heard of the Agreement, responded that they did not know whether they had heard of the Agreement or refused to answer the question about the Association Agreement are presented in the chart above (74% of ethnic minorities and 34% of ethnic Georgians).

While the majority of the population of Georgia has heard of the Association Agreement with the European Union, slightly over a third of the population is still unaware of its existence. Lack of awareness is particularly acute among representatives of ethnic minorities, but considering that many of those who are unaware of the Agreement are interested in finding out more about the EU, both the Government of Georgia and the European Union could consider public information campaigns on the Association Agreement. As in the past, this is particularly important in ethnic minority settlements where knowledge of the EU and EU-Georgia Association Agreement is much lower than in the rest of Georgia.

To look into the subject more, take a look at the data using the CRRC’s Online Data Analysis tool, here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

2015 EU survey report: Major trends and recommendations

The Knowledge of and Attitudes towards the European Union in Georgia 2015 survey report was presented today by Eurasia Partnership Foundation (EPF) in Tbilisi.

Four waves of the survey were conducted within the framework of EPF’s European Integration program in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015, and the data provides information about the dynamics of opinion, attitudes and knowledge over the last seven years. The surveys were conducted by CRRC-Georgia, and the data is free to access on CRRC’s online data analysis platform.

The major findings of the 2015 survey discussed in the report include:

  • Support for EU integration is still strong among the population of Georgia, but compared to 2013, the share of those who would vote for EU integration, if a referendum were held tomorrow, dropped from 78% to 61%; 
  • The fear that the EU will harm Georgian culture and traditions has increased in Georgian society. This fear appears to have contributed to the decrease in the number of supporters of Georgia’s EU membership;
  • As was the case in 2013, representatives of the ethnic minority population are the least knowledgeable about the EU and its activities in Georgia, although there is evidence of impressive increases in their knowledge after 2013. Residents of the capital, on the other hand, are the best informed about the EU; 
  • The population believes that high-ranking Georgian officials benefit more from EU assistance provided to Georgia than regular people do, and knows very little about EU assistance to the general public.
  • The Georgian population’s trust towards crucial social and political institutions has been decreasing. The population expresses the least trust in those social institutions, which, potentially, could ensure the democratic development of society – such as NGOs, Parliament, political parties, media and local government. 

Based on the most important findings of the survey, EPF has come up with the following recommendations for the Government of Georgia, the EU, nongovernmental organizations operating in Georgia, the mass media, and representatives of academic institutions both in Georgia and EU countries. It is recommended:

  1. That more attention is paid to the coverage of EU-related issues in the traditional media (first and foremost, on television) rather than the Internet, which is often not available in remote rural settlements. Of course, this does not mean relaxing efforts to spread information via the Internet – online resources should be maintained as an important source of information, but efforts should be enhanced to inform those segments of the population who do not use the Internet. Actors should coordinate efforts to produce more informational and educational TV programs about the EU, its aims and its role. Information should be prepared not only in Georgian, but also in the Azerbaijani and Armenian languages.
  2. That documents concerning EU assistance spending are made public and accessible, thereby informing society about the diverse profile of its actual beneficiaries. Journalists may produce reports and/or programs recounting the personal stories of ordinary people – farmers, students, nurses, etc. – about the role of EU assistance in their lives. It is important to cover the stories of beneficiaries in various sectors, for example - education, healthcare, civic engagement, the rule of law and the protection of human rights. 
  3. That the reasons behind the fear that the EU is threatening Georgian culture and traditions are thoroughly studied, in order to understand the nature of this fear and the reasons that have contributed to its intensification since 2013. Actors should find ways of relieving or eliminating the fear. Coming to an understanding of what exactly people see as “Georgian traditions”, which of these are being threatened and how, could be a first step in this direction. 
  4. That efforts are enhanced to increase the efficiency of governmental and nongovernmental organizations operating in the country in order to boost the population’s trust in these institutions. One of the first steps in this direction may be a thorough study into the reasons for distrust in the population.

The 2015 EU survey report is available online, here. Over the coming week, we will post a number of blog posts highlighting some of the major findings of the report.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Educated parents, educated children?

Numerous scholars stress that parents’ level of education has a tremendous impact on their children’s educational attainment, as the parents are the first role models and teachers. According to Gratz, children of parents with higher levels of education are more likely to receive tertiary education than people whose parents have lower levels of education. There are a variety of opinions about whether a person’s educational attainment is more closely related to that of his/her father’s or mother’s; still, more and more researchers stress that both parents have an important influence on their child’s education.

This blog post is based on data from the Volunteering and Civic Participation in Georgia survey carried out by CRRC-Georgia in April-May, 2014. The findings allow us to see whether parents’ and their children’s educational attainments are correlated.

