Authorship is important for researchers, particularly when it comes to ethical authorship - giving credit to everyone who deserves it and excluding those who don't.
Posts tagged ‘Grupo Faro’
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.
[Editor's note: Jeanne Muller is a Latin American, Latino, & Caribbean Studies major at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, working as an intern at Grupo FARO, in Ecuador. This is a new version of a post originally published in GRUPO FARO INTERNSHIP]
Think tanks always seemed like rather mysterious entities to me. I imagined them as places, over there in the Capital, where men with big brains and suits cooked up solutions to problems that I couldn’t even begin to understand. More than once my friends have asked, jokingly, “So, like, are you going to think in a tank?”
I’m currently assisting Grupo FARO’s Research Director Andrea Ordóñez put together a report for an upcoming conference in South Africa organized by the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC). Through its Think Tank Initiative (TTI), IDRC seeks to support, both financially and technically, independent research institutions in developing countries. Grupo FARO is one of 49 grantees of the project and is currently coordinating and writing a document profiling and analyzing stories of successful policy influence by various think tanks in Latin America, Africa, and South Asia.
We’ve been working on this project for several weeks now and still I find myself unable to coherently answer the most basic questions. What are think tanks? Where do they come from? What do they do? I’ve got experts by my side, websites and blogs a click away, and a pile of books sitting on my desk and I’m at a total loss of how to begin answering these questions.
The term think tank is a rather ambiguous one and definitions vary. After having read twelve accounts of how think tanks from all over the world have been able to influence public policy as part of the project, I can say that think tanks can be as different as the colors of the rainbow. They come in all shapes and sizes, have different core values and missions, work in a range of different issues, use different methodologies, and employ different strategies to reach different targets. Many of the authors I’ve consulted define think tanks by comparing them to other entities: “universities without students”, “more intellectual variants of pressure groups”, “idea factories”. Yet these descriptions are hardly satisfactory and only capture one facet of what a think tank is.
At the most basic level, a think tank is a place where people (hopefully smart ones) get together to explore and come up with solutions to important problems. I believe think tanks are most often conceived as independent research institutions that are made up of intellectuals and seek to influence government policy. In the scientific tradition, they use evidence derived from investigation to form and inform public policy. In Spanish “think tank” translates to centro de investigación aplicada or instituto de investigación de políticas públicas (literally “center for applied research” and “public policy research institute”, respectively) (Correa & Mendizabal, 2011, p. 14). Research becomes practical, a tool to create policies that better serve society. Think tanks are institutions that seek to create better societies.
Mine is a very general lay understanding of think tanks. Here are some other definitions and characterizations that I’ve come across so far:
- Diane Stone (2004) writes that most definitions of think tanks fall into one of two categories: those that emphasize the organizational structure as the defining quality of a think tank and, alternatively, those that examine its functions and what it does (specifically policy research) as the main evidence of its think-tankiness (pp. 1-2). The latter definition has become more popular as think tanks have become more widespread and transformed.
- Donald E. Abelson and Ever A. Lindquist (2000), speaking on North American think tanks, write, “…think tanks are nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations engaged in the study of public policy…” (p. 38). They point out that few scholars have tried to differentiate between think tanks and other non-governmental organizations. What’s more, there is increasing overlap between the natures of think tanks and interest groups as each one attempts to adopt strategies of the other. According to the authors, there are about 300 think tanks in the United States excluding university-affiliated institutes.
- John C. Goodman (2005) of the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) describes think tanks as “idea factories” where intellectuals come together to investigate alternative solutions to policy issues. He distinguishes between “one roof” model think tanks, in which intellectuals are physically gathered, and post-Internet “organizations without walls” which are considerably more flexible and efficient but potentially less established and renowned. Furthermore, Goodman describes think tanks as businesses that work for results; “intellectual entrepreneurs” use knowledge to create change and think tanks “market” themselves and their ideas.
- Yet the predominant and rigid Anglo-American definition of think tanks fails to accommodate the growing number of think tanks in other countries. Diane Stone explores the complexities of defining think tanks. I was attracted to the following description of hers: “think tanks collect, synthesize and create a range of information products, often directed towards a political or bureaucratic audience, but sometimes also for the benefit of the media, interest groups, business, international civil society and the general public of the nation” (2004, p. 3).
