Communication options for think tanks: channels and tools

20 August 2012


Somehow we always come back to the same channels and (increasingly) to some of the same tools.+ I have been ‘collecting’ some of these over the last year. And every time I get to visit or work with a think tank we get back to the same ones. Recently I have been working with a group of think tanks in Latin America where I have been trying to implement some of the lessons we learned from similar ‘capacity building’ initiatives +. More on this later.

One of the first contributions I made to this project was to highlight the range of tools that they, as think tanks, have at their disposal. The idea is that they will identify the ones that best fit for their organisations and then pick the more appropriate sub-set for individual projects. This is the big change in the way things are usually done. Instead of asking the think tanks to develop a strategy for the project (often managed by an international consultancy or research centre) -and that is more concerned with outputs that are comparable across the countries where it operates and focuses on communicating only (or mostly) what the project funded- we have asked them to develop a strategy for the think tank and to communicate the project’s findings through it: using the centre’s branding, choice of channels and tools, incorporating the project’s findings into the broader work on the issue done by the centre, etc.

I am republishing the document below (but the file is here in English and in Spanish here). Some of the publications in particular have been informed by ODI’s experience, but others are mostly based on observation and reflection. It would be great if you could contribute your own examples for each of the tools. I promise to make them all public for other to learn from our collective knowledge and experience. Add your comments at the bottom of the post, email me, tweet examples, or just go straight to the document and add links to your own examplesCommunication channels and tools.

The list below provides an outline of some of the most common communication and outreach tools used by policy research centres or think tanks arranged according to four common channels: publications, online, media, and events.

For each, a brief description is offered along with suggestions as to their main audience, the most appropriate language or style for them, possible formats or lengths, and an indication as to who should be responsible for their development and/or quality control.

The list takes into account the fact that most centres do not count with a large communications team but does assume that at least one communications lead or specialist will be present.

Not all the tools are appropriate for all think tanks or centres. Each organisation must choose the most appropriate mix. Similarly, not all tools will be useful for all projects or initiatives of the centre. The right mix must be chosen in this case, too. The following questions can guide this process:

  • Does the centre have the resources to effectively deploy all the chosen tools? For example: Does it have media skills to deal with an important media strategy? How many events can it organise in a week? Does it have reliable access to the internet? Does it have resources for printing its publications?
  • Are the tools sufficient to reach all of the centre’s main audiences? Are any not being reached through the choice of tools and channels?
  • Do they offer the right balance between content and outreach? In other words, is it all repackaging or is there sufficient original material to carry the argument for a significant period of time?
  • What will be the best way of keeping the centre’s arguments and ideas on the public agenda for longer?
  • Are the tools linked to and supporting each other or are they being deployed independently and in isolation?

In general, centres can consider a hierarchy of communication tools that can help in their adoption of tools for each channel. The table below presents the tools numbered (1=basic; 5=elaborate) to reflect this. These levels do not imply a chronological progression not assume a particular threshold size of the centre. They simply suggest that a centre should not, for example, seek to organise an event series if it is unable to organise an event. Or it should not seek to publish working papers unless it is routinely publishing background notes or research reports.

Online/digital tools are, by their nature, easy to set up and cheap to manage. However, to be truly effective the centre ought to give them the attention they demand. It is possible, though, to focus the centre’s resources on communicating through them even, or possibly specially, if it has limited resources. Online publishing, for example, can help if the centre does not have fund to cover printing costs.