The survey provides information on:

  • Highest level of education completed by the respondent; 
  • Highest level of education completed by respondent’s mother;
  • Highest level of education completed by respondent’s father;
  • Respondent’s self-assessed proficiency in Russian and English languages, and;
  • Respondent’s self-assessed proficiency in computer use (Microsoft Office programs, excluding games). 

For the analysis performed for this blog post, the data was not weighted.

In line with what earlier studies suggest, Volunteering and Civic Participation in Georgia survey data also show that a person’s mother’s and father’s levels of education are strongly correlated. At the same time, the levels of education of both the mother and father are only moderately correlated with that of the respondent. Still, respondents’ level of education is slightly more strongly correlated with the father’s level of education than the mother’s (see the table below). However, the correlation between the levels of education of the respondent and his/her mother or father weakens when we control for the level of education of another parent.

* The level of education is measured on an ordinal scale with values from 1 to 8 ( 1 – “No primary education,” 2 – “Primary education,” 3 – “Incomplete secondary education,” 4 – “Completed secondary education,” 5 – “Secondary technical education,” 6 – “Incomplete higher education,” 7 – “Completed higher education,” 8 – “PhD, Postdoc or a similar degree”). In order to come up with both parents’ combined level of education, codes for mother’s and father’s levels of education were summed (e.g., mother’s secondary technical education, code 5 and father’s completed secondary education, code 4 would add up to code 9 on the combined scale). This combined scale ranges from 2 to 16; the higher the resulting code, the higher the level of education of both parents taken together, and vice versa. 

The chart below shows that when at least one of the parents has tertiary education, the respondent is statistically more likely to also have tertiary education compared to people with parents who do not have tertiary education. This is confirmed by results of a Kruskal-Wallis test.

* The original question on the highest level of education achieved by the respondent has been recoded. Answer options “No primary education”, “Primary education”, “Incomplete secondary education”, and “Completed secondary education” were combined into “Secondary or lower education.” Answer options “Incomplete higher education”, “Completed higher education”, and “PhD, PostDoc or a similar degree” were combined into “Tertiary education”. 
** The original variables on the highest level of education achieved by respondent’s mother and father were recoded into the variable “Parents’ education” covering all possible combinations of the parents’ level of education: (1) both parents have tertiary education; (2) both parents have secondary technical or lower education; (3) father has tertiary education, mother has secondary technical or lower education; (4) mother has tertiary education, father has secondary technical or lower education. 

As for individuals’ self-assessed proficiency in foreign languages and computer use (Microsoft Office programs, excluding games), more respondents whose parents have tertiary education  report an advanced level of knowledge in these areas compared to those whose parents’ level of education is lower. Not surprisingly, the share reporting advanced knowledge of how to use computers is even higher when both parents have tertiary education compared to when only one parent has tertiary education. Interestingly, when only one parent has tertiary education, the level of knowledge of English is reported to be higher when it is the mother who has tertiary education, rather than the father. The Mann-Whitney test shows this difference is statistically significant.

Thus, the data shows that the levels of education of both parents are strongly correlated with each other, while respondent’s level of education is moderately correlated with that of each of his/her parents. The data shows that parents’ levels of education are most strongly correlated to the child’s when the mother’s and father’s levels of education are combined. The respondent’s level of education tends to be higher when at least one of the parents, no matter whether it is the mother or the father, has tertiary education. The same is true about self-reported level of knowledge of foreign languages (English and Russian) and computer use (Microsoft Office programs, excluding games). Those whose mothers have tertiary education report better knowledge of English.

For more information about parents’ level of education and their child’s occupation, take a look at these earlier blog posts: A taxi driver’s tale, Part 1  and Part 2. Also, check out our Online Data Analysis tool.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Making energy matters matter: entering the electoral field

[Editor’s note: This is the seventh post in the series Thinking about Think Tanks in the South Caucasus, co-published with On Think Tanks. It was written by Tutana Kvaratskhelia of World Experience for Georgia. The views expressed in this post are the author's alone and do not represent the views of CRRC-Georgia]

Elections are coming in Georgia. Although some thinktankers suggest that elections are a difficult time for think tanks to find an audience, it has also been pointed out that they present opportunities to contribute to the democratic process. At World Experience for Georgia (WEG), in part inspired by previous posts on think tanks and elections at On Think Tanks, we decided to see whether we could indeed help to shape an important debate.

To do so, we developed a set of activities (more on this below) to try to insert energy policy into the pre-electoral debate. Before getting into the details, some background is important.

WEG, Georgian elections and energy policy

WEG is a boutique think tank in Georgia, primarily focusing on the energy sector but also on sustainable development more broadly. Energy issues have strategic importance for the country, but the growing role of foreign interests in Georgia’s energy sector, the lack of transparency in government dealings, and the pre-election populist promises made by politicians, increase the country’s vulnerability to external influences during the election cycle.