- In his blog onthinktanks, Enrique Mendizabal offers a definition of think tanks based on what they are not. “The more narrow definition: an organisation not governed by the rules of academia, policy, the media or the private sector and that seeks policy influence through research (also broad) informed arguments,” he writes (2011). Rather, a think tank is at the intersection of all these dimensions and something more.
These are just some of the scholars I’ve consulted so far in my quest to learn more about those enigmatic organisms we call think tanks. I plan to keep building on this knowledge, and of course, to keep you all updated as I do!
P.S. The books I’ve been reading are:
- Think Tanks and Civil Societies: Catalysts for Ideas and Action, 2002, edited by James G. McGann and R. Kent Weaver
- Think Tank Traditions: Policy research and the politics of ideas, 2004, edited by Diane Stone and Andrew Denham
- Thinking Politics: Intellectuals and Democracy in Chile, 1973–1988, 1994, by Jeffrey M. Puryear
- From Thatcher to the Third Way: Think-Tanks, Intellectuals and the Blair Project, 2003, by Robert Carl Blank
- Vínculos entre conocimiento y política: el rol de la investigación en el debate público en América Latina, 2011, edited by Norma Aste Correa and Enrique Mendizabal
Orazio Bellettini is the Executive Director of Grupo FARO, an Ecuadorian think tank, which he co-founded. He is a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard Mason Fellow (2004), Ashoka Fellow, and, since 2008, a member of AVINA’s sustainable development leaders network for Latin America.
Orazio is the author of several studies on the relationship between research and policy and a great think tank thinker. We collaborated on a book on think tanks and political parties in Latin America, for which he co-authored the chapter on Ecuador; he recently published a paper on the role of evidence in policymaking in Ecuador; and has written on think tanks functions.
Grupo FARO is a grantee of the Think Tank Initiative.
In this interview, Orazio describes the challenges he faced in setting up Grupo FARO and his vision for the centre. He discusses how to mobilise domestic funds, finding the right balance between public engagement and direct influence, and offers a few recommendations that should be taken into account: namely, that to develop, think tanks need competent leaders and they, in turn, need support.
Enrique Mendizabal: What motivated you to set-up Grupo FARO?
Orazio Bellettini: After working several years in the private sector, I decided to start a new phase of my professional life by working in a development NGO. There I learned to appreciate the contribution that civil society organisations (CSOs) make by generating ideas and creating opportunities for the most vulnerable groups of society. This experience also helped me recognise that the work of CSOs usually focuses on specific groups rather than on changing the system that allows the appearance of problems such as social exclusion and environmental degradation.
I decided then to promote the creation of an organisation that would focus on delivering innovative solutions for social problems. My idea was to create an organisation that promotes citizen participation and encourages public-private collaboration to change the rules of the game; an organisation that, as described by Ashoka (a network of social entrepreneurs I belong to), does not just teach a (wo)man to fish but reinvents the fishing industry. I became convinced that one of the best way to achieve this goal was by influencing public policy.
EM: Many think tank directors successful in Latin America are graduates of the Kennedy School of Government. Do you think education, and a particular type of education, can be a driver?
OB: When I made the decision to establish a think tank, I realised I needed to learn about public policy (at that time I had completed an undergraduate degree in agriculture engineering and a postgraduate degree in political science and business administration). I applied to several public policy programs that allowed me to combine the empirical approach I gained during my studies of agricultural systems with the analytical skills I developed when I studied political systems.
On the application forms to these programs, I wrote that I would use the knowledge obtained in the classroom for the creation of a think tank in Ecuador. So, from the first day of classes I shared this idea to everyone who showed interest. Soon, I met professors like Andrés Velasco and graduates line Fernando Straface who generously shared their experiences setting Expansiva in Chile and CIPPEC in Argentina.
Knowing about these experiences was key to the beginning of Grupo FARO. Not only because it helped me understand how a think tank works in Latin America, but above all because I gained confidence on my capacity to make this idea a reality.
However, even though the lessons learned at KSG were key to start Grupo FARO, there was not a course specialised on developing the skills and knowledge required to run a think tank. There are programs like the one organized by NDRI (a one-week program call “Think Tank Managers” I had the opportunity to participate a few years ago), but I am convinced that the ecosystem of policy centers would be benefit from new courses offered by universities around the world. The challenge is sill there…
EM: What were the main challenges faced in your efforts you to set-up and to get Grupo FARO off the ground?
