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Posts tagged ‘donors’

The On Think Tanks interview: Kharisma Priyo Nugroho, Knowledge Sector Initiative in Indonesia

Kharisma Priyo Nugroho is the Program Lead Knowledge Production and Intermediation and Coordinator of knowledge to policy hubs on learning and capacity development of the Knowledge Sector Initiative (KSI). In this interview he talks to On Think Tanks' Leandro Echt about his arrival to KSI, the restructuring of the programme, and its implications in the relationship with partners (grantees) and capacity building strategy, and how Indonesian political context frames the role of policy research.

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Will Donor Commitments Lift the Lid on Think Tank Finances?

Think tanks' transparency is not think tanks' responsibility alone. Their funders are responsible for it , too. International development funders could go a long way by making all their funding of think tanks -certainly those aboard- public. Andrea Davis writes about IATI and the opportunity it provides.

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Undue influence: what is it, how is it exerted, and how to address it in the future?

Extra, extra, think tanks are funded by foreign governments! This may have come as a shock to the readers of the New York Times but its an every day affair for think tanks in the developing world. This blog provides an overview of some of the mechanisms through which foreign funders fund think tanks in developing countries. Some pose significant challenges to their credibility and independence. Looking forward, a balance of foreign versus domestic funding will have to change.

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Building sustainable think tanks is a long-run endeavour: the future of ACBF

This post outlines the Africa Capacity Building Foundation's new plans. It appears that a stronger focus on results and deeper engagement with 'senior demand side' players is on the cards. Also interesting, especially for a funder used to helping set up new think tanks, a focus on mature ones. Peter da Costa offers this as a closing post on a series dealing with a recent think tank summit in Africa.

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How to fund think tanks? A few questions that may help decide

Funding think tanks requires careful consideration of a number of variable: who is funding, who receives the funding, what is it for, and how is it delivered. Think tanks should not be funded as if they were just another organisation; nor should they all be funded the same way across the board. In this post I try to outline some of the questions (and analysis) that funders may want to consider before funding think tanks.

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How did leading US Think Tanks fare in 2012? Analysis by numbers

Hans Gutbrod analyses how 20 leading US think tanks have developed over 2012. Seven of them are doing very well, while four of them are not exactly comfortable, at least not in financial terms. Analysis and detailed spreadsheet available.

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Supporting think tanks series: “Fact before Think” – The Case for Data-Focused Think Tanks

In this post on supporting think tanks, Hans Gutbrod argues that supporting think tanks may mean encouraging new functions. Think tanks can make a contribution by generating the data that researchers and policymakers so desperately need.

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Economic downturn affects think tank funding

Foreign funding for think tanks seems to be decreasing, affecting institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world. Dependence on foreign funding and few domestic sources paint a worrying picture for their future. But is it the same for all?

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The woes of domestic philanthropy in developing countries

A former US Senator's investment in a new think tank shows that philanthropy is a common activity in rich nations - not so in developing countries. Domestic philanthropy must be promoted, and local donors must be persuaded to invest in local think tanks.

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Even the mighty get it wrong: putting think tanks in their place

This article on how Western think-tanks got it wrong on the Arab Spring got me thinking about recent discussions about think tanks’ impact. A great deal of emphasis is placed on whether think tanks should measure their influence -and even on the individual tools that think tanks sometimes use to communicate their work. In the last few weeks I have been asked to review a couple of papers on monitoring and evaluating think tanks policy influence and a couple more M&E framework proposals. This focus on policy influence often:

  • Forgets about all the other positive (and, at least, neutral) contributions think tanks can make to society (educate, provide oversight, improve political debate, break the consensus, strengthen parties, help fund research, etc.);
  • Overestimates the influence think tanks have; and
  • Tends to assume that think tanks are always right about what they say.

The fact is that think tanks play very small roles even in the most think tank savvy societies and quite often they do not know what they are talking about. This is a quote referring to Anthony Seldon that Emma Broadbent wrote for a study on think tanks in the UK:

Rohrer (2008) quotes Prof Anthony Seldon, editor of Ideas and Think Tanks in Contemporary Britain and biographer of Tony Blair, who believes their influence is overstated. Of the three major prime ministerial periods of post-war Britain, the Attlee, Thatcher and Blair eras, he believes only Atlee was significantly influenced by think tanks. For Blair, he says, “What is striking, as Blair’s biographer, is how little impact they [think tanks] made. You see hardly any influence on policy at all. It is very hard to see how ideas get into the system.” Seldon argues that “As the numbers of think tanks have accelerated their influence has declined. Influence comes from people who break off them and come into government.”

Last year, Prospect Magazine’s Annual Think Tank Awards had no real winner for the foreign policy category. According to the judges the winner would have had to predict the European financial crisis and the Arab Spring. None did. So not only are think tanks not as influential as sometimes we’d like to think they are, but they can also get it wrong; even where the resources and opportunities are as readily accessible as they are in the UK.

This is important for two reasons:

  1. According to the Prospect judges and to The National’s article think tanks play an important role not only in influencing policy directly (by telling governments what to do) but also by informing decision makers of things they may not be aware of. Think tanks, according to both political publications, fulfil a key function often overlooked by those too focused on tangible indicators of impact: enlightenment, information, inspiration… When attempting to assess think tanks contributions therefore we must pay attention to this more indirect yet crucial aspect of their work.
  2. Often, even the best think tanks, with all their resources and top academics -even with local offices and programmes, get it wrong or miss key processes and developments entirely. This means that we should not simply assume that everything a think tank says should influence policy. This would be quite dangerous. What we should be looking for is evidence that their recommendations have informed the public debate and the decisions made by those with the legitimate power to make them.

We should genuinely worry when donors put pressure on their grantees/sub-contractors to influence policy (and show them evidence of their influence). What they should be looking for is more informed policymaking and not just cases of policy influence.


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