In Georgian elections past, political parties have promoted populist, vague and sometimes unrealistic promises that they can rarely keep. While this may not be unusual in some respects, some of the promises have been particularly outlandish when it comes to energy policy. For example, during the 2012 electoral campaign, then candidate and now former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili announced that it was possible to instantly slash electricity bills in half, using Georgia’s sizeable hydroelectric resources. Two months after coming to power, he confessed that the calculations about tariffs were wrong, and he might have overstated what was really possible.

In order to safeguard Georgia’s interests through developing energy security and a European political orientation, WEG has decided to actively participate in pre-election discussions surrounding energy policy in Georgia.

Our proposal: Introducing evidence based policy to the campaign

Electoral campaigns have yet to reach full speed as the elections are still a year away, but to accomplish the above goal, we have started to think about how to make political promises rely on realistic policy options and how we (and think tanks more broadly) can insert our proposals and data into pre-electoral campaigns, leading to impact. As a result, we have developed a strategy for advocating for evidence based energy policy during Georgia’s upcoming electoral campaigns. The strategy consists of three main areas of activity:

  1. Critical examination of energy issues before the elections – here, we intend to review and analyze the main problems in Georgia’s energy sector. These include the growing influence of other countries in the domestic energy sector, grey areas in legislation and practices, which when coupled with unrealistic populist promises by political parties pose risks to the country’s independence.
  2. Monitor the party programs during the run up to the elections – this will enable engaged citizens to independently contrast the different policy positions of parties and make an informed choice in the elections. If political parties have not publicly declared their policies, then WEG will contact them directly and request their positions on energy issues. We will analyze their manifestos on a number of relevant indicators.
  3. Increase public awareness about populist and potentially harmful policies – we are going to communicate with journalists and send them questions to ask while covering the election campaigns. We will also organize roundtable discussions and presentations of our monitoring results during this period. 
We hope that our activities will have some impact on pre-electoral discourse and if successful that it will provide a framework for think tanks in other sectors in Georgia to emulate.

It is important to note that we are not reinventing the wheel here – reviewing the problems facing a society, monitoring political programs and promises, and public awareness and roundtable events are bread and butter think tank activities. This suggests that if it works, the model will face low adoption costs by other think tanks and provide some organizations which are skeptical of election years as working years a familiar model to work off of.

All the above said, we are still in the process of thinking about and discussing what our options are and how we can improve our strategy. Any additional suggestions or remarks would be highly appreciated. If you have some, please do share them in the comments section below.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Household income and consumption patterns in Georgia

After the collapse of the Georgian economy in the 1990s, the country slowly started to recover, and between 2000 and 2014, the gross national income grew from $3.4 billion to $16.7 billion (in current USD). According to the National Statistics Office of Georgia, the official unemployment rate in Georgia was 12.4% in 2014, but according to numerous surveys the rate is much higher. Compounding matters, the low salaries of the majority of those who are employed make it difficult for many families to make ends meet. According to World Bank statistics in 2012, 15% of Georgians still live below the national poverty line, which is slightly under $1.25 a day.

Classic micro-economic theory tells us that consumption depends on income levels, but also on the type of good. Normal goods, a good example of which in Georgia would be an Opel Astra if we are talking about cars, are consumed less when income falls. Inferior goods, on the other hand, are consumed when consumers do not have enough money to buy something better – with cars, one would choose a Zaporozhets instead of an Opel. Or, when a family’s budget is tight, they might buy no-name sports shoes rather than Nikes, or a standard mobile phone rather than a smart phone. Finally, demand for luxury goods (a Land Rover instead of an Opel) increases more than proportionately as incomes increase.

Recently, we saw that most people in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia cannot afford to buy certain durable goods. But, when income is scarce, it also obviously influences everyday choices, such as what to eat for dinner, when to turn on the heater, and whether to buy your child that chocolate bar she really wants.  

So how does the consumption of everyday goods differ by income level in Georgia? The chart below shows the percentage of households in Georgia which report restricting consumption of certain foods because of their limited income.

Note: The original scale measuring household income was recoded for this chart. GEL was converted into USD. The income groups “USD 401-800”, “USD 801-1200” and “More than USD 1200” were combined into “More than USD 400” and the groups “USD 0”, “Up to USD 50” and “USD 51-100” were combined into  “Up to USD 100”. Only “yes” answers are reported. Error bars indicate a 95% confidence interval.

As expected, the percentages of households limiting consumption differ by income group, with households in the highest income group limiting their consumption the least. Importantly, this trend is obvious in spite of the fact that we did not control for the size of households for this blog posts, i.e. did not take into account per capita income of the household members, or number of children or elderly in the households.

Even in the group with the highest household income, about one in four households limits consumption of beef – and reports doing so solely due to budgetary difficulties. In the $251-400 income group, between 8% (potatoes) and 54% (beef) of Georgians say they restrict consumption of certain goods. In households with an income between $101-250 these shares increase to 14% and 76%. In the poorest households, with less than $100 income per month, four out of five households report limiting consumption of beef and one out of five limits even the consumption of staple foods like potatoes.