OB: I have always believed that the three pillars for the success of any enterprise are: ideas, people, and financial resources. In the beginning, Grupo FARO was just an idea. I was convinced it was a good one but just an idea after all. Therefore I needed to find people and resources. Elizabeth Coombs, a classmate at KSG, decided to join the team and become the second full-time member of Grupo FARO.
In late 2004 and early 2005, Ecuador was experiencing a period of intense change with a widespread distrust in politicians and politics (between 1996 and 2006 Ecuador had 7 presidents; several of them ousted by citizen mobilizations). For this reason, I did not invite people with experience in public administration to become co-funders but rather a group of young people committed to the transformation of Ecuador and Latin America. María Paula Romo, Carolina Vizcaino and Kar Atamaint belong to this group. The challenge of this decision was that, at that time in their professional careers, they had little social or institutional capital to bring to Grupo FARO.
Thus, we formed an advisory board composed of Ecuadorian and foreign academics who, by accepting our invitation, generously agreed to bring to our very young organisation the credibility and expertise associated with their names; some of the members that joined us back in 2004 were Augusto de la Torre, Fernando Reimers, Robert Klitgaard, Rafael Correa, and Merilee Grindle. The impacts of this decision did not take long to be felt: when the people we visited at international agencies and public institutions to present Grupo FARO recognised somebody in the advisory board, the interest in what we had to say increased significantly.
EM: Who help you the most? What do you think motivated them to ‘bet’ on your proposition?
OB: The founding members performed an act of faith by signing the by-laws of Grupo FARO. So did members of the Advisory Council, many faculty members from prestigious universities who did not hesitate to join and support the idea with enthusiasm. Without the trust of these people it would not have been possible to establish this independent, non-partisan, and secular think tank in Ecuador.
EM: Many think tanks are stepping-stones for their researchers it is my impression that Grupo FARO is a place where its researchers and the staff in general get along really well. They all seem to be friends. How important is this relationship for its success?
OB: Grupo FARO was born as a small organisation in which its members addressed its challenges over lunch. Since the beginning we established a culture of collaboration and open communication that allowed the generation of a community of diverse people who share values, principles, and a passion for what they do.
The organisation has grown over the years and our challenge now is to combine the need to formalise certain procedures with the strong identity and culture of community we have had since the start. We have directed our efforts to define what it means to be a “farista” (the name we give to somebody that works at Grupo FARO) and created both formal spaces such as open houses or training workshops as well as informal spaces such as the celebration of the birthdays of our colleagues to promote a culture of communication, creativity, and collaboration where people do not seek to generate the idea of his next research project in secret, but that innovation exchange occurs in a climate of tolerance to different opinions.
Nowadays, we are designing and implementing a comprehensive strategy to manage our human talent to increase our capacity to attract, retain, and motivate intelligent and committed people to maintain excellence without losing the spontaneity that has characterised this organization.
EM: Who are the members of your board and why did you choose them?
OB: The board members of Grupo FARO are people of diverse professional, ideological, political, religious and cultural backgrounds; each of them has a proven record of contributions to the development of Ecuador and Latin America.
In the early years of the organisation they were invited by me as the Executive Director of Grupo FARO. However, the process has been formalised and there is now a nominating committee in charge of identifying people with potential to integrate this collegiate body.
EM: What roles do they play?
OB: The Board of Directors monitors the compliance with the mission, vision, values, bylaws, and policies of the organisation. Additionally, its members ensure the technical and financial sustainability of the think tanks for which they review and approve the strategic plan, the operating plan, and our annual budget. Finally, they appoint and evaluate the Executive Director. We would like them to start having a more active role in fundraising strategies, especially managing our relations with the private sector as well as international donors.
EM: Who are the members of your senior management team?
OB: Group FARO has four programmatic areas and three transversal in charge of ensuring that our initiative apply our modes of intervention (research, capacity building and policy influence). Additionally, we have a Financial Administrative Director, a Deputy Director, and an Executive Director. This group of 10 directors make up the Executive Council who is in charge of implementing the Strategic Plan and Annual operating plan approved by our Board.