Publications Online/digital
Academic journal (5)

Academic paper (2-3)

Semi-academic magazine (4)

Working Paper series (3)

Research Report (1)

Background Note (on a policy issue or methodology) (1)

Project Briefing (2)

Policy Brief (1)

Draft legislation (3-4)

Opinion (1)

Workshop or Event Report (2)

Reading list, Annotated Bibliography or Literature Review (2)

Emailed Newsletter (1)

Organisation’s Website (1)

Blog (1)

Twitter Account (plus staff accounts) (1)

Facebook Page (1)

LinkedIn for staff profiles and recruitment (2)

Youtube channel for videos and MOOCs (2)

Ustream for ‘webstreaming’ (3)

Flickr or Picassa (2)

ITunes for podcasts (3)

Scribd for documents (1)

Google Drive or Dropbox for intranet and sharing documents (1)

SurveyMonkey (3)

Eventbrite (2)

Wikipedia (2)

Data visualisation (2-3)

Media Events
Op-eds (2)

Press release (1)

Media ‘Q&A’s (2)

Media Awards (5)

Media training (3-4)

Media partnerships/subcontracts for features and analysis (4-5)

Media face-to-face briefings (2)


Workshops and trainings (2)

Seminars (and participation in seminars) (1)

Webinars (3)

Public Events (debates and presentations) (2)

Public Event Series (2-3)

Private meetings with key stakeholders (2)

MOOCs (3-4)



Academic journal

Academic paper

  • A journal or a journal article presents final results of research efforts by a researcher or a group of researchers. Unlike other types of publications, it is intended to deal with mainly fundamental or theoretical issues –even if it draws heavily from empirical analysis.
  • They are aimed at an academic or expert community and should hence use the language and style expected by it.
  • A journal or journal article can have different lengths and styles depending on the publication.
  • External peer review panels should be set up for a journal; a journal article would be peer reviewed by its own panel. Senior researchers and an external reviewer should review submissions from staff researchers centre.

Semi-academic magazine

  • Presents expert opinion and analysis on issues of public interest in a format accessible to a general public. It draws from academic and expert research and analysis but translates it into layman’s terms.
  • The audience is an interested and informed public which is also looking for intellectual entertainment. Hence the language must be engaging and not shy away from using technical terms and expressions.
  • The style should take into account modern magazine design to keep up with the readers’ expectations. It could be entirely published online.
  • A magazine would demand a separate team to manage its publication, commission and edit articles, etc. This team could be managed by the communication leader.

Working Paper (series)

  • A working paper should present preliminary results of on-going research thus inviting a discussion on the key arguments made by the authors.
  • It is aimed at researchers and technical experts and so it should expect a certain level of understanding of the subject matter.
  • A working paper should be between 10,000 and 40,000 words. Text boxes and graphics can and should be used.
  • Working papers should be peer reviewed by at least one external reviewer assigned by the author’s line manager or project leader in case the author is not a member of staff.

Research Report

  • A research report is the final report of a research project or initiative. Often the final output submitted to the funder or published by the centre.
  • It is not aimed to a single audience and so it may vary in tone and style on a case-by-case basis.
  • A research report can vary in length between 5,000 to 30,000 words. It should include text boxes, graphics, and images.
  • Research reports should be peer reviewed by the author’s line manager or project leader in case the author is not a member of staff and an external reviewer if deemed necessary by senior management.

Background Note (on a policy issue or methodology)

  • A background note is intended to provide a summary and analysis on current knowledge on a policy or research issue (it can, for instance, be focused on research methods) and offer some sense of future work and implications for the relevant stakeholders.
  • It is not intended to be a definitive study and should be more accessible to a broader audience than a working paper.
  • A background note can vary in length from 4 pages to 12 pages. It should include text boxes, graphics, and a relevant image for the cover.
  • Background notes should be peer reviewed internally unless it is on an issue that the centre has no expertise on and then an external reviewer should be included.

Project Briefing

  • A project briefing combines a background note and a research report focusing on a project and providing some background to it and the main finding or achievements of the project.
  • It is aimed at a general audience with a particular emphasis on potential funders and so the tone ought to be accessible.
  • A project briefing should be short, about 2,500 words and include text boxes, graphics, and images (one for the cover).
  • Project briefings do not need to be peer reviewed but should be signed-off by senior management.

Policy Brief

  • A policy brief focuses on providing actionable recommendations to its main audiences drawing from research presented in working papers, research reports, etc –as well as other third-party sources.
  • It is aimed at the specific policy audiences it targets and so should be written taking into account their own characteristics (level of knowledge/agreement on the issue, organisational culture, policy opportunities, stages in the policy cycle, etc.).
  • A policy brief should be about 2 to 4 pages long. It should include text boxes and graphics and a relevant image for the cover.
  • Policy briefs should be peer reviewed by members of senior management and possibly include inputs from members of the target audience. They should be signed-off by senior management.

Draft legislation

  • A draft legislation or regulation is an excellent way of providing policymakers with ready-made solutions. They present the opportunity to input directly into the policymaking process by translating policy recommendations into policy instruments. Hence they require expert knowledge of policymaking systems and processes.
  • This is aimed at legislators, civil servants or politicians in charge of developing and approving legislation and should be written in the style demanded by the relevant institutions.
  • Proposed draft legislation should use the language and style appropriate for the relevant institution.
  • Draft legislation proposals should be peer reviewed by the organisation’s senior management as well as external reviewers with expert knowledge of the policymaking process. Ideally, too, proposals will be developed in consultation with relevant interested and expert parties.


  • An opinion presents the personal views of a researcher on a policy or research issue of current interest.
  • It is aimed at a broad audience and so the tone should be accessible, strong and informal. No references are required but if posted online it should include hyperlinks. It can be presented in blog form or as an op-ed.
  • An opinion should not be more than 1 page long and does not require text boxes or graphics; but should include a head-shot of the author.
  • Opinions should be ‘Okayed’ by line managers.

Workshop or Event Report

  • A workshop or event report is a summary of the proceedings highlighting the key messages and arguments presented by the speakers, panelists, and participants. Names and affiliations should be recorded only if the Chatham House Rule (or Chatham House Rule Plus) is not invoked.
  • It is aimed at a wide audience but most importantly those who attended the event (and what a record of the proceedings) and those who would have wished to attend but were not able to.
  • A workshop or event report should be between 1 page to 10 pages (in which case it could be deemed a project briefing or a research report) and should link to the materials used and presented at the event –including videos, podcasts, presentations, etc.
  • Workshop or event reports should be ‘Okayed’ by the staff member in charge of the event.

Reading list, Annotated Bibliography or Literature Review

  • A reading list is simply a document, presented on an HTML page on the organisation’s blog, for example, that outlines key reading materials (with links) for anyone interested in finding out more about a subject matter. It should accompany any research project and can be presented as an intermediary or additional output.
  • An annotated bibliography expands on the reading list providing a short summary of each of the documents or resources. It can be organised according to key topics or a research framework. It can be presented as a research report.
  • A literature review is an intermediary output and could be treated as a working paper or a research report.


Emailed Newsletter

  • An emailed newsletter is used to announce the centre’s past, current, and future activities (including publications and events). It is simply informative and should direct the reader to other materials.
  • It is aimed at a general audience and should be written in short and accessible style to encourage the reader to follow the appropriate hyperlinks to further detail on the issues that they are interested in. Elaborated HTML formats and embedding videos can be useful but this ought to be done taking into consideration the centre’s audience. It may be best to simply limit the email to basic HMTL and direct the reader to the videos, for example.
  • The email should be short (if too long them the centre should consider increasing its frequency) and all information should be included in the body of the email –never attachments. It should be sent always at appropriate times, for instance, morning before people get to work or before people come back from lunch –never mid morning or late afternoons.
  • The newsletter should be managed by the communications leader and does not need to be reviewed as all the information it will present ought to have been previously ‘Okayed’.

Organisation’s Website

  • The organisation’s website provides information about the organisation and bring together all the centre’s other communication efforts. While an important point of reference, it should not be considered as the main online communication vehicle for the centre.
  • It is aimed at the various audiences of the centre so it should consider who they all use the Internet. The website should emphasise the main arguments and ideas of the centre rather than its activities and should attempt to be relevant (with frequent updates) and user-friendly (making it easy to find the information one needs). Particular attention needs to be given to writing for the web –which is different from other forms of writing.
  • The website should take advantage of existing technologies rather than attempt to build entirely new platforms as these may become quickly obsolete with the onset of new developments. Its design and management should assume that most users would access it by following links in the newsletter, an online search, or links in other online tools (see below). This demands careful web-search optimisation.
  • The website should be managed by the communications leader (or an online communications manager) and does not need to be reviewed as all the information it will present ought to have been previously ‘Okayed’.  Daily or weekly updates should be planned to ensure the site’s front page remains current.


