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Posts tagged ‘online’

The Renaissance of the Corporate Website

In this post, Mallory Clyne, at The North-South Institute, directly challenges the idea that corporate websites may be on their way out. Instead, she argues that they are going through a renaissance and can even challenge the mighty social media.

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Is it wrong to herald the death of the institutional website?

James Georgalakis, from the Institute for Development Studies, argues that institutional websites can demonstrate credibility and allow users to explore the organisation's products and services, but must always be clear and geared towards the users' needs.

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The Power of Film: Turning your talking head video into a story

I want to explore how to take your next steps into the realm of online film to develop something more elaborate: to produce an online ‘story’. Getting this right is almost as important as who you pick to do your filming and is not always an easy process.

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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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Minority Education Think Tank to Launch Online

The American Education Think Tank (AETT), with the help of a Maryland business executive long associated with historically Black colleges and universities, is going to launch a new online education think tank this week. This online education think tank has the objective of expanding the involvement of people of colour in the national debate on education.

This project will comprise of around 80 bloggers who will be dedicated to writing about ideas on education over the next year, which will be finally put together by the AETT’s Commission on Education in order to develop an agenda that addresses the educational needs of children, particularly those of colour.

These bloggers consist of several college presidents such as  Dr. Henry Ponder, president of Oklahoma’s Langston University, as well as department heads from Jackson State University, and professors from Howard University and Boston University.

The new organization hopes to distinguish itself from others by being “efficient, cost effective and transparent.” Anyone can visit the organization’s web site and related social media vehicles to weigh in on ideas and opinions advanced by the fellows, not all of whom are expected to write and post on a regular basis or at the same time.

The online think tank discussions will be available to all of those with computer access, and the organisation will try to stimulate debate by periodically posing a question to participants.

This experience presents an opportunity to explore an idea presented several times in to develop digital think tanks that require little start-up investments.

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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What social media and digital tools are think tanks using in their work? Views from a short clinic at the Think Tank Initiative Exchange 2012

What is the state of play for the use of digital tools in African, Asian and Latin American think tanks? A clinic I ran at the Think Tank Initiative Exchange 2012 in Cape Town found a good range of experiences with numerous tools and left me feeling positive that think tanks aren’t sticking their head in the sand in the face of the changes wrought by ‘digital disruption’ (at least for the self-selecting think tanks in the room).

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Enrique Mendizabal:

Michael Harris from New Think Tank has posted and interesting analysis on the use (or not) of twitter by think tanks in the UK. There are also some interesting comments made to the post it self that are worth having a look.

His basic argument is that think tanks are missing an opportunity: they are only using twitter to announce events or publications but not to engage and debate with their publics (peers, audiences, staff, etc.). This is an interesting proposition but it could be argued that this Twitter is not the best tool for this and that others may be better (Nick Scott wrote about this in his posts on Digital Disruption).

Also interesting is that his analysis ‘proves’ that the link between visibility and influence is not direct: they find rather low Twitter presences for well known and influential think tanks. And the RSA may in fact be described as a the ‘least think tank’ of the list at it is rarely participates in active policy influence.
Other interesting results: 71% of the top 300 staff and associates users have less that 500 followers, there are no women in the top 10 and only 7 in the top 50 (although as they point out this may reflect the composition of the industry itself), younger staff may be over-presented as a result of their more active use of Twitter, etc.

Originally posted on Guerilla Policy:

Social media is disrupting traditional media and conventional approaches to public communication. Platforms such as Twitter offer a timely and low-cost way for think tanks to disseminate and discuss their ideas and findings, and potentially to broaden their audiences. Are they seizing the opportunities offered by social media?

A few weeks ago we did a quick bit of research on which UK think tanks had the most Twitter followers (this was for the main corporate Twitter feed). The ‘winners’ were Chatham House (19,320 followers), The RSA (18,597) and the new economics foundation (18,214). There were also some well-known think tanks with surprisingly small Twitter presences, such as Reform (2,357), The Centre for Social Justice (1,881) and The Institute of Economic Affairs (1,383). The full list of 35 think tanks can be found in an earlier post here.