In this way, we try to establish internal “checks and balances” that allow us to remain faithful to the principles of the organisation, transparently and efficiently managing the resources entrusted to us by our donors and allies.
EM: Does this team include someone in charge of research communications or more directly policy influence?
OB: Yes, we have a Director of Communication and Policy Influence. So far, this area had placed emphasis on the “Communication” dimension for which we have worked with journalists to promote the use of the results of our research in the news and reports published by the media.
But given that in Ecuador there is a growing polarisation between public and private media, we have decided to put the emphasis on “policy influence” dimension. This means reducing our work with the media and increasing the use of “person to person” strategies that enables the evidence and ideas we generate through our research to reach policymakers, the private sector and s civil society organisations’ leaders directly. This is an enormous challenge for Grupo FARO because it demands expanding our capacities to develop more precise messages directed not only to wider audiences but to the organisations and people involved in making decisions regarding the public policy on which we want to influence.
EM: What keeps you up at night?
OB: One of the biggest challenges we have is how to grow without becoming a bureaucratic and rigid organisation that loses the humility, flexibility, and innovation we have had from the beginning.
Additionally, we understand that we cannot promote change in society on our own. In the last few years we started promoting an ecosystem of public, private, and civil society organisations that value the use of knowledge in public policy. Therefore, we are actively working on developing the capacities of other organisations to generate and use knowledge to improve the design, implementation and monitoring of public policies.
In addition, since our staff out-grew our office space, we decided to build a space that reflects our values of transparency and collaboration and that is an example of sustainable construction for its use of recycled materials, renewable energy, green walls, etc. We hope that the “House of Citizenship and Public Policy” (which is how we call this project) will soon become a reality and encourage plural and informed dialogue between different actors in society to promote more effective, transparent, and citizen-oriented public policies.
We also hope that the new Grupo FARO headquarters will house a Research Center on Urban Sustainability, where researchers and students will be able to access case studies and references on the use of “green” technology in urbanism and sustainable buildings. This will serve to enrich public debate, encourage new practices, and develop leaders in this field.
This, of course, depends on having the financial resources to complete this project. Which brings me to the financial challenge. Now that Ecuador is considered a middle-income country, resources coming from the international cooperation will decline in the coming years. So our challenge is to inspire individuals and private companies in Ecuador to contribute with Grupo FARO. We will achieve this goal to the extent that we have the ability to convince them that our organisation is important for Ecuador’s and Latina America’s development and that, by supporting us, they can be part of the change.
Finally, we face the challenge of managing our human talent. Since we cannot compete with the State on wages, we are designing non-monetary incentives that attract and retain bright young people from different professions to Grupo FARO as a unique space to generate and implement ideas that can make a difference in society.
EM: As you say, this is all linked to funding. How hard is it to find domestic funding for Grupo FARO? Why are there not enough philanthropists in Latin America willing to invest in think tanks as there are, for instance, in the U.S. and in Europe?
OB: Almost 99% of Grupo FARO’s financial resources come from the international cooperation. Although this has helped us to strengthen our image as an independent and rigorous think tanks, capable of meeting the highest quality standards, we are convinced that we need to increase the proportion of our budget coming from small donations. We need this not only to diversify our sources but, overall, to increase our legitimacy due to the fact that our proposals are supported by individuals and organizations that believe in our organisation , principles and impacts.
I am optimistic that in Ecuador and Latin American there are entrepreneurs that value the importance of independent think tanks to improve the quality of public policies that directly and indirectly affect the functioning of markets and the State and therefore the possibilities of our countries to develop. Confident in the validity of this hypothesis, one of the goals we have set out to achieve in 2012 is to increase the proportion of resources that come from individuals (including the Ecuadorian diaspora living in the U.S. and Europe) and private companies so as to achieve not only greater financial sustainability but also legitimacy of our actions.
EM: How do you measure Grupo FARO’s value for Ecuador? Is it just about influencing policy?
OB: Influencing public policy is only a means to promote a more democratic, sustainable, equitable, and prosperous society. Grupo FARO aims to contribute to promoting, in Ecuador and Latin America, societies that looks to the future and that are collaborative and action-oriented.
