Like many think tanks, Grupo FARO from Ecuador, finds it hard to decide what proposals to develop and how to make sure those they develop are 'winning proposals'. Finding the right balance between individual researchers' interests and the organisation's mission as well as between short and long term agendas is a challenge think tanks face. In this post, Adriana Arellano shares a tool adopted by FARO: a committee for project approval.
Posts tagged ‘Grupo Faro’
In this post, Orazio Bellettini and Adriana Arellano, from Grupo FARO, outline the think tank's new approach to research and policy influence. This post has been partly inspired by Lawrence MacDonald's and Todd Moss' essay on CGD's approach to policy influence. What do you think? Do they have the right approach?
Orazio Bellettini writes about the lessons learned during a Meeting of Latin American think tanks in Rio de Janeiro. He argues that think tanks have played a key role in the region's development and now must look to the future in order to become catalysts for economic, political, and social development.
As Grupo FARO seeks for its new Director of Research , Andrea Ordóñez, the outgoing Director, reflects on the position and its role in the organisation. She offers some sound advice to potential candidates and other Directors of Research.
Andrea Ordóñez, from Grupo FARO write about why and how southern think tanks can get involved in the discussion of the global development agendas by reflecting on the last IMF/WBG meeting. She argues that more southern think tanks need to lead.
In this post we hope to briefly introduce new ways of thinking about communication and working with it to understand human behavior, social change and policy reform.
A few months ago I posted a call for proposals for a new edited book on communicating complex ideas. This is an update of the project that is not underway. Over the next few of days I’ll publish the posts that the authors have written as an introduction to their chapters:
- From Argentina: The challenge of research uptake in governance policies: electoral reform in Argentina by Julia Pomares, Director of the Politics and Public Management Program at CIPPEC, and Laura Zommer, former Director of Communications at CIPPEC
- From the Middle East and the Golf States: Messages About School Reform in the Middle East: Educational Researchers Adapting to the Arab Spring by Ted Purinton and Amir ElSawy at the American University in Cairo. It is worth noting that Ted and Amir have set up a project blog and so I’d suggest, if you are interested, to follow it directly.
- From South Africa: The People, The Planet, The Can: The social marketing and re-branding of breastmilk in South Africa by Shannon Kenny, independent communications consultant, Mixed Media, Professor Anna Coutsoudis PhD, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban and Chair, Human Milk Banking Association of South Africa (HMBASA), and Patrick Kenny, independent communications consultant, Mixed Media
- From Serbia: Civilian control of the state security sector (with special focus on military) by Goran Buldioski, Director, Think Tank Fund in Budapest, Sonja Stojanovic, Director, BCSP, Radomir Cvetkovic, Communications Coordinator, BCSP, and Marko Savkovic, Researcher, BCSP.
- From Ecuador: Public poisoning as ‘communication’ in Ecuador: Lessons from the perpetuation of harmful technology by Stephen Sherwood, Lecturer and Research Fellow, Communication and Innovation Studies, Wageningen University, Andrea Ordóñez, Research Director at Grupo FARO, and Myriam Paredes, Assistant Professor, Rural Territorial Development, Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO), Quito.
- [New] From Indonesia: The Dilemmas of Budget Advocacy via the Media by Muhammad Maulana (Research Coordinator FITRA), and Bagus BT Saragih (Journalist The Jakarta Post)
As a reminder, the idea of the book is to explore the challenges and opportunities that researchers and communicators face when attempting to communicate complex ideas to their audiences or publics. These chapters are not exercises in self-promotion nor should be taken as an opportunity to discuss, at length, the idea itself (unless the idea itself is a key explanatory factor in its own stickiness).
They are not research to policy fantasies.
The objective of the chapters is to discuss and reflect on why ideas are often difficult to communicate, explore the opportunities that bringing research and communications offer, and the challenges that this collaboration presents.
The research teams are, most of them, made up of researchers and communicators. And in all cases the papers are intended to be based on a dialogue between researchers and communicators. In this dialogue, we hope, learning will take place.
As the editor of this volume I have taken on the role of challenging and slowing down the authors. As they submit their drafts I am reading through them and encouraging them to stop and pay attention to important and interesting ‘tipping point’ or ‘what if’ moments. I hope you’ll join me in that role and comment on the blogs and even suggest questions for the authors to consider in their research.
- What factors should they be looking for?
- What do you think explains the difficulty in communicating complex ideas?
- What has your experience been?
- Have you been on the ‘receiving’ end of a complex idea? What made you ‘get it’ -or not?
It is worth saying, too, that I am still looking for at least one more team of authors -ideally from Asia but am happy to consider all proposals. Please have a look at the Terms of Reference.