In each income group, the highest percentage of households limits consumption of beef and sweets/chocolate, while the smallest percentage limits consumption of potatoes. Milk and vegetables are somewhere in between. In addition to the obvious explanation suggesting that higher shares of households limit consumption of beef and sweets/chocolate simply because these are relatively expensive, this trend might also be explained by what economist call income elasticity of demand. The concept is a measure of how sensitive consumption is to changes in income. Among food products, beef and sweets are probably seen more as luxury rather than absolute necessities, because of comparatively high prices and potential substitutes.

Hence, how Georgians limit their food consumption differs by both income group and type of food. Yet, looking at this issue only from the monetary income perspective does not take into account cases when, in rural settlements, families produce their food themselves.

Interested in this or a similar topic? Browse the Caucasus Barometer and other CRRC survey data here.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Nine things politicians should know about Georgian voters

When discussing political competition in Georgia, some politicians bemoan Georgian voters: they describe the majority of voters as socially conservative and economically short-sighted. Therefore, parties have few options to campaign on, beyond promising immediate benefits or subsidies, while keeping silent about liberal values and an open economy.

This blog post shows that despite significant problems related to political competition in the country, the blame directed towards voters is exaggerated. Based on a small scale pilot survey of 342 voters in suburban Tbilisi (representative of the voters living in Gldani and Samgori districts of Tbilisi), and conducted between March and April of 2015, this post shows that voters’ preferences are more nuanced than some politicians give credit for. In fact, voters often hold seemingly conflicting views. Hence, this blog post claims that Georgian political parties have many options to put forward effective electoral programs for the 2016 parliamentary elections.

The questionnaire contained 14 pairs of questions about voters’ preferences on economic and social issues. Most of these pairs of questions included statements with opposed meanings that were read out in a random order. The respondents were asked to agree or disagree with each statement using a scale from 0 (“Completely disagree”) to 10 (“Completely agree”). Hence, the survey helps not only to understand voters’ preferences, but also to examine inconsistencies between the voters’ positions on opposed statements.

Descriptive analysis of the data leads us to observe that Georgian political parties would find helpful. These observations are grouped below under nine major issues, with mean scores for the respective statement, measured on an 11-point scale, reported in parenthesis. All reported differences are significant as tested using t-test. The data was not weighted, hence we use “voters” and “respondents” interchangeably throughout this blog post.

  1. Economic liberalism: Voters are quite liberal on some economic issues, such as the state’s role in income redistribution and business ownership. For example, more respondents supported the statement that “The Government should provide equal opportunities for economic activity and then should not get involved in income redistribution” (7.85) than the statement that “The government should increase taxes for the rich to finance the poor” (5.33). Moreover, more respondents endorsed business ownership and investments in the country regardless of the investors’ nationality (5.52) compared to reserving business ownership to Georgian nationals alone (4.68).     
  2. Land ownership: Respondents do not mind if foreigners invest in the Georgian economy and own a business, but most believe that the land should be owned by Georgian citizens, no matter how the owner uses it (6.73). The opposing statement – that the owner’s nationality does not matter in so far as s/he uses the land profitably – received relatively low approval (4.37).
  3. Government spending: As much as respondents appreciate the idea of limited government interference in the economy, they do expect the government to increase social spending, even if this requires cutting money from infrastructure development (6.99). Significantly, fewer respondents supported the option of developing infrastructure even if it requires reduced social spending (3.51).
  4. Support for democracy: Voters are very liberal in terms of human rights and participatory governance: an overwhelming majority supports the idea that “human rights are a supreme value and should always be protected” (9.19). In contrast, relatively few respondents believe that the state’s interests should prevail over human rights (4.20). Even fewer voters endorse a strong leader who makes decisions for the good of the country (2.99).The vast majority of respondents approve of an elected leader who makes all the important decisions in consultation with the public (7.88).  
  5. Prioritizing traditions: Support for democratic values is not unconditional. If such values clash with traditions, respondents expect the government to sacrifice freedom for the sake of tradition. More voters say that the government should restrict publishing any information which contradicts the traditions of society (6.18), than voters who believe that publishing any information is the publisher’s sole responsibility and the state should not get involved (4.76). 
  6. The split over secularism: It is well known that the Georgian Orthodox Church has been the most respected institution in the country for the past decade. Voters are, however, split on the issue of the church’s involvement in politics: secularists are in the majority (“Religious institutions should not participate in political decision-making” – 5.76). Yet, quite a few respondents believe that, “In policy making, politicians should obey religious institutions” (4.73). 
  7. Law enforcement: Voters support stricter law enforcement than what they witness in today’s Georgia. More respondents report that “The police are too lenient on the people who break the law” (6.05) than agree with the opposing statement (3.64).
  8. Inconsistent preferences: If voters’ preferences were perfectly consistent, opposed statements would be negatively correlated with a coefficient of -1. However, no pairwise correlation is so strong: the highest correlation coefficients are observed for the land ownership and law enforcement questions (-.56), followed by the questions on religious institutions and business ownership (-.47). It is noteworthy that respondents did not see pairs of statements on the government’s role in income redistribution and freedom of information as having opposed meanings. 
  9. Issues and parties: Increasingly, Georgian voters do not identify with any political party, i.e. they do not name any political party which is “close” to them. It is a very relevant question for all political parties to find out whether such voters are systematically different from their fellow citizens who support a political party. This survey shows that party identification is not a significant factor for issue preferences. Moreover, inconsistency of preferences is also not related to party identification, showing that non-partisan voters are not more confused than partisan voters. 

