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Posts tagged ‘Nick Scott’

Wonkcomms teams and skill sets: what does the future hold?

The last three WonkComms events considered the ‘why’, ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘where’ of think tank communications. This event turned its attention to ‘who’ – the human resources think tanks can call on for their communications, what skills are needed to progress in the sector and how to develop them.

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WonkComms: the future of think tank communications

What is the future of think tank communications? IPPR, ODI, the Social Market Foundation and the Economist come together at an event in London to try to address this. The report of the event in itself is a perfect example of what can be done with very little effort -but careful planning.

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Altmetrics: the pros and the cons

Almetrics are a new form of measuring research impact by adding on a wider set of metrics to traditional bibliographic rankings based on academic journal citation analysis. While they are a very useful initiative in measuring impact beyond traditional scholarly output, they still have to show progress in certain areas.

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Think Tank Initiative 2012 Exchange: How a digital strategy can enhance think tank management, research and communications

These videos are part of the June 19th Workshop A of the Think Tank Initiative Exchange. This workshop was about digital strategy plays a role in think tank management, research and communications.

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ODI’s award-winning online strategy explained

The ODI digital strategy, first outlined in a series of blogs for, was awarded Online Strategy of the Year 2012 at the prestigious Digital Communications Awards, held in Berlin on Friday. ODI beat off competition from multinational corporations and specialist digital agencies to claim this major award. This post is based on the speech give to the jury and explains very succinctly what the strategy is and where/why it has worked.

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How a digital strategy can enhance think tank management, research and communication

Peter da Costa chaired the session on how digital strategies can enhance think tank management, research and communication:

An important consideration for Southern think tanks in figuring out whether and how to develop and implement a digital strategy is the audience they want to reach, the policy community actors they want to influence. Given that the TTI cohort seeks to exert influence in national spaces, how many Southern policy makers in Africa and South Asia are active Twitterers? The corollary to the statement that “policy makers do not read documents” may well be that “policy makers do not Tweet”. In such cases, it may be a time-consuming and futile exercise to develop a digital strategy hinged on social media. It might be more fruitful to target mobile phones of Ministers with creative SMS campaigns, or physically doorstep key decision makers outside Parliament.

That said, Southern think tanks need funding. They also form part of multi-country research consortia, whether South-South or South-North. As such, some of the social media tools discussed in today’s session can definitely help them showcase their work to audiences outside their immediate national settings. Going digital can also reduce the transaction cost and maximize the benefits of working on trans-national research initiatives. If there’s one thing that can be said for the digital sphere, it’s that it can and does transcend national borders.

The workshop began by considering what ‘digital’ means. There were many different interpretations around electronic information including the memorable ‘anything you’re forbidden for using on take off from a plane’. For the session, I used the  definition proposed in a recent blog on digital strategy for think tanks. My presentation considered the role of digital strategy is facing the potential effects of the digital revolution on think tanks, which I outlined in two scenarios: both meaning major change for think tanks, but one envisioning a revolutionary change that dramatically and immediately changes the nature of think tank research and work and the second an evolution that sees gradual change.

View this document on Scribd

During the clinic for this session, participants were supportive of the idea that the ways in which think tanks operate today faced significant pressures for change. Their challenge (and opportunity) is to find how to allow their own younger researchers to incorporate these new practices (being public, collaborating with others, etc.) that digital tools offer.

It was clear that, even in countries with poor internet connection, there was a great deal that could be done on internal information services, digitalising the organisation’s past publications, and preparing for better web speeds.

Nick Scott’s presentation drew on a series of recent blogs which outlined three areas of response to digital disruption of traditional communications:

His presentation can be found here: Digital communications for think tanks – TTIX 2012.

Finally, Vaqar Ahmed of SDPI Pakistan presented their fantastic approach to use web TV to conduct peer review and communicate reach to niche audiences. The presentation is worth checking out:

On his clinic, Vaqar said:

The audience was of the view that this tool could be very helpful in promoting a culture of branding within think tanks. The think tank’s own web TV unlike the cable will not have commercial pressures and can provide platform for young researchers to flag their research output and get some comments posted on it – which in fact will be at a faster pace if compared with the traditional peer-review system.

Institutionalising web TV, while economical in terms of personnel costs related to those behind or front of camera, will also require a dedicated web team to manage the website and generate traffic. The web TV channel is only one amongst wide range of innovative advocacy tools and therefore its use should be integrated with other social media tools available.


Digital think tanks

I have been asked to present and facilitate a session on digital think tanks at the Think Tank Initiative’s global exchange in Cape Town next week. Nick Scott, Peter da Costa and Vaqar Ahmed will be co-facilitating. We will all try to write about our session and share our experience with you (So far: Digital strategy can support communications in think tanks. But can it also improve their research and management too?5 top tips for think tanks using social mediaSocial Media and think tanks: lessons from London Thinks). From the workshop agenda:

Moderator: Peter K.A. da Costa: Africa-based Consultant, Hewlett Foundation


Vaqar Ahmed: Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI)
Enrique Mendizabal: Mendizabal Ltd, On Think Tanks blog
Nick Scott: Overseas Development Institute (ODI)


The workshop will articulate why think tanks should develop and implement a digital strategy. It will focus on ways in which digital approaches and tools can strengthen the three core business functions of think tanks – management, research and in particular communications. Participants will have the opportunity to update their knowledge on the state of the art, seek advice on the choices and trade-offs to be made given their specific external as well as internal contexts, and determine how best to pursue a digital strategy in their specific organizational context.


  1. Provide a starting point for think tanks to begin thinking of a digital strategy that fits their context, capacity and institutional needs
  2. Help think tanks determine when, if and how they should take advantage of various digital tools and applications for management, research and communication of their work, internally as well as externally

I have taken on the role to set the scene (or make the case, if I can) for investing in a digital strategy. For it I need to first borrow from Nick Scott‘s definition of digital (but only a small section of a much longer one that he emailed to me (and in draft) -keep an eye on this blog for the long and proper version):

A ‘digital strategy’ should be a strategy that combines old Information Technology strategies with newer Online strategies and takes a holistic view of how computers connected to each other through the Internet and otherwise can support an organisation’s mission, vision and values

With this in mind: The key argument I want to make is that digital is not just about IT for communications. Digital-speak tends to be introduced to a think tank via the communication team or the IT department (or ‘guy’ -who remembers the company’s computer guy sketch? Nick Burns, the company’s computer guy was the one who knew how to use information technologies (computers) and succeeded in keeping the rest of the staff in the dark and afraid of all things IT). So not surprisingly we think that this is all about reaching broader and less informed audiences: the shallow and fickle twitterati.

Thinking of digital in this way limits what new technologies can do for a think tank. Hence our suggestion for this session is that we do not just limit our discussion to communications but also two other core internal think tank functions: management and research.

Digital tools can help these three internal functions and, what is more, they can do it in a way that support each other. For example, Twitter can be used to find information (research), disseminate it (communication), and keep team members connected and informed of a project’s activities (management). DropBox or Google Drive (the new version of Google Docs) can be used as an intranet for an organisation (management), to collaborate in the drafting of a study (research), and as a way of storing the public versions of key documents (communication).

It is when they work together that they achieve their potential for the organisation.

But not all think tanks can nor should do it all at once. Another important discussion we will have at the session is ‘what is appropriate for whom’? I have used the following table to describe the different functions that think tanks play and the spaces they fill in society (think tanks are somewhere in that shaded area):

It follows that think tanks that:

  • More academic centres should stat by exploring how digital tools help them research
  • More contract driven think tanks could first consider how to improve project management by using digital tools
  • More advocacy oriented think tanks should look into digital tools for communications

We will explore this at the event.

A pragmatic guide to monitoring and evaluating research communications using digital tools

M&E of research communications isn’t easy. Given the complexity of policy cycles, examples of one particular action making a difference are often disappointingly rare, and it is even harder to attribute each to the quality of the research, the management of it, or the delivery of communications around it. This blog outlines some of the lessons I’ve learnt in the process of creating the dashboard and investigating the data, a framework I’ve developed for assessing success, and list some of the key digital tools I’ve encountered that are useful for M&E of research communications.

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Responding to digital disruption of traditional communications: ‘reusing the wheel’

This is the fourth in a series of blogs looking at the challenges of ‘digital disruption’ and ODI’s strategy in responding to them. The first blog set the scene, and the second and third outlined in more detail two planks of ODI’s strategy, namely, ‘being there communications’ and ‘cradle to grey content’. This blog looks at the final strand of ODI’s strategy, ‘reusing the wheel’ (as opposed to reinventing it): the free (or cheap) digital content, technology and tools that can improve the quality and delivery of all communications products.

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Responding to digital disruption of traditional communications: ‘cradle to grey content’ strategy

This is the third in a series of blogs looking at the challenges of ‘digital disruption’ and ODI’s strategy in responding to them. The first blog set the scene, and the second outlined in more detail one of three planks of ODI’s strategy: ‘being there communications’. If ‘being there’ outlines the channel the message is delivered through, this blog looks at the content of the message itself, and how the Internet is changing the format of the message and time horizons for which a message can be relevant.

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