Call for evidence: a new way of doing research

2 May 2013

Think tanks are often presented as ‘suppliers’ of research and ideas. I have written about the complications of this model before so will not get into that now. Few think tanks ever communicate anything but their own research and as a consequence miss out on opportunities to strengthen their own arguments. If another think tank or research centre agrees with what you are saying, why not share their work, too? After all, it can only help to show that you are not alone… that yours’ is not the only voice in support of this or that idea.

But in fact, think tanks rarely have all the ideas themselves. Most rarely have original ideas. Their skill lies in being able to find great ideas to solve great problems. They are boundary workers simultaneously playing the games of politics and academia.

So how can think tank change the way they do research so that they recognise that they may not have all the good ideas themselves -certainly, they do not have all the best minds either. Let’s be honest.

Policy Exchange in the UK has come up (or probably learned it from somewhere else) with a solution: a Call for Evidence. Usually, governments call for evidence and think tanks respond (and NGOs do the same, lobbies, citizens, etc.). but in this case the think tank is asking everyone else to provide their evidence.

I think this is an excellent idea and I’d suggest that any think tank interested should, like Policy Exchange is doing, in a way, just take Policy Exchange’s idea and make good use of it.