Policy Forum‘s Martyn Pearce and Quentin Grafton look at New Mandala‘s legacy and how “expert analysis eco-systems” power better public debate and knowledge. 

Speaking recently about the highly-contentious question about whether the UK will leave the European Union (EU) in the so-called ‘Brexit’ vote, leading Brexit campaigner Michael Gove MP – Britain’s Secretary of State for Justice – was pressed to name one single international body that supports his position to leave the EU.

It was a good question, as bodies as diverse as the IMF, OECD and even Britain’s tech sector have come out in favour of staying in. Gove responded by saying, “…the people of this country have had enough of experts and organizations with acronyms saying they know better.”

While the UK is a long way from Asia and the Pacific, our experiences with Policy Forum oblige us to respectfully disagree. People DO want to hear from experts, but in ways they promote a dialogue and is not a ‘talk down’ but engages with people’s lives in meaningful conversations.

Whether you are in London, Singapore or Canberra people want substance over spin. They want analysis, not soundbites. In a world of overload where there are platforms aplenty for politicians and interest groups to roll out their daily talking points, people want to go where they can trust that the perspective provided is based on evidence and not speculation and that it delivers insights that go beyond the superficial.

That appetite for ‘digging deeper’ is alive and well in the Asia and Pacific. We need to look no further than the thriving expert analysis eco-system that is New Mandala to get proof.

For 10 years New Mandala has offered incisive, rapid, in-depth and often brilliant coverage of myriad issues affecting Southeast Asia. It has covered the deathly serious, to the fun and frivolous. It has been bold and brave. But mostly, it has been really, really readable.

Without New Mandala to blaze a path, Policy Forum and others may not exist. All academic sites that followed it owe it a debt of gratitude. Throughout its 10-year existence Nicholas Farrelly, Andrew Walker, James Giggacher and everyone associated has constantly tested and pushed the boundaries of what can be done in the space of academic blogging. From live coverage of the Thai and Malaysia elections, to a hugely-popular vodcast series long before vodcasts and podcasts achieved their present level of street cred and demand. Over the decade New Mandala has established a distinctive voice. It’s a voice that resonates with its audience as the many thousands of comments over the years indicate.

Depending on your view, New Mandala has either a ‘can-do attitude’ or it’s bordering on anarchic. This video of Nicholas Farrelly presenting the last of his Thailand in Crisis vodcast series is a good example. On the one hand there’s Dr Farrelly interviewing experts on the unfolding red shirt / yellow shirt crisis. On the other, there’s Farrelly doing an intro wandering through the halls of the Hedley Bull building being tracked by a camera on a wobbly stand on noisy wheels. This is experimentation at its best!

By constantly pushing the boundaries, and staying true to the site’s distinct and popular style, the New Mandala team have done what everyone involved with a similar site hopes to do – to create something that is entertaining, engaging, enlightening and insightful. It’s a site that has forged a platform for expert analysis, given the region’s readers a place to discuss issues that really matter, blazed a trail for academic blogging, and fearlessly confronted some of the region’s biggest issues.

Congratulations on your 10th birthday New Mandala. Here’s to many more!

Martyn Pearce is editor and Professor Quentin Grafton editor-in-chief of Policy Forum — Asia and the Pacific’s leading platform for policy insight and debate, and based at the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy.