Barriers to collaboration between think tanks: Grupo FARO

30 April 2014

[Editor’s note: this post was written by Adriana Arellano for the On Think Tanks Exchange -an action learning initiative to support interregional collaboration between think tanks. Each participant has prepared a post to share. See Leandro Echt’s post on barriers and drivers.]

Grupo FARO has partnered with a variety of organizations to produce policy-oriented research, influence policies, and strengthen organizational capacities.

Research collaboration

We have had the opportunity to partner and collaborate with universities and research centers in order to produce policy-oriented research:

Universities and think tanksWe are currently undertaking a research project focused on studying links between universities and think tanks in Latin America ( and we are conducting it in partnership with CPCE – Centro de Políticas Comparadas de Educación, a research center from Chile. This project has been an interesting opportunity of collaboration and a great source of insight on collaborations due to the project’s focus.  This collaboration was based on a person who acts as link between both organizations (José Joaquín Brunner, a member of Grupo FARO’s board and a senior researcher at CPCE). While implementing the project Grupo FARO has taken the lead in the implementation of the project with CPCE contributing with the expertise of a couple of its members and the leverage of their regional reputation that has increased the visibility of the project.

Preliminary findings of the study itself show that collaboration is enhanced by:

  • Acknowledging complementarity of capacities between organizations
  • Internationalization efforts
  • Identifying and involving persons that act as connectors

And it is hindered by:

  • Scarce resources
  • Different objectives or focus
  • Bureaucratic processes in both organizations

Future of Ecuador

We recently partnered with UNESCO in Paris and four universities in Manabí, an Ecuadorian province, to implement an exercise of anticipation called Manabí Será. This initiative seeks to gather key actors and citizens to think about the future of an Ecuadorian province in order to develop a shared vision for Manabí in 2033. The collaboration has been effective since all the parties are committed to the efforts of the initiative, having specific interests around it: UNESCO is consolidating a new vision of anticipatory systems through its Foresight Section and has interest of reproducing anticipatory exercises around the world, Universities in Manabí have a legal requirement to collaborate with organizations in the community and reach out  to citizens, as well as requirements to produce more knowledge published in international peered reviewed journals, and Grupo FARO, as the proponent of the initiative has an interest on implementing it successfully with the participation of different actors.

Policy influence collaboration

Grupo FARO has led an effort of collaboration between civil society organizations in Ecuador in order to influence a regulation affecting civil society organizations. In this effort,Grupo FARO played a leadership role promoting the formation of a collective of CSOs that sought to respond to the threat of an executive decree which restricts the rights of citizens to participate in processes of public deliberation and limits organizations’ right to defence.

This collective worked together to produce an analysis of the regulation, it wrote a report on collective accountability, and began advancing a dialogue with the State on the legislation. It has also published a manifesto in two of Ecuador’s leading newspapers, calling for legislation consistent with both the Constitution of Ecuador and the dialogue between the State and CSOs and has made the case for the existence of thes organizations by bringing visibility to the number of people benefited by programs and projects implemented by them.

In this particular effort we have had to take on most of the responsibilities, like organizing meetings and following up on agreements.  Coordinating a collaborative effort with more than 80 organizations has been a complicated task: Grupo FARO was willing to be the leader of this process and, in recognition of this compromise, was appointed as the first President of the Confederation. Although we share key responsibilities with various organizations we were clear that a successful collaboration with so many organizations required the vision and perseverance of one organization.

Organizational capacity building collaborations

We have also had the opportunity to collaborate with a couple of think tanks in order to share experiences and work jointly on building internal capacity:

Collaboration with CIPPEC – Argentina and CADEP – Paraguay

This effort focused on building the capacities of both organisations to diversify financial resources. Initially the project was planned as a collaborative effort to generate strategies to enroll the financial support of the diaspora of Ecuadorians and Paraguayans living abroad with the advice and guidance of CIPPEC. However, as we embarked in this project we realized that this effort required a considerable amount of resources that we didn’t have available for the project. In consequence, the project’s efforts were adjusted and focused on developing a strategy to diversify funding sources at the national level learning from CIPPEC’s experience on this topic.

This collaboration was strengthened by the personal relationships between the Executive Directors of all organizations involved.

Collaboration with ASIES – Guatemala

This effort was focused on internal capacity building and the strengthening of the board of directors and management, monitoring and evaluation systems, and communications. The collaborative effort was built upon the personal relationship between both executive directors and among them and the consultants. Although this collaborative effort had a few areas where we didn’t accomplish the goals planned the experience allowed a rich exchange of experiences and the possibility of learning from each other. In addition, it has been interesting that this collaborative effort has produced knowledge products to share with others and has made an effort to record successes and limitations of the experience itself.

Lessons learned

Some of the lessons we have learned through collaborative experiences include:

  • A personal relationship between those collaborating in the initiative usually helps ensure the success of collaborative efforts. It is useful to have face to face meetings and interaction beyond the focus of the collaboration in order to generate trust and a fluid communication.
  • Virtual meetings are helpful in disseminating information, planning next steps and sharing progress. Records of the meetings and summaries of these exchanges are key to reminding everyone of the agreements made.
  • The goals and objectives of collaboration have to be clearly defined with a detailed specification of what is expected from each part.
  • You have to plan for flexible deadlines. Usually collaborations add work to the usual workload and responsibilities of those involved in a collaborative effort.
  • Someone has to take the lead in monitoring and controlling product delivery and accomplishing activities according to deadlines.
  • The more participants in a collaborative effort the more complicated it turns out to be. Collaborations with numerous participants dilute responsibilities and make it necessary for a few organizations to lead the effort and take on the majority of activities.
  • It is difficult to engage other teams, who have not been involved in the collaborative efforts from the beginning.
  • Everyone involved in the collaborative effort has to feel there is value in collaboration and that by working together the parts are achieving something they wouldn’t achieve by themselves.
  • We must not forget the politics of collaborations: in them there are power relationships, different world visions that challenge each other and explain the success or failure of a collaborative effort.