Since then, we’ve also looked at individual think tank staff, fellows and…

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Digital disruption: the internet is changing how we search for information

Nick Scott has written quite a lot about digital disruption and what it means for think tanks. I was sent this very interesting info-graphic produced by Online Graduate Programs by Tony Shin (@ohtinytony) last week that I thin is worth sharing with you. Notice how quickly we lose patience and stop searching for information or switch to other sources if the sites we are using are too slow (‘too’ meaning fractions of a second).

This is very important. It means that think tanks need to ensure that their sites are quick, easy to use and find information, and, as Nick would argue, be where people already to to search.

It is also worrying though because it means that we may be losing our capacity to research difficult issues to research.

Instant America
Created by: Online Graduate Programs


A blast from the past: Open innovation and being there communications

A discussion on the ebpdn online community reminded my of this blog (written back in 2008 for ODI): Watch YOUR space

(I have made a few edits and added new ideas.)

The world is not, as they say, getting smaller, and technology is not, as they say, necessarily making distances disappear. Rather, new communication technologies are creating a myriad new spaces in the real and virtual worlds where individuals can find and exchange information. Increasingly, they can also choose what they want to find there, and how. The BBC, and Google News for instance, allow users to decide what news they want through user-designed homepages. And as I have argued before, Twitter has become my new ‘Google it’.

Technology is allowing people to develop and join spaces where they can find all the information they need – both personal and professional. These spaces (networks:communities of practicesocial networks, professional associations, knowledge networks, etc.) have developed their own languages, systems, norms and procedures, giving members ever more powerful tools to access and share the knowledge they need. Just think of the @s and #s and RTs and other codes and symbols that are used in Twitter. (What does FF mean, by the way?)

Many think tanks have traded successfully for decades on creating and sharing specialised knowledge by hot-housing groups of smart people. But they may not be able to do so for much longer.

First, new communication technology is decentralising the production of knowledge. Specialist knowledge is being created worldwide in informal spaces. As a result, individual think tanks can rarely claim to have the best in-house experts on everything they work on. There are almost certainly better ideas elsewhere – if we look hard enough. The difficulty lies in finding them.

A second challenge is that new technology is also changing the way that people communicate and access knowledge. Users don’t wait for knowledge any longer. There is an increasing reliance on syndication and mash-up technologies to aggregate knowledge from a multitude of sources without ever visiting them. Users no longer just ‘take it all in’; they are selective in what they want from each source. The location in which information is accessed is closely related to how it is accessed. Social and professional networks take time to develop – even online – and the time spent accessing information in these places is proportional to the value assigned to the knowledge obtained. So think tanks do not just compete with other specialist knowledge producers, they must also compete with the knowledge spaces their audiences are creating for themselves. This is the real challenge.

A third challenge is that the rules of these new spaces are rapidly being developed by ‘others’. Think tanks, often late adopters are having to play catch up. It is not surprising then, that many researchers feel apprehensive of joining these online spaces. But the longer they wait to join the longer and steeper will be the learning curve. And the opportunity to set the rules (or contribute to their development) will be long lost.

The concept of open innovation provides a possible solution. Open innovation is an innovation paradigm that argues that organisations can no longer rely on the intellectual property they develop internally. They must also be open to the idea of buying or licencing it from other organisations. Wikipedia provides a simple comparison of the principles of closed and open innovation systems:

Closed innovation Principles

Open innovation Principles

The smart people in our field work for us. Not all the smart people work for us. We need to work with smart people inside and outside our company.
To profit from research and development, (R&D) we must discover it, develop it and ship it ourselves. External R&D can create significant value; internal R&D is needed to claim some portion of that value.
If we discover it ourselves, we will get it to market first. We don’t have to originate the research to profit from it.
The company that gets an innovation to market first will win. Building a better business model is better than getting to market first.
If we create the most and the best ideas in the industry, we will win. If we make the best use of internal and external ideas, we will win.
We should control our innovation process, so that our competitors don’t profit from our ideas. We should profit from others’ use of our innovation process, and we should buy others’ intellectual property (IP) whenever it advances our own business model.

