About the On Think Tanks Working Paper Series

26 April 2018

[This article was originally published in the On Think Tanks 2017 Annual Review. ]

In 2017, we launched the OTT working paper series, in partnership with the
University of Bath and Universidad del Pacífico. The series aims to encourage research on evidence-based policy and a better understanding of how think tanks operate, with a particular emphasis on developing countries and emerging economies.

Our first round was a success. We have published four papers that reflect various aspects of our broad and ambitious research agenda+ and achieved a wide geographic spread with papers focusing on the United States, Vietnam, Uruguay and Chile. We also have other papers in the pipeline and several other authors have approached us about submitting papers in the future.

One of the first papers to be submitted fell under our ‘populism and evidence scepticism’ stream of work. Following the election of President Donald Trump, it analyses the new political reality that American think tanks are facing +, including the increase in evidence scepticism. It also identifies a range of opportunities for think tanks to consider in this context.

Two papers focused on our ‘expanding and deepening think tank research’ theme. One provided a historical analysis of think tank traditions in Vietnam+.Specifically, it analysed the impact of key political and economic changes in the country on the production of policy-relevant knowledge. The other paper focused on the framework in which evidence-based policy happens and how knowledge regimes affect the use of evidence in policy using Chile and Uruguay as case studies+. It provides useful recommendations for how Latin American countries can strengthen the use of evidence in policy.

The fourth paper clearly sits in the ‘quality and credibility’ area of our research agenda, as it deconstructs the concept of credibility itself  +. It looks at how people understand and assess credibility and how they award it (or not) to think tanks.

OTT’s research agenda

  • Expand and deepen think tank research
  • Think tanks in a time of populism and evidence scepticism
  • Sustainability and change of the policy research community
  • Quality and credibility
  • Innovative methodology and towards and anthropology of think tanks

To promote the working paper initiative, we ran a comprehensive social media campaign to advertise the call, disseminated the papers and encouraged new researchers to publish. In addition to our traditional communication channels, we also published the papers in Medium – an innovative publishing platform. Going forward, we will build on this approach, but also make better use of our growing network of authors to promote our next round.

But we also learned lessons from our first year, which will feed into future planning. When we launched the call, we naively thought that our six-week review and publication schedule would be easy to stick to. We expected papers to immediately be ready for peer review, and hoped that comments would be easily, and quickly, incorporated by the authors. The reality was quite different.

Researchers from different parts of the world have different styles, standards and bodies of knowledge. Managing this can be difficult. While some papers moved through the production schedule quickly, others required a lot of support from the OTT team. In order to stick to our goal of publishing innovative and interesting work from new and diverse authors, we had to readjust our processes.

We built in time to work in-depth with authors, providing comments on early drafts, asking questions and supporting them with messaging. This has obviously slowed down the process, but it has made the work all the more enriching.

Do you have a paper you wish to publish? Can you help us spread the word?