A couple of weeks ago, as part of the Think Tank Initiative Exchange, I participated in a panel on successful policy engagement alongside Nancy Birdsall of the Center for Global Development and Frannie Leautier of the African Capacity Building Foundation to discuss approaches to policy influence.
I shared a research project we are carrying out in Grupo FARO. Our goal is to look into what some think tanks participating in the initiative consider to be policy influence and how they go about achieving it. We also hope it will contribute to a growing literature on the political economy of research uptake that is slowly, but surely, being adopted by researchers from the developing world.
We based our analysis on twelve stories of policy influence written and kindly shared with us by think tanks from Africa, Asia and Latin America. The stories involve a wide variety of topics, from education reform and poverty reduction to affirmative action in the private sector and shaping electoral processes.
To analyse this great diversity of stories we used a framework that considers, on the one hand, strategies that think tanks carry out to influence policy and, on the other hand, the contexts in which they work.
For the strategies, we examined three central aspects involved in participating in policy processes:
- The stage(s) of the policy cycle in which think tanks participated;
- The different types of evidence they employed. We based our analysis on previous work by Reimers and McGinn to identify whether the evidence came from more academic or more action research; and
- The roles think tanks played during those given episodes, whether advising decision-makers, facilitating dialogue among stakeholders, or advocating for a certain proposal or position.
However, strategies do not come out of thin air; they are (supposedly) calculated responses to complex contexts. To demonstrate this relationship we classified the types of problems think tanks face. We borrowed Hoppe’s framework, which looks into two dimensions of a policy problem:
- The level of certainty regarding relevant knowledge for the policy process; and
- The level of agreement on relevant norms and values.
The intersection of these two dimensions yields four general types of policy problems that think tanks may encounter. Let me share an example: Let’s say a think tank is working on health care systems. If the think tank faces a setting where there is agreement that a country must establish universal health care coverage as a right, and has decided on a model to provide coverage to all, let’s say a completely public model, then it is a structured problem. In such cases a think tank can help in putting forth specific proposals on how to implement that decision or monitoring the programs to see their actual impact.
If there is no agreement on whether health care is a right but all parties agree that there should be private provision of services, it would be a partially structured problem with disagreement on values. If stakeholders agree on universal coverage, but not on whether the best solutions should include public or private providers, then it would be a problem characterized by a lack of certainty on knowledge.
Timing is perfect to use this case. What type of problem is the health care reform in the United States? This discussion could sparkle an interesting debate, but I will leave that to be your homework.
There are also unstructured problems. For example, trying to initiate a peace process after a civil war is likely to be a very unstructured problem, as there is little to no knowledge on what happened during the war or the consequences it had and will have on the country, and little to no agreement on how to move forward.
Redefining policy influence
Influence on what? What is it that think tanks hope to achieve?
Although when discussing policy influence we usually focus on outputs, such as concrete change of laws or policies, there is a growing need to see beyond this limited vision of influence. In contexts of uncertainty, disagreement or mistrust, it is unlikely that resulting policies will be well-designed and effectively and sustainably implemented. In such circumstances, think tanks, instead of trying to achieve policy change, should aim to establish a minimum of agreement among stakeholders to begin along the road for positive, viable policy change. In this sense, changes in the public agenda, values, power structures, and institutions should also be included in the definition of policy influence.
Second, how do think tanks carry out this mission of change?
Think tanks traditionally take a tactical approach, seeing influence as a set of chores carried out to ensure that policymakers hear and adopt ‘my’ solution. Unfortunately, this leads us to prioritise the marketing and communication of ideas over efforts to bring stakeholders together to create real and collective change. After reviewing the cases, we are more convinced than ever that true influence is best described as exercising leadership.
Leading is not pushing ‘my’ idea forward, or the idea of a political party, or donor, or other external stakeholder; leading means mobilising people to collaborate and work towards a solution. It is a collective effort in which think tanks play a very active rather than passive role. The think tanks’ cases studied exert important influence by, for example, posing tough questions or leading hard conversations.
Think tanks are political actors
Another significant conclusion we were able to draw from this analysis is that think tanks are political actors, far more than they consider themselves to be. The analysis shows that think tanks, even in the most structured scenarios, often go beyond the advisory role, bringing new voices into the discussion and choosing not to advise behind closed doors.
In less structured contexts, where evidence and knowledge play a secondary role, think tanks have become what Robert Heifetz calls “leaders without authority” by bringing to the surface concealed issues such as discrimination or generating dialogue among political parties at moments of high political polarisation.
Think tanks navigate in complex and changing contexts. These realities at times require them to advocate a technical solution and other times to promote a learning process to change perspectives and encourage new practices. Coming back to the title of this post and the document, it is about leading, it is about learning jointly with society; not an easy task, but that some are willing to pursue.
This report is just an initial draft that we are continuing to develop. We look forward to hearing your comments on the framework and analysis as we finalise our study.