[This working paper was published as part of the Working Paper Series.]
This paper discusses how changes in the political and economic context in Vietnam during the reform era have influenced the nature of the country’s think tanks. Drawing on policy studies, we identify changes in key actors and policy spaces, dominant ideas, the role of networks and formal and informal institutions. The paper then explores how these have influenced the demand for think tank advice, the institutional location of think tanks, their key functions and capacity, their communication channels, and finally their influence on policy. We show that the demand for advice, particularly economic advice, from Vietnamese think tanks has increased, especially from new interests (albeit within the state), including a more robust National Assembly, new business elites, international donors and the media. Vietnamese think tanks are located largely within or are affiliated to state institutions. In some cases, they provide advice, whilst in others they go as far as drafting laws and regulation. Problems persist in the quality and objectivity of research. However, there are pockets of excellence with some think tanks able to produce arguably high quality research and provide critique to formal government policy, albeit carefully framed. As in many other contexts, think tanks struggle to work collectively to address complex problems. They tend to contribute to policy discussions in subtle ways through commenting on policy documents (where they are invited to do so), through private, informal meetings, through collective social processes and through media coverage, whilst their actual influence is almost always politically motivated.