Georgia’s political parties will soon enter a very important race to win votes in the 2016 parliamentary elections. This blog post shows that the window of opportunity for political parties to pursue meaningful electoral programs is quite wide: voters have a range of preferences on significant policy issues such as the state’s role in the economy, human rights, democratic governance, freedom of information, state-religion relations and law enforcement. Surely, a larger, representative sample and deeper analysis is needed to describe Georgian voters in more profundity, but one thing is clear: rational political actors will benefit from systematic and comprehensive study of voter preferences before making judgments about their opportunities and constraints.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Common challenges, common solutions

[Editor's note: This is the sixth in a series of blog posts co-published with On Think Tanks. The views expressed within this blog series are the authors alone and do not represent the views of CRRC-Georgia.]

By Dustin Gilbreath

So far, in this series think tankers working in the South Caucasus have reflected on the issues challenging their countries’ think tank sector. In many ways, some fundamental problems lie at the heart of the specific problems, and I think they can more or less be summed up as problems with language and audience; quality of research; funding; and transparency. This post takes a look at one of these challenges – language and audience – and considers some things that might nudge the region’s think tanks forward.

Language and audience

Language, and specifically the demand for English outputs from donors, limits the size of the audience of research in the region. Zaur Shiriyev has described how the use of English in Azerbaijan in the 90s (and presumably to this day to a large extent) limited the public’s access to research, and Jenny Patruyan reflected on English-centric nature of think tank websites in Armenia. Definitely, different phenomenon, but language is still the underlying problem, and both authors’ issue with language comes from the fact that only an elite or foreign audience can access the research. Notably, funding was cited as one of the reasons for the English language outputs, and donors might help address this problem by requiring publications in both languages (and of course, should also fund translation and/or editing if they do).

When it comes to audience, I don’t think any of the contributors to this series have bemoaned think tanks’ efforts to reach elites so much as highlighted that organizations should consider broadening the reach of their research rather than targeting elites alone. To me at least, expanding to a broader audience seems like a good idea, maybe not for all organizations, but for many. To do this, first everything has to be in an accessible language, but just as importantly it should be in a form that someone will actually consume – only the most dedicated reader will take the time to go through a 50 page policy paper.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t need policy papers anymore, but rather that think tanks here should try to pair their longer, more demanding of the reader outputs with simpler and more accessible ones. Infographics and even products think tanks wouldn’t normally consider producing like games should be options that are on the table. Some progress has been made on the digestibility front, and Jumpstart Georgia’s work provides strong examples for other organizations in the region.

Something that would not only help with the language/audience problem, but also probably contribute to developing quality would be the development of something resembling Think Tank Review. Although the original was spurred on by the need to get policy makers to actually read reports, the organization, in practice, also spreads, archives, and reviews think tank work. For the South Caucasus, there would need to be translation into local languages (and potentially Russian) on top of TTR’s usual work, but language aside, it could improve quality by letting researchers know their work could be reviewed. As internet access is prevalent throughout the region, and most 18-55 year olds here know how to use the internet, something like TTR could bridge the elite to general public gap. Notably, a regional site would help this divided region stay better informed about the goings on of their neighbors, and could serve as a platform for discussing the larger issues facing the South Caucasus as a region rather than as individual countries. Moreover, policy success could be shared and reflected upon.

Of course, these are just a few ideas, which might make dents in the problems described so far in this series. Have other thoughts? Let’s have a conversation in the comments section below.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Do Think Tanks in Georgia Lobby for Foreign Powers?

[Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of blog posts co-published with On Think Tanks. The views expressed within this blog series are the authors alone and do not represent the views of CRRC-Georgia.]

By Till Bruckner

If you work on policy issues in a transition or developing country, you probably know the standard line on think tanks by heart. Local think tanks build domestic research capacity, improve policy formulation processes and outcomes, and enrich and enhance democratic debates, thereby contributing to the emergence of more democratic, wealthy, and equitable societies. (Yes, you may copy and paste this into your next fundraising proposal if you wish).

