|From Intelligence Studies to Think Tank’s Studies
In recent years, the party and the state attach great attention to the development of think banks. On the April of 2013, President Xi Jinping gave instructions on the development of think tanks with Chinese characteristics. He pointed out that think tanks were an important component of a country’s soft power and encouraged to build a group of high-end think tanks with international influence.?Decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on Some Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening the Reform, adopted at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th?Central Committee of the CPC on the November of 2013, proposed to accelerate the development of new think tanks with Chinese characteristics and to build a sound decision consultation system. This is the first time the concept of think tanks has been mentioned in a document of CPC central committee. On the October of 2014, the central deep reform group discussed and approved the?Opinions on Strengthening the Development of New Think Tanks with Chinese Characteristics. From then on, “think tank” becomes a popular political and academic term.
Recently, there has been a heated discussion among the circle of library science, information science and archives science. Some information scientists hold the opinion that information science should separate itself from library science and archives science and incorporate itself with military informatics, public security informatics, cyber informatics and so on into a first-level discipline. From this perspective, this article attempts to explore the relationship between information studies, reference and consulting services and the think tanks’ studies.
1. The Dual Meanings of Informatics with Chinese Characteristics
Informatics is a concept with Chinese characteristics in our country. Japanese can understand our idea of informatics, but Americans can’t. The reason is that information has dual meanings in Chinese: one is information, the other is intelligence. Informatics also had dual meanings in China: one is information science, the other is intelligence service. Tracing back to its root, we can find that informatics in our country is the product of Western learning spreading to the East as well as the rejuvenation of ancient knowledge. It has two origins, two traditions and two ways.
1.1 The Theoretical Foundation of Information Science
Information science is translated into “信息科学” in Chinese. It originated from documentation science of the West. In the 1930s, S. C. Bradford, the British documentalist, put forwards the famous “Bradford’s law”. American documentalist V. Bush first came up with the conception of mechanized archives retrieval memex in this essay entitled “As We May Think”. They laid foundation for the turn from documentation science to information science.
1.1.1 The Meaning of Qingbao in Japanese
The Chinese phrase “Qingbao” comes from Japanese. It means information and reports on certain situation, which bear a shade of confidentiality. It’s completely different from information, which bears no confidential connotation. “Qingbao” is heavily connected with military meanings. As China and Japan have the same understanding of “Qingbao” and China has a long history of intelligence service, we naturally embraced the Japanese translation of information into “Qingbao”.
1.1.2 The Double Spiral Structure of Chinese Informatics
Chinese informatics has the Western tradition of information science as well as the native tradition of intelligence service, which means that Chinese informatics has a double spiral structure made of information science and intelligence service.
(1) The Western tradition of information science. The Western academic circle draws clear line between intelligence service and information science. Information science doesn’t include intelligence service. Take CIA for example, “I” stands for intelligence, not information. CIA operates intelligence service all around the world.
(2) The Chinese tradition of intelligence service. Chinese informatics includes information science as well as intelligence service. If it refers purely to information science, it discusses information, data, processing of documentation, analytical methods, etc. When it comes to intelligence service, it incorporates the functions such as detector, scout, and consultant.
2. The New Trend of Informatics in the Information Society
As information industry becomes the pillar industry, the United States has stepped into the information society in 1956, so has China in the late 1990s. Even in the information society informatics in our country still bears the double spiral structure and shows new trend.
2.1 The Solidification of Information Science
Since the reform and opening up, computers, communications and the Internet technology have become the driving force for the development of libraries, and they play a more prominent role in library services. Computer retrieval and data processing solidified the information science tradition of informatics. The power of informatics is more and more seen in the processing, storage and retrieval capability of information, data and documents. The increase in database and computing capability promoted the citation studies on the relation between documentation and information units. Metrology such as bibliometrics, informetrics and webometrics has become the most shining area in the studies of information science.
2.2 The Decadence of Intelligence Service
However, the intelligence service tradition is recessing, as informatics in China doesn’t give full play of its role as detector, scout, and consultant. In this sense, some information scientists warn that informatics is deviating from the scope of intelligence studies. On the one hand, informatics has been involved with too much applied computer research, which makes informatics become an applied branch of computer science. On the other hand, informatics has been over-expanding its scope to Internet of things, e-commerce, e-government and smart city. It has forsaken its intelligence service tradition, and even overlooked the core scope of information science. The over-generalization of research field renders informatics a colonized studies of any social sciences or even technological studies.