  • The organisation’s blog presents a way to announce and introduce new research outputs and events. It can be the main channel to publish opinions and reading lists as well as highlighting new videos, podcasts, and other multimedia produced by the centre. Another option for a centre to consider is to allow its researchers to keep their own blogs and bring together some of their posts on the centre’s website or blog.
  • It is aimed at a broad audience that includes individuals outside the centre’s country or region. The blog is particularly aimed at other bloggers and opinion-makers so the layout and language must be accessible, informal, and bold so as to encourage comments and debate.
  • Blog-posts should be short (about 1 page in length) and include hyperlinks and multimedia (such as embedded videos, presentations, documents, etc.). The blog, too, should be linked to other digital tools (the website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) so that a post would immediately update these other services.
  • The communications leader or the online communications manager should manage the blog but members of the staff should have access to post previous editing from the communications staff member responsible.

Twitter Account (plus staff accounts)

  • The organisation’s Twitter account can be used for several objectives including: announcing new publications or events, filtering information on a given policy or research issue, encouraging discussion with other Twitter users, etc. The account should be linked to the organisation’s other online and digital tools.
  • It is aimed at other Twitter users and so should follow Twitter best practices: short, direct, provide links for further reading, use hash-tags, and signal other users directly.
  • The communications leader or the online communications manager should manage the Twitter account but members of the staff with their own account should seek to engage with it, too.

Facebook Page

  • The Facebook page can offer a centre the opportunity to engage with a general audience in a more informal manner. The page can feature recent publications and events by the organisation as well as third parties.
  • It is aimed at other Facebook users and so should follow Facebook ‘rules’.
  • The communications leader or the online communications manager should manage the Facebook page but members of the staff with their own accounts should seek to engage with it, too.

LinkedIn for staff profiles and recruitment

  • Staff LinkedIn profiles can provide the organisation with up to date information of their staff that can be featured in the ‘about us’ page of the website. This reduces the centre’s burden to keep up with its staff CVs.
  • These would be the responsibility of the individual members of staff but should be reviewed by the communications leader.

Youtube channel for videos and MOOCs

Ustream for ‘webstreaming’

  • Videos can be used to present a summary or key findings of a study or project. They can offer the researchers the opportunity to explain their research methods, emphasise key findings and recommendations, illustrate their arguments, etc. Videos, too, can be captured live during events or edited to provide a more compelling story. A Youtube and Ustream channel to store videos (which can be embedded in emails, blogs and the website) can facilitate their management and deployment on several communication and outreach initiatives.
  • Videos are aimed at a broad and diverse audience. It can include researchers, policymaker, and participants of an event. But they can also be particularly effective for reaching journalists (particularly in Television) and donors (specially if they are no based locally).
  • Their style should depend on the audience and objective. For example, MOOCs should be engaging and make use of pedagogical tools and props, ‘talkingheads’ cannot be too long and ought to focus on key messages and arguments maybe even following specific questions, animations can be useful to explain larger and more complex processes or systems, mini-documentaries or short ‘investigative journalism’ style films can also provide an opportunity to illustrate the findings of a research report or a background note, etc.
  • Particularly in the case of ‘webstreaming’ and effort needs to be made to organise the events in such a way that the content is as engaging as possible -as if it had been edited.
  • Quality controls should be the responsibility of the communications leader and the researchers involved in the study or activity. It is advisable for the centre to develop a simple policy on taking and using audio-visual material to ensure respect for copyright and the subjects. In terms of the video quality expected, the centres should remember that these are intended to be short and accompanying aids to their main research, that HD videos can be difficult to access and download in many developing countries, and that nobody expects an Oscar winning production. The storyline and the content is far more important than the video quality. (In other words, the webcam on a laptop or the camera on a smart-phone will do in most cases.)