Below, just for the heck of it, I’ll make the counterargument. Here’s the rival hypothesis:

Most local think tanks in transition or developing countries do not conduct real research. They just act as front groups for foreign lobbying campaigns. Western powers fund them to capture domestic policy formulation processes and distort democracy. Acting in concert with equally remote-controlled, faux-local NGOs and media, think tanks use foreign funds to push foreign agendas, creating a heavily tilted playing field on which the politics and policies favoured by the West always come out top, and on which real democracy can never emerge.

In September 2014, when the New York Times alleged that foreign donors were attempting to “buy influence” by bankrolling major think tanks in D.C., it caused an outcry across America. Congress rapidly reacted and soon after adopted a new rule requiring Congressional witnesses employed by think tanks to reveal any foreign funding that they and their parent organization had received. One lawmaker pushed foreign funding for non-profits onto the agenda of an upcoming review of foreign lobbying safeguards. A whole year after the event, some think tanks still seem to feel a bit shaken by the whole hullabaloo.

These revelations were enough to spark a protracted and sometimes paranoia-tinged debate on how foreign funding of think tanks might actually be foreign lobbying in disguise, and how such sinister practices threaten to distort American democracy and exert undue influence on foreign policy formulation in D.C. 

Ironically, America was at the same time conducting sustained, highly orchestrated and lavishly funded foreign lobbying campaigns via think tanks to pry the countries of Eurasia away from Russia and to build elite and popular support for a rival pro-Western path consisting of NATO membership, EU accession, and free market reforms. 

The thing is, nobody in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus or Central Asia called them lobbying campaigns. Instead, we called them “democracy promotion”. Or “civil society strengthening”. And American funding for local think tanks and local NGOs – the borders are blurred as both tend to tank far more than they think – was a key element of these lobbying attempts.

The following description of USAID’s More Transparent and Accountable Governance program in Georgia neatly illustrates how America’s foreign lobbying efforts work: pour money into think tanks, NGOs and the media – not to promote independent policy research and critical thinking, but to push pre-defined Western policy agendas:

“[T]he project will focus on strategic policy issues identified jointly by USAID and GoG partners… The project will provide support in advancing these issues through Georgia’s policy development and law-making systems and processes. In complementary fashion, support to CSOs and journalists under this project will align with the same set of strategic priorities where possible… Georgian CSOs, particularly think tanks, will receive training on similar skills under the civil society component of this project.”

While some pundits in America get paranoid about think tanks with a bit of foreign funding in their portfolios, USAID posts a comprehensive foreign lobbying strategy on its Georgian website – and nobody considers this unusual. 

Considering foreign actors’ role in Georgia’s Rose Revolution and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, and USAID’s apparent willingness to use foreign aid as an inducement in explicitly quid pro quo foreign lobbying deals, this is surprising; even in bigger and more resilient Germany, some people are beginning to raise the alarm about possible democratic distortions as a result of American-funded non-profits’ maneuverings

Efforts by governments abroad to boost non-profit oversight and regulation tend to be dismissed almost reflexively as ‘crackdowns’ by many Western donors and their chorus line of NGO grantees, even in the case of mature democracies such as India. These opponents of meaningful government oversight frequently forget – or choose to ignore – that even the world’s oldest democracy, the United Kingdom, places restrictions on the political activities of non-profits, including those that are entirely domestically funded. 

If a foreign government designed and funded a similar programme in the U.S., the participating NGOs and think tanks would almost certainly need to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, forcing them to document and subsequently disclose their financial dealings and interactions with officials in great detail

Non-profit regulation is a minefield in every country, balancing the imperative to preserve freedom of speech (including donor-funded speech) on the one hand, and the desire to protect democratic debating space from excessive distortions by powerful and wealthy vested interests (specifically donor interests) on the other. 

(See here for an especially good attempt to strike such a balance through dialogue.)

In Georgia, two decades of largely unregulated, nearly 100% Western-funded think tanking have had positive outcomes in terms of policy, but arguably negative outcomes in terms of politics. 

On the positive side, think tanks have largely delivered on their promise in terms of policy development: they have helped to build domestic research capacity and to improve policy formulation processes and public debates around specific policies, and they deserve a lot of credit for this.

On the negative side, I have witnessed how, over time, think tanks in Georgia have narrowed the field for democratic debate. There’s something impoverished about a political landscape in which every single think tank paper seems to be pro-Western, pro-NATO, pro-E.U., pro-market, and even pro-gay rights, with the scope of inquiry reduced on to how best and fastest to join NATO, join the EU, open markets and privatize, and safeguard minority rights. 

Meanwhile, alternative voices, choices and options have been pushed to the margins of media coverage, public debate, and eventually electoral politics, in the process politically marginalizing Georgian voters with different ideological leanings by robbing them of voice, choice and representation. NATO-or-Putin, privatization-or-communism, gays-or-gulags – only idiots and traitors would dissent.

Some observers lament America’s polarized think tank landscape with its endless dialectic clashes between Heritage, Cato, the Center for American Progress & Co., but they miss that each side in every debate should get a chance to articulate, refine and communicate its views through rival think tanks. In Georgia, there is no such democratic competition, as only one ideological side has all the think tanks, all of which financially depend on a cabal of Western donors with overlapping agendas. 