Informatics can be divided into two parts: one is about information collecting, sorting, storing, retrieving, etc.; the other is intelligence service, concerning how to use data, information and documents to meet the users’ needs. As information studies include information science and intelligence service, that coincides with what think tanks do to some extent.
3. The Similarities and Differences between Information Studies and Think Tanks’ Studies
3.1 The Concept of Think Tanks
A think tank is a nonprofit organization which engages in the studies of strategies and public policies and provides counseling. It is comprised of three elements.
(1) The studies of strategies and public policies. The strategies include military strategies, security strategies, international relationship strategies, diplomatic strategies, etc. The public policies are concerned about the welfare of the whole country and the people. For example, the studies of the “two-child policy” is a study of public policies.
(2) A nonprofit organization. Think tanks are not consulting corporations. Consulting corporations are for-profit organizations, and they pursue the maximum profit. Think tanks operate for the public interest and must remain nonprofit. What would be the result if think tanks become for-profit organizations? One result might be that think tanks start speak for some interest groups. To make sure think tanks conduct researches objectively and neutrally, think tanks all over the world are required to be nonprofit organizations. In China,?Opinions on Strengthening the Development of New Think Tanks with Chinese Characteristics?states that new think tanks with Chinese characteristics should be nonprofit research consultancies which study strategic problems and public policies and be aimed to serve the Communist Party of China and the government. Think tanks with legal personality only need to pay 3% of the project funds as taxation. For this reason, if think tanks are not required to be nonprofit organizations, all consulting corporations would become think tanks.
(3) Dual responsibilities of research and consultation. Think tanks spend lots of resources on consultation besides conducting researches. New trends appearing in Western think tanks can be summarized into four aspects.
①Politicized. The famous Heritage Foundation clearly states that it identifies with American conservative values and serves the conservative parties.
②Consultancy-oriented. Rand Corporation takes a “think tank plus consulting corporation” path. It had 1776 employees and its revenue reached 300 million US dollars in 2016.
③Mediatized. Think tanks become mediatized, aiming to influence the public opinion. American think tanks generally have a publicity director. Some even spend 15% of their budget on publicity.
④Internationalized. Prestigious think tanks set up branch offices all over the world. For example, Brookings Institution set up divisions in Beijing, New Delhi and Doha.
3.2 The Similarities between Information Studies and Think Tanks’ Studies
Generally, the similarities between information studies and think tanks’ studies are that they both: 1) intend to take the role as detector, scout and consultant; 2) intend to influence a specific group of people. For example, information studies serve the decision makers, so do think tanks’ studies; 3) emphasize evidence-based analysis, instead of purely qualitative studies.
3.3 The Differences between Information Studies and Think Tanks’ Studies
3.3.1 Different Research Contents
The core of information studies is data collection, data analysis and quantitative processing. The core of think tanks’ studies is policy analysis and consultation based on data and facts.
3.3.2 Think Tank: Different Perspectives of Studies Lead to Different Results
Think tanks conduct inter-disciplinary studies, and research fellows of think tanks usually are experts in different fields. Different perspectives and methodologies often yield results of great difference. Take the population policy as an example. What economists see is demographic dividend, while sociologists see left-behind children and women, and political scientists see social disturbance caused by left-behind children and women. Experts from different fields submit their analysis and suggestions to the authorities for them to making decision. This is beneficial for making decision since the authorities can have an all-around understanding of the problem.
3.3.3 Different Roles in the Policy Process
Think tanks and intelligence services play different roles in the policy process. Making policies is a process, and the policy process is the theoretical foundation for think tanks. Generally speaking, the policy process is comprised of five phases, i.e., the setting of policy agenda, the policy debate, the policy making, the policy execution, and the policy evaluation. Each phase is connected to the others. It is a dynamic process which constantly evaluates and adjusts itself. From the point view of intelligence service, it is a re-making policy process, comprising obtaining feedbacks and adjusting plans.
When the authorities make decisions, consultation and suggestions are often separate. Intelligence service provides consultation and think tanks provide suggestions to help make decisions. Intelligence services generally consist of information centers, statistical organs, intelligence institutes, and,one more I think should be included, libraries. Their primary mission is to provide statistics and information for making decision. Why are intelligence services very important in making decision? It is because intelligence services organize statistics and process materials systematically, which greatly alleviates the authorities’ cognitive burden of figures and materials. For example, a senior leader wouldn’t start from searching statistics when he makes decision. His secretary and the intelligence services would have processed the statistics.