Envisioning the future: Grupo FARO is convinced that think tanks have a key role not only supporting public reforms that govern the present, but proposing those required to drive our countries towards the future. This is particularly important in countries like Ecuador, where the urgency of changes sometimes makes it difficult to step out of the fog of everyday life to think about who we are and who we could become.
Hence we need public policy centres with the ability to see beyond current events and generate knowledge that can create and develop new institutions and propose policies for an increasingly interdependent and knowledge-based world. To do this, we must learn to complement deductive and inductive logic to conduct research with the use of a different kind of method based on what Charles Peirce called adbuctive logic that enable us to make “logical leaps of the mind” and generate new models.
This is what motivated us to take the initiative “Ecuador will be (Ecuador Será)” aimed at carrying out research aimed to examine prospectively how to reconcile the aspirations of establishing a knowledge society with the challenges associated with natural resources such as global warming, biodiversity loss. We focused the first edition of “Ecuador will be” on the challenges we face to become a knowledge society. We concluded that several megadiverse countries in the south could lead the next wave of innovation generating knowledge around natural resources: renewable energies, green nanotechnology, industrial ecology are just a few examples
Collaboration: From our perspective, Ecuador is characterised by high political, social, economic, and geographic fragmentation. Consequently, changes have occurred in Ecuador by the imposition of a particular economic, political, ideological, regional or ethnic group on the rest of society.
We are convinced that lasting change occurs only when different groups of society agree on the definition of a problem and, above all, take shared responsibility for solving it. Grupo FARO seeks to diminish fragmentation and improve public decisions by combining a top-down and a bottom-up approach to reach policy-makers and grassroots organizations as well as individual citizens.
Action-oriented: From the beginning, Grupo FARO calls itself a “think-and-do” tank because we are convinced that in response to fragmentation there has been inability to act for the collective good. Therefore, we are working towards a culture of action and responsibility that enable us to channel entrepreneurial ideas into actions that improve the lives of people.
In short, we believe that organisations like Grupo FARO exist not only to inform public policy, but above all, to support our societies to envision a different future and develop their capacity for dialogue and action that are necessary to prepare today for the challenges we will face in the years ahead. In order to achieve this challenge, Grupo FARO needs to learn to generate narratives not just evidence. Narratives, arguments, big ideas are what inspire individuals and societies to promote long-term changes.
EM: Let me go back a bit to where you say that you are moving away from a more public engagement via the media to a more focused approach to influence individuals. It strikes me as a bit odd for Grupo FARO, that is so clearly interested in building consensus, opening the debate, bringing different voices together, etc. that it may choose a more private pathway for change. How to maintain the balance between public accountability (being transparent to the Ecuatorian public) and achieving change (if, as you say, this requires to do some things in private)?
OB: Grupo FARO believes that public policy could be influenced from top-down (i.e. decision makers) as well as from bottom-up (i.e. citizen mobilisation). We have learned that the media is not the only way to promote citizen engagement and, consequently, we are actively seeking other methods. Grupo FARO has developed its research agenda in dialogue with several actors from the public and private sector to ensure that our research questions are relevant for decision makers as well as civic leaders. In addition, our knowledge products (e.g. policy papers, books, etc) are publicly available and shared with a broad audience through our web page, social networks, among other channels.
Keeping this commitment to transparency and plurality, our challenge now is to establish a communication strategy that enables us to develop messages that, based on the evidence generated in our knowledge products, are tailored to those who participate in the formulation of a policy we would like to influence. By doing this, we will continue promoting citizen engagement using the media and social networks and, at the same time, increase our capacity to target and inform those with power to improve the quality of public deliberation and public policies.
EM: Grupo FARO has received long-term funding from the Think Tank Initiative. How do you plan to use These funds?
OB: These funds have enabled us to improve our governance by strengthening the functioning of Grupo FARO’s Board, to improve our ability to conduct policy applied research, improve our administrative and financial systems, as well as implement strategies to enhance our capacity to communicate and influence policy.
In 2012 the funds received from TTI will be used primarily to: Organise the second edition of “Ecuador will be”, a prospective research project that allows us to bring together representatives from various sectors of Ecuador to exchange ideas for what we could do to achieve development in a generation; launch and begin the implementation of our Research Associates Program; design an advocacy strategy aimed at more specific public decision makers; and design and implement a resource mobilisation strategy.
