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The Crisis Observatory

Crisis Observatory: Building Knowledge for Policy

“Building Knowledge for Policy”, is the motto that appears on the main website of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP). The Crisis Observatory, an ELIAMEP initiative realized with the support of the “Stavros Niarchos” Foundation, aimed to contribute to this objective during a very difficult period, when the need for positive action through policy was imperative but when unfortunately, knowledge was often lacking.

Despite the fact that Greece wa confronted with the most severe economic crisis in its post-war history, the level of public discourse about the crisis did not reflect the gravity of the situation. The political system  failed to reach even a minimum consensus, which would allow it to negotiate and implement better a broad reform programme, which Greece undoubtedly needed and still needs; on the contrary, it became now polarized like never before. The media tended to reproduce this clash thereby magnifying it further.

In this context, there was no comprehensive and objective analysis and, consequently, knowledge of the real causes of the crisis, the characteristics (either positive or negative) of the economic adjustment programmes, or alternative policy options (and their consequences) to overcome the crisis. This deficit was critical, as it was often the case that citizens did not understand even basic aspects of the crisis (which was very complex in any case); as a consequence, during these crucial times for the future of the country, citizens either tended to form opinions based on incorrect information (which often led them to adopt extreme positions), or to remain indifferent – as reflected in the historically low turnout rates in recent elections.

The Crisis Observatory was created to fill this vacuum in information and knowledge. The aim of the Observatory was to become a central hub of information, research and dialogue regarding the Greek and European crises. In order to accomplish this objective, the Crisis Observatory organized its operation on the basis of three main pillars: education, information and intervention/ research.

Through educational material and simple but appealing interactive applications, we tried to help the average citizen, i.e. the citizen who has no specialized economic knowledge, to understand basic economic concepts and dynamics, which are indispensable for understanding the crisis. On a second level, through a series of services (library, database, public documents repository) the Observatory provided all information necessary, to comprehend, analyze and research the crisis, collected at a single site and classified in a systematic and easy-to-use way. Regarding intervention, the Observatory promoted the fruitful exchange of views and policy proposals covering the full political spectrum and all issue areas affected by the crisis. Our sole guiding principle was the serious and sober presentation of research, interventions and information on the basis of well-developed arguments and evidence, with a view to contributing to the gradual improvement of the level of public discourse about the crisis. Finally, the Observatory tried to make its own contribution through the encouragement and financing (within the limits of its resources) of new, primary research about the crisis, in order to uncover new knowledge that would form the basis for evidence-based policy recommendations.

All these actions were further strengthened and highlighted through a series of public events, which brought us closer to the general public, which was our primary audience;  many people  joined us in this endeavour. We commited ourselves to the constant improvement and enrichment of the Observatory experience and expanded the sections and applications of the website, along with new public activities and events.

In order for an initiative like the Crisis Observatory to succeed, it was necessary that the public, the average citizen, all of us put in an effort. In this context, a constantly expanding team of prominent academics, as well as many young researchers, contributed to the operation of the Crisis Observatory – without their contribution, the capabilities of the Observatory would have been much more limited.

Experts and non-experts alike, we all bear some responsibility for the prevalence of populism, demagogy, cheap and eventually dead-end rhetoric – phenomena that often dominated public discourse about the crisis. In order to comprehend such a complex phenomena, we have to avoid superficial and easy conclusions and to delve deep into the problems. We hope that the Crisis Observatory’s work contributed to this end.

Since January 2018, the Crisis Observatory operated also through ELIAMEP’s new website. In early 2020, the Observatory ended its operation as such -a new research programme with a new name and focus, replaced it at ELIAMEP’s website. This website will remain functional as an open access archive for informative and research purposes covering the entire spectrum of the Observatory’s work during the years of its operation (2013-19).

Dimitris Katsikas

Head, Crisis Observatory