What can Georgians do to reclaim and diversify their domestic political space? One option is the German model of funding for think tanks tied to political parties with public money. Another is for think tanks to mobilize more money from domestic donors. Either way, if Georgians want to have a healthy democracy, sooner or later they will have to start paying the bills. 

Till Bruckner spent several years living in Georgia, where he witnessed the Rose Revolution while shilling for sinister foreign interests in a variety of roles, including think tank ventriloquist, NGO stooge, and journalistic parrot. He later wrote his PhD thesis on accountability in international aid in Georgia, focusing on the political economy of aid and non-profit accountability. His collection of hats currently includes freelance journalism, think tanking, and running advocacy efforts for Transparify, an initiative promoting greater think tank transparency worldwide. This article was researched and written in a private capacity. None of the views expressed here should in any way be taken to represent the views of Transparify or of any other organization.

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the authors' alone and do not necessarily represent the views of CRRC.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The development of Azerbaijani think tanks and their role in public policy discourse

[Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of blog posts co-published with On Think Tanks. The views expressed within this blog series are the authors alone, and do not represent the views of CRRC-Georgia.]

By Zaur Shiriyev

The development of local think tanks in Azerbaijan has taken a different route to that followed by most other post-Soviet states and Eastern European countries. In the Eastern Bloc countries, research institutes modeled on Western think tanks became increasingly popular following the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, in Azerbaijan this did not happen, largely due to domestic political developments in the early 1990s.

Barriers to development

During the latter years of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijani social science research institutions educated the public and raised awareness about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with neighboring Armenia as well as national history. They did so by publishing books and making media appearances, which had previously been subject to censorship and/or propaganda under the Soviet regime.

Members of academies and universities played a role in popular uprisings against the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s, and held government positions immediately after independence. However, after a change in government in 1993, most of these people entered opposition politics rather than returning to academia or setting up research institutions that could promote new ideas or policy recommendations for the government.

Without a doubt, research capacity was also weak. Academics were unable to integrate Western social science methodologies into their discourses, and instead, old Marxist dogmas mixed with nationalist rhetoric prevailed. Therefore, despite their early role in public enlightenment, the research institutions did not develop.

Thus, the National Academy of Science – which encompassed over thirty scientific institutions and organizations – remained locked in Soviet tradition, whereby they served the state without any aim of playing a constructive role in stimulating or shaping public discourse.  This was the main difference between Azerbaijan and its neighbors, and from the outset weakened the role of research institutions in shaping the political agenda and public opinion.

These two factors – the lack of post-independence capacity building for old research institutions and a political environment that resisted the establishment of Western-style research organizations – were the main barriers to the development of the think tank sector during the first decade of independence. But a number of other factors also contributed.

In the early 1990s, Western funds were used to increase civil society capacity through the creation of NGOs, aimed at supporting democratic development. In pursuit of funding, NGOs called themselves “research institutions” or “think tanks” to increase their chances of securing funds. This led to the creation of increasing numbers of so-called think tanks in Azerbaijan. All that was required by foreign donors from these self-declared think tanks though was official NGO registration status. But, with a tiny number of employees and limited, grant-based funding, these NGOs struggled to fulfill their promises. The pursuit of funding also led to the “one man think tank” phenomenon, and in 2014, there were more than 3000 NGOs in Azerbaijan, and roughly 70-120 of them used ‘think tank’ or ‘research institution’ in their name.

This quasi-think tank community lacked Western-trained academics and experienced scholars, and the standard of work tended to be relatively low. Adding impetus to the problem, rapidly changing donor preferences in regard to subject matter meant that no one had a chance to develop real expertise in any one area (This also took place in Georgia, as observed by Ghia Nodia).

The factors outlined above posed significant institutional challenges, but perhaps even more important was the extent to which think tanks were prevented from participating in public discourse.
Until the end of the 1990s, media censorship limited the public appearances of researchers. Compounding matters, researchers were often working on topics that did not attract public interest. Moreover, funding often came with the stipulation that reports be produced in English, which seriously limited organizations’ audiences to a more educated and informed public.

When experts did appear in the media to discuss political issues, they tended to display partisanship, rather than presenting objective analysis. Weak analytical research skills and the absence of any real policy dialogue with the government undermined this community in the eyes of the public. Clearly, think tanks needed to cooperate and engage with political elites, but the poor relationship between the two sectors prevented this from happening. Moreover, the government did not seek the advice of research institutions, as they lacked the capacity to provide input on, for instance, the development of the economy and energy sectors. Instead, it turned to international expertise. Thus it was international experience that supported the creation of key national institutions like the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan. The government also needed to increase its influence in Western capitals, especially in the US. While policy research institutes could have played a valuable role here, the government, seeking what it saw as an easier and cheaper alternative, invested in lobbyists.