Flickr or Picassa

  • Images can be very helpful in the preparation of publications, the design of the website, and providing a visual effect on blog posts.
  • Centres can attempt to develop their own portfolio by combining pictures taken by their staff into a single public folder or making use of existing online portfolios such as Flickr’s creative commons’ pictures.
  • The centre’s folders can include staff pictures for use in opinions or blog posts, pictures from study trips or people interviewed for certain studies, pictures of events, etc.
  • It is advisable for the centre to develop a simple policy on taking and using audio-visual material to ensure respect for copyright and the subjects.

ITunes for podcasts

  • Podcasts, like videos, can present information and ideas in a different format. In most cases it will be possible to produce videos and podcasts at the same time (using the audio of the video).
  • A podcast is targeted at a broad audience but particularly to national and local radio stations which may want to make use of the material for their own productions or shows. Hence the language used must be clear and to the point -realising that it cannot rely on visual illustrations.
  • Podcasts should be short and clear -possibly working best for opinion/blogs and policy briefs- and no longer than 3 minutes (30 seconds and one minute versions would be ok). They should accompany a publication so that the listener can access more information about the subject if it wishes to.
  •  As with videos, quality control should be the responsibility of the communications leader and a balance between quality and speediness should be reached.

Scribd for documents

  • Scribd, like other similar services, allows the centre to upload its publications to the web in a format and service that makes sharing easy and effective. This can be a solution for a new organisation or an alternative to hosting these resources in the organisation’s own servers.
  • Scribd allows for different types of documents (e.g. presentations, reports, etc.) so it is important to plan how to use the service.
  • In some cases the organisation should link to the documents (e.g. in an email newsletter) or embed them in body of the page (e.g. in the website or a blog post).

Google Drive or Dropbox for intranet and sharing documents

  • These services can provide an excellent alternative to an intranet as they allow a centre to organise common folders and documents and share them among its staff and external collaborators.
  • It is also possible, certainly in the case of Google Drive, to make resources public and therefore share them with the centres’ audiences (in a similar way as with Scribd).


  • This is an important tool for any research centre and it can be managed using existing services like SurveyMonkey that provides ready made forms and data analysis.
  • An organisational account can be used by individual researchers.


  • Events can be very time consuming for an organisation with limited communication staff. Tools like Eventbrite can help to manage invites, attendance, and disseminating the relevant information necessary for an active participation. This means that the centre’s staff can focus on the logistics on the day and on producing the necessary supporting materials and follow up to ensure the event makes a difference.
  • As with the other tools, the events can be shared via links or embedded in an ‘events’ page in the website or blog. They can be shared via the Facebook page or the Twitter account to reach a wider audience and encourage remote participation, too.


  • Wikipedia is a global and open repository of knowledge. It is also usually one of the top items on an online search. Hence it is advisable for research centres to make sure that their research contributes to the appropriate Wikipedia pages.
  • Wikipedia guides the reader into a subject thus it is not intended to be the only resource consulted. By providing references that link to the appropriate studies, a centre can ensure that those interested to know more about an issue will find their way to their work and researchers.
  • Updates should be carried out by the researchers themselves but the communications leader can take on the responsibility to encourage them to do so. both should attempt to monitor the relevant pages to respond to any changes made by other users.

Data visualisation

  • Data visualisation is not strictly digital or online but it has certainly become easier now. A data visualisation tool can help to communicate large data sets.
  • Data visualisation tools are directed to a broad audience but can also be highly targeted. They should focus on a single issue (e.g. a single indicator) but it can be presented alongside others. Good examples include the use of maps, word clouds, and graphs.
  • This may demand the support of specialised staff or consultants however, it is now easier to development without the need for technical IT skills: See, for example, the Guardian’s data visualisation DIY page and Igarape Institute’s Mapping Arms Data initiative.