EM: What kind of support or services does Grupo FARO (and other organisations like it) need to meet its objectives?
OB: We need several things. From knowledge management systems to methodologies for evaluating the impacts of our research. If I can pick one aspect that Grupo FARO shall focus it will be the need to improve leadership skills of think tank managers.
Grupo FARO has identified the need to strengthen the quality of its leadership, both among the members of the Board of Directors as well as the Directors in charge of managing different areas within the organisation. Members of the Board of Directors of Grupo FARO are aware of the importance of their role in the governance and sustainability of the think tank and have expressed their willingness to participate in programs to improve their capacity as board members of a think tank as well as exchange experiences with their peers at other think tanks to improve their capabilities to better fulfill their roles. [Editor’s note: it may be worth remembering what Simon Maxwell had to say about the roles of the Board at ODI).
As part of the challenges of leadership we, myself as the Executive Director and the Directors of Areas, need to improve our ability to lead teams of researchers to become policy entrepreneurs.
Therefore, we believe it is critical to develop specialised programs for think tank leadership since, as we know, these are organisations with particular characteristics (not an NGO or a university, nor a government institution; although they has similarities to all of them). Improving the quality of leaders and managers at think tanks is key to improving the independence, relevance and impact of organizations that are key for the present and the future of our societies.
(You can follow Orazio on Twitter)
On the 11th-12th August, onthinktanks, CIES, ODI, the Evidence based in Development Network, CIPPEC, Grupo FARO, GDNet, and IDRC’s Think Tank Initiative co-organised a meeting of think tanks from all over Latin America. At the meeting were present the directors and/or deputies of at least 30 think tanks who came together to share and learn about the business of running these kinds of organisations.
On the 11th, the book: Vinculos entre conocimiento y politica: el rol de la investigacion en el debate publico en America Latina was launched with the participation of Enrique Mendizabal and Norma Correa (editors), Martin Tanaka and Mercedes Botto (authors), and Antonio Romero from the Think Tank Initiative commenting. The book follows from a study edited by Enrique Mendizabal and Kristen Sample on the relationship between think tanks and political parties in Latin America.
You can read the book below (I hope it will be soon published in English):
The book’s outline:
Investigadores, políticos, funcionarios públicos y periodistas en América Latina: en busca de una gran conversación. Norma Correa Aste (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú) y Enrique Mendizabal (onthinktanks.org)
PRIMERA SECCIÓN: Estudios Marco
La relación entre Investigación y políticas públicas en América Latina: un análisis exploratorio Martín Tanaka, Rodrigo Barrenechea y Jorge Morel (Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, Perú)
ThInk tanks en América Latina: radiografía comparada de un nuevo actor político Mercedes Botto (Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, Argentina)
El rol del estado en el financiamiento de la Investigación sobre políticas públicas en América Latina Martín Lardone y Marcos Roggero (Universidad Católica de Córdoba, Argentina)
SEGUNDA SECCIÓN: Estudios de Caso
Una extraña pareja. relación entre los medios de comunicación y los centros de Investtigación en políticas públicas Ricardo Uceda (Instituto Prensa y Sociedad, Perú)
Medios de comuniación y uso de la Investigación en polítIias públicas en América Latina casos: Clarín (Argentina), el Diario de Hoy (El Salvador) y la Jornada (México), para el período marzo-abril 2010
Pablo Livszyc y Natalia Romé
(Instituto para la Participación y el Desarrollo, Argentina)
Think Tanks: los medios de poder en la Bolivia de Evo Morales Rafael Loayza Bueno (Universidad Mayor de San Andrés y Universidad Católica San Pablo, Bolivia)
El rol de la evidencia sobre políticas públicas en contextos de polarización: el conflicto por los derechos de exportación en la Argentina Tomás Garzón de la Roza
(Universidad Austral, Argentina)
TERCERA SECCIÓN: Balance y agenda de investigación
Estructuras políticas y uso de la Investigación en las políticas públicas. Método e hipótesis para una agenda de Investigación Adolfo Garcé
(Universidad de la República, Uruguay)
More than 40 representatives of Latin American think tanks met in Lima between the 11-12th August to share new research and experiences.
The full programme in spanish is here and below is an outline of the event and key links to the resources (in Spanish).