Latin American networking for think tanks: a decade in meetings
[Editor's note" This post reflects some efforts made since 2005 by GDNet, CIPPEC, ODI, CIES, Grupo FARO, the TTI, and other actors to build a community interested in studying the relationship between Politics and Ideas, as well as think tanks, in Latin America.]
The program “Spaces for Engagement: using knowledge to improve public decisions” (SFE) is a joint initiative between GDNet and CIPPEC, that encompasses six years of intense work (2008-2013) aimed at creating different spaces for engagement with the participation of researchers and policymakers interested in improving their capacities for policy influence. A variety of complementary activities allowed the program to work with more than 300 researchers, practitioners and policymakers from more than 40 countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa.
All the activities carried out under this programme are reflected in the paper “Lessons learned on promoting better links between research and policy in Latin America. A collaborative reflection on Spaces for engagement: using knowledge to improve public decisions”, by Vanesa Weyrauch, which will be available very soon at www.vippal.cippec.org and www.politicsandideas.org.
During the six years of SFE, one of the most relevant activities has been the organisation of annual regional meetings, based on the deep conviction about the value of building a Latin American community of practice to share knowledge on research and policy.
These built on a series of regional workshops and meetings organised by ODI and CIPPEC as part of the initial EBPDN efforts to develop a network of think tanks in the region. In 2005 EBPDN organised meetings in Peru, Bolivia and Argentina to seek out regional partners interested in the development of a community of practice on the study of Politics and Ideas. Then in 2006, CIPPEC organised an event for Latin American think tanks and researchers attending a UNESCO MOST conference in Buenos Aires. This meeting marked the beginning of the EBPDN in Latin America as well as the start of an effort by several organisations and individuals to promote the study and support of think tanks in the region.
Thus, four regional conferences followed in Argentina and Peru, involving different collaborators, such as ODI, EBPDN, CIES, FARO, Think Tank Initiative (TTI) and the World Bank. With the presence of members of leading think tanks (mostly executive directors), these conferences usually combined opportunities for horizontal knowledge sharing and discussion with workshops provided by experts to strengthen ‘bridging research and policy’ capacity on key fields such as strategic planning, media relationships and links with policymakers. Moreover, those activities allowed the initiative to share local knowledge and identify future partners.
Before starting with SFE meetings, in 2007 CIPPEC and ODI’s at the time Civil Society Partnerships Programme (CSPP) organised an inception meeting named “Capacity Development for Policy Influence” in Buenos Aires. Think tanks from Latin American laid the grounds of the upcoming work by clearly identifying how a program on research and policy could be relevant in the region. The objective was to promote a process of exchange and reflection in order to begin to outline a capacity building process for policy influence aimed at think tanks of the region. The workshop contributed to strengthening the development of a community of organisations and individuals specialised and interested in the role and and function of think tanks. several participants continued to be engaged in the following years: co-organising events, developing new research, etc.
In 2008, CIPPEC, GDNet and the World Bank co-organized a new regional meeting held in Buenos Aires. Labeled “Linking Research Communication to Policy Impact through Knowledge Management” and building on the former conference, it was designed to identify topics of interest and prioritise challenges and needs in the Latin American and Caribbean region with respect to building the link between Politics and Ideas. This time, the group also reflected on concrete opportunities for partnership and collaboration. The event raised the awareness of the CIPPEC team to the importance of documenting (systematising) lessons throughout the programme. As a consequence of the rich dialogue, the group agreed working principles, which were then represented in a proposal that CIPPEC made to GDN, giving the name of “Spaces for engagement” to the programme. It was attended by more than 20 participants from different countries and regions, who were selected to represent a wide variety of organisations, approaches, and fields of work.