3.3.4. Policy Evaluation is Different from Intelligence Supervision
Intelligence supervision refers to the search, evaluation and feedback of intelligence in the whole policy making process. The policy evaluation conducted by think tanks usually employs the existing assessment systems or models, which is more technically complicated.
3.3.5 Think Tanks Emphasize the Influence of Platform and Brand
Think tanks emphasizes on intellectual property rights and spreading, hoping to build its brand influence. Once we talk about think tanks, we think about Rand Corporation, Brookings Institution and Nomura Research Institute. The reasons why they are well-known lie in their long history and constant publicity. In contrast, very few intelligence institutes promote themselves all around the world. In fact, intelligence services keep a low profile.
3.3.6. Think Tanks Highlight the Political Resources of Research Fellows
Intelligence studies focus more on technology and the processing and analytical ability of statistics. Intelligence research fellows don’t emphasize on their political seniority. In contrast, think tanks attach great importance to political background. The core mechanism of American think tanks is the “revolving door” mechanism. Many think tank research fellows were government officials. They savvy the operation of the government. Due to the two-party system, some administrative officers will step down with the failed President. Some of them would go to famous think tanks to do research, making preparation to rise again.
3.3.7 Think Tanks Emphasize the Combination of Knowledge and Action
Before leaders pay visits or attend international events, it has been a norm for think tanks to take part in diplomatic briefings and other publicity activities. When President Xi Jinping was paying a visit in Germany on the March of 2014, he expressed that China and Germany should have more communication between the government, the party, the congress and think tanks in the comprehensive strategic partnership. The construction of think tanks was elevated to the diplomatic level. Think tank diplomacy became the second trail of international communication and cooperation of China. Think tanks take the role of scouters in international communication, which shows the combination of knowledge and action. Think tanks not only engage in research and consultation, but host other activities, which are a part of think tanks’ studies.
In conclusion, think tanks’ studies are not a copy or an extension of intelligence studies. Intelligence studies are only a link or method of think tanks’ studies. Intelligence studies can learn from think tanks’ studies. Intelligence studies and think tanks’ studies are essentially different, but this difference should not be over-emphasized. According to the double-spiral structure of informatics in China, once an intelligence institute is equipped with information science and intelligence service, it becomes a think tank. Since intelligence studies are the core of information system, any think tanks can’t live without it. Information system and think tanks constitute the two major pillars of policy consultation.
4. The Role Libraries Play in the Construction of New Think Tanks with Chinese Characteristics
Libraries play a unique role in the construction of new think tanks with Chinese characteristics, which is irreplaceable by other institutes. But I don’t agree with some experts’ opinion that libraries should transform to think tanks, which, to my belief, is too rash. The construction of think tanks is very demanding. Some large public libraries or libraries of key universities may be capable of establishing a think tank. Although most libraries can’t become think tanks, they can still avail their strengths to help think tanks. In our survey we find that in China more than 60% of the think tanks are in universities. Among such think tanks, some are comprehensive, while most are more inclined to certain fields. These professional think tanks are converted from research bases or research centers. Libraries can provide services to think tanks in a broad scale. It’s worth mentioning that think tanks are essentially different from institutional repository. Think tanks are entities, with organization structure, experts, operation team and database. In contrast, an institutional repository is a form of database in the technical sense. It is only a database platform established by think tanks.
4.1 Reference and Consulting Services should be Think Tank-Oriented
Many large public libraries and university libraries provide reference and consulting services. Reference and consulting services are different from intelligence services and think tank’s services. Libraries mainly provide reference and consulting services to teaching faculties and students, while think banks provide services to the university Party Committee and the President’s office for them to make major decisions. As long as the reference and consulting services achieve a high level, they are intelligence studies and libraries are in fact think tanks. To sum up, reference and consulting services should be more like services provided by think tanks.
4.2 Provide Services to Key Think Tanks
Large public libraries and university libraries should voluntarily provide to state and provincial key think tanks services that other institutes are unable to render. For example, they can cooperate with think tanks to develop database and research platform.
4.3 Provide Venues for Think Tanks
Internationally renowned think tanks have their own meeting venues, especially university think tanks. However, many think tanks in China don’t have much space for holding meetings. Libraries can provide meeting halls to think tanks.
Prof. Li Gang, School of Information Management, Nanjing University, Doctoral Advisor, Senior Researcher of ZMT
Note: This article is excerpted from “From Intelligence Studies to Think Tank’s Studies”, published in?Library Tribune, No. 9, 2017, page 50 to 54.