Source: Wikipedia/Open_innovation

Open innovation underpins two new approaches to research and communication: ‘think nets’ and, for lack of a better term, ‘being there communications’. (Being there comes from the brilliant Peter Sellers film of the same name, by the way.)

The term think net came to my attention in an analysis of the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) by Stephen Yeo and Richard Portes. A think net, unlike a think tank, does not invest in a large cadre of in-house experts to guarantee quality research outputs. Instead, it invests in developing a network of experts working in different research and policy spaces and with access to different sources and types of knowledge. The think net maintains its flexibility and relevance by using the networks of its members as an open innovation structure. Through these networks, the think net can benefit from intellectual property developed elsewhere.

Think nets are critical knowledge brokers: filters and amplifiers of knowledge, as well as conveners of diverse experts and ideas. They are also smaller and more manageable than traditional think tanks. Not surprisingly, the idea has caught on and there is an increasing interest to explore how they may help think tanks manage the challenges that the web and the proliferation of ‘free’ knowledge has brought.

‘Being there communications’ refers to a new paradigm of communications that, rather than trying to bring audiences into a think tank’s own space, takes its messages to the audience. While I take the credit for giving it a terrible name, Nick Scott, ODI’s Online Communications Manager, came up with the idea. [Back in 2008 I wrote: Increasingly, think tanks are using RSS tools to facilitate this. Readers no longer have to visit websites but can browse through their previously selected RSS feeds. I cannot remember when was the last time I read an RSS feed. Back then of course there was no Twitter, Facebook was fairly new (for my generation at least), and the idea of an online strategy was not just bizarre but probably considered a waste of time.] In the very near future, it will be possible for users to further specify the type of knowledge they need (we can do this already) and when (we can, in a way, by the choice of spaces we join). ‘Being there’ requires think tanks to develop Facebook,  Google desktop-like widgets, a twitter strategy, and other applications to ensure that their knowledge is just one mouse click away in the spaces in which their audiences ‘work and play’. An organisation’s page on Facebook is one of the ways it can attempt to establish its presence in these important ‘knowledge spaces’.

Both paradigms are compatible. Think nets allow knowledge producers to learn from each other. Knowledge spaces allow knowledge users to assimilate new knowledge in their own context.

The emergence of think nets and knowledge spaces present a real challenge to traditional think tanks. They can no longer rely on hot-housing smart people to generate and disseminate new ideas. They must embrace open innovation. But what are the implications?

Back when I first wrote this I had to add a paragraph about how ODI was moving in the right direction. No need to do it now, but it is fair to recognise that it has done so in terms of its presence of several knowledge spaces.

I know a bit more about the implications for think tanks in developing countries, now. The most significant implication is that to properly benefit from the knowledge that others have think tanks need to open up to let others benefit from their own knowledge. This is not that easy. It means letting go of people and ideas.

There are some interesting examples. The Center for Global Development has a few visiting fellows who are also fellows or researchers in other organisations. Nick Scott recently convinced ODI to let him work from CIPPEC in Argentina. North-North cooperation is easier. The CIPPEC case reflects the level of development of CIPPEC itself. But the challenge still remains with other organisations.

Embracing this idea properly also means being willing to give up the technocratic high-chair. Think tanks, specially international development think tanks or those supported almost entirely by international cooperation often hide behind technocratic arguments to avoid getting embroiled in more ideologically inspired debates. This is unavoidable. Politics, the process by which groups of people make collective decisions (the affairs of the city), cannot be divorced from the affairs of individuals; and individuals need ideology: a set of ideas that constitutes one’s goals, expectations, and actions, in other words, their values.

In these other spaces the conversation is no longer just technical -think tanks are not just followed by researchers. Inevitably, think tanks would have to open their arguments to new appeals: of ethics, political interests, even religious considerations.

Can they? Should they?


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