In 2009, another workshop labeled “Linking Research and Public Policy in Latin America” was held in Buenos Aires. It was jointly organised by CIPPEC, CIES (Peru) and Grupo FARO (Ecuador), with the support of GDN and ODI. The meeting sought to make a contribution to capacity building among researchers and policy makers so as to improve links between them and, in consequence, to foster a better use of evidence in public decision-making. To do so, over 40 representatives from think tanks from the region met with policy makers to address a number of issues such as: impact of knowledge production in public policy, the roles of think tanks in the region, the relationship between think tanks and political parties, the role of mass media in the construction of public policy, etc. This event included the valuable collaboration of Argentinean academic Carlos Acuña, who developed an analytic framework that helped to “land“ Northern discussions to a more Southern reality via a series of lessons learnt from regional case studies.
In 2010, CIPPEC, GDN and EBPDN organised the workshop “What do we know about our policy impact? Training on Monitoring, Evaluating and Managing Knowledge on Policy Influence”, held once again in Buenos Aires. Following the criteria of diversity among Latin American countries, 19 think tanks from the region worked on a diagnosis of capacities for M&E of policy influence. Then, CIPPEC shared what it had learned on the topic through the production of the handbook Learners, practitioners and teachers. To ensure wider reach and scope, participants were asked to share the workshop’s experience in their own countries (what later took place in the format of national workshops). Several of them also designed a plan for doing M&E of policy influence, intended to be implemented with CIPPEC’s support.
Finally, the last regional meeting organized with the support of the SFE program was held in Lima in 2011. This time it was co-organised by CIPPEC, CIES, Grupo FARO and ODI, and sponsored by GDNet, EBPDN and the Think Tank Initiative. It was labeled: “Using knowledge for a better public policy influence”. The event was aimed at Executive Directors of some of the most prominent think tanks in the region. Some highlighted sessions were “Lessons learned by think tanks of the region” and a panel consisted in the presentation of four Latin American think tanks experiences in influencing electoral campaigns through research (CIES from Peru, Fedesarrollo from Colombia, CIPPEC from Argentina, and Grupo FARO from Ecuador). These presentations have already been shared at this blog. Also at the event, a book on the role of think tanks, the media and other actors in linking knowledge and policy was launched: New Book: Think Tanks, politics and the media.
Along these regional meetings, many think tanks have exchanged lessons and challenges of their work. Some of the organizations that have been part of these efforts are CADEP and Instituto Desarrollo (Paraguay), FLACSO and Estado de la Nación (Costa Rica), IDEA, Fundar and Colegio de Jalisco (Mexico), GRADE (Peru), CLAEH (Uruguay), ASIES (Guatemala), ARU and INESAD (Bolivia) and Fedesarrollo (Colombia) among others.
The dilemmas, challenges and tensions that emerged throughout these conferences and in the interactions that have followed shed light into the broad field of future work that must be addressed in the region. They also enabled us to better define the focus of such efforts since the challenges faced are too large and complex for a single actor to tackle. The meetings have helped to foster a new community of practice and to continuously identify and include new participants in the process.
Part of this long term effort in terms of promoting networking among Latin American think tanks has been now adopted by others. Recent initiatives and events suggest that there are great opportunities for future collaboration. One of these initiatives is the Iniciativa Latinoamericana de Investigación para las Políticas Públicas (ILAIPP), a new network formed by think tanks that are part of Think Tank Initiative in the region. Its mission is to contribute to improving the quality of public policies in Latin America, by highlighting the relevance of research. Activities within the network are intended to improve the members’ policy impact and to strengthen their organisational development. Furthermore, a recent meeting of Latin American think tanks held last month in Rio de Janeiro, hosted by the Getulio Vargas Foundation has brought together ILIPP think tank with others.
Looking to the future, it is necessary to continue promoting and creating this type of formal and informal spaces for interaction among think tanks. Moreover, it is important that traditional and new donors continue to support these kind of efforts in the region so that they continue to expand and reach new centres. In this respect, besides think ranks, they should involve other key audiences such as: journalists, NGOs, policy makers, donors, and the private sector.