The development of the expert community’s capacity began in the mid-2000s and stemmed from government initiative and greater human capital. On the governmental side, this process was initiated due to its greater financial resources, its need for institutions to advise it, and the desire to build and integrate a pro-government research community into its overseas lobbying strategy.
In 2007, the establishment of a government funded think tank (the Center for Strategic Studies, or SAM) marked the start of this process. In the same year, Parliament approved the concept of state support to NGOs, establishing the Council on State Support to Non-Governmental Organizations under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The first NGO Support Fund, which gave small research grants to NGOs, required that grant recipients disseminate their research via media appearances. The establishment of the Science Development Foundation in 2009 increased funding opportunities for academic research. In prioritizing research activities, the government sought to improve its national and international image.

The government’s motivation’s aside, there emerged a group of people who had gained experience working at think tanks abroad, primarily in Turkey. Many of them had been educated in prestigious US and European universities. This new human capital dramatically changed things, and the new generation opened up a way to avoid working for government-funded think tanks and research institutions by establishing independent organizations.  But the early – unrealized – expectation was that this investment in human capital could lead to the establishment of a think-tank that could offer a model for others in future, as seen in Turkey. For instance, in Turkey, the 2000s saw the establishment of non-state think tanks- a key model in this regard was the Center for Eurasian Strategic Studies, or ASAM (Avrasya Stratejik Araştırmalar Merkezi); after that other think tanks proliferated based on that example.

In turn, this prompted foreign donors to take a more selective approach to grant allocation. They began to select institutions with the resources and capabilities needed to produce quality research. In 2008, Open Society Institute launched the “Program for Assistance to Analytical Centers”, aimed at improving the quality of political research and ensuring the sustainable development of independent political research institutions. Additionally, increased research funds from the EU within the European Neighborhood Policy framework and requirements for sector-specific research – e.g. on conflict resolution – created a more competitive environment for research institutions, leading to higher quality outputs.

All of the above enabled Azerbaijani think tanks to begin playing a larger role, which is demonstrated by the University of Pennsylvania’s Go-Think tank Report – in 2014, there were fourteen Azerbaijani think tanks listed, up from twelve in 2010.


Notwithstanding the positive developments, there is still work to be done.
First, state funded think tanks and research centers have a strong tendency to orient their work towards international audiences, limiting local impact and capacity building, for instance, by improving access to policy research and debate by establishing high-quality policy publications in the Azerbaijani language.

Second, the parameters of enriching public discourse have shifted over the past decade. If in the 1990s, local media appearances were a priority for members of the expert community in stimulating public discourse, today, the combination of a proliferation of poor quality online media outlets together with increased informal state censorship of media has meant that most experts now prefer to publish in international media.

Television remains the main source of news for the majority of the population outside the capital, but expert participation is low. Particularly troublesome is the fact that there are no high-quality analytical programs that could serve as a bridge between the think tank community and the public which would broaden the scope of discourse and debate.

Third, legislative amendments to the Law on NGOs have placed serious limits on foreign funding, and most foreign funded NGOs operating as think tanks – regardless of the quality of their work – are struggling to survive. In general, the successful development of think tanks in international practice has relied heavily on philanthropy, which is absent in Azerbaijan. Thus in the absence of a competitive environment, which is further compounded by the lack of the financial resources, there has been a monopolization of the research market by a few experienced groups.


The development of think tanks in Azerbaijan has faced serious challenges since the 1990s, when Western funding for the development of research centers lacked clear criteria and led the creation of quasi research institutions and one-man think tanks. The distinction between an NGO and think tank remains blurred. In general, think tanks played a minimal role in the shaping of public discussion during the 1990s.

The 2000s saw the creation of some higher capacity think tanks, but as before, the scope of the research was geared towards international audiences rather than the local public. As a consequence, high-quality policy journals and media outlets operating in Azerbaijani never developed. The shift to digital media led to the deterioration of research quality, pushing many professionals to publish in international journals rather than local ones, with the ultimate consequence of limiting the role of think tanks in public discourse.

Overall, the experience of Azerbaijan differs from other post-Soviet countries, especially in the former Eastern Bloc countries, not only because the latter benefited from greater Western investment in institution building, but also because in most of these countries the integration of scientific research into decision-making supported a smooth political process.

Currently, after more than two decades of experience in this field, there are a few main concerns and challenges for the development of the think-tank community that can be identified. The first is financial; without independent financial support, how can non-state think-tanks be developed? Second, given the proliferation of quasi think-tanks, what model for development can be followed, and specifically, can the establishment of research institutions in universities offer a better model for future development? Last but not least, taking into account that the integration of the non-state think-tank community into the policy making process remains impossible, what kind of steps should be taken to improve long term public outreach? One thought is establishing a common online platform for high-quality Azerbaijani language analysis. Have others? Tweet at me here.