  • An Op-ed or a columns in a national or local newspaper allows a centre to put forward an idea or argument with little interference from media editors or journalists. It can be an excellent way of reaching a wide audience and help set the media agenda with can have a great impact on the public agenda.
  • Op-eds are intended to reach a broad yet relatively informed or educated audience. Their understanding of an issue or their position on it will greatly depend on the publication itself; hence researchers should take this into account.
  • By and large these are short (probably shorter than an opinion or blog post) pieces that put forward an informed opinion in an engaging and ‘punchy’ way. Publications tend to want op-eds and columns to generate a debate or a reaction from their readers. Being neutral about an issue may not be an option.
  • Op-eds should be written by researchers and executive directors (in fact it is a good medium for an executive director with little chance of doing research of his or her own) with the support of the communications leader or a media officer. They are likely to be edited by the publications that will carry them.

Press release

  • A press release is used to let the media know about a new project, research outputs, or event that is newsworthy.
  • Press releases are targeted at the media and so must respond to their needs: e.g. sent it in the right format, to the right people, at the right time, etc.
  • Press releases should be formatted to carry the centre’s brand but arranged according to what the media is used to. They should focus on newsworthy information and not just announce things that while interesting for the organisation may not be relevant for the media. They must start with the news and then follow with background or detail.
  • Press releases should be prepared and managed by the communications leader or a media officer if the organisation has one.

Media ‘Q&A’s

  • This is a good way of pre-empting the media’s questions or filling gaps in their knowledge about a  policy or research topic. They cna be posted on the website, added to press releases, handed out at events, etc.
  • Q&As are targeted at journalists but could be used by the general public. They help explain or provide background on an issue to allow the reader to engage at a higher or more nuanced level.
  • They should be very clear using as many questions as necessary to explain an issue. The language should be informal and accessible to break down the ‘expert’ barrier.
  • They should be developed by the communications leaders in collaboration with the researchers -possibly by conducting interviews. (And why not film them to offer a video and audio version of the Q&As?)

Media Awards

  • Media awards can generate interest on a particular policy or research issue and encourage journalists and editors to seek new knowledge and skills in order to win. An award for the media also has the added benefit that it is likely to be widely disseminated by the media itself thus conferring the issue even greater visibility.
  • The awards are targeted primarily at the media but the final objective is to reach the general public.
  • Awards can be monetary or non-monetary rewards for published work, research funding for work put forward, etc. The centres may want to work with other organisations rather than manage them on their own. Ideally, they should be focused on a specific policy issue.
  • They can be managed by the communications leader, or the media officer, and a researcher.

Media training

  • Media training efforts provide an opportunity for researchers or experts to explain key policy and research issues to the media thus providing them with both insights on these issues as well as with the tools they need to research and produce accurate stories.
  • They are targeted at journalists in various media and so should take into account their career progression opportunities and interests.
  • Training can be short and long term but should always try to combine lecture with practical opportunities to develop stories with the centre’s research.
  • It can be managed by the communications leader or the media officer.

Media partnerships/subcontracts for features and analysis

  • Long or middle term partnerships with a media outfit can lead to more substantive involvement in the development of content by the centre. These provide opportunities to present information at different levels of complexity and even via multiple media.
  • These probably involve developing bespoke products for the media outfit: reports, data visualisations, indexes, surveys, etc.
  • They can be managed by the communications leader in close collaboration with the executive director and the relevant researchers.

Media face-to-face briefings

  • In situations when the media is better informed and organised it may be possible to plan face to face briefings with editors or senior/specialised journalists to discuss issues of public interest. This can provide both journalists and researchers with insights into each others’ interests and concerns.
  • Face-to-face meetings are intended to be about listening as much as about talking; they are intended to be candid and off-the-record conversations (although there is no such a thing).
  • Communications leaders and media officers should organise and manage these meetings to ensure that the organisation’s contacts with the media are strengthened.


Workshops and trainings

  • Workshops and trainings allow researchers to present their findings and recommendations in a way that facilitates discussion and interaction with targeted individuals. They can offer the participants several chances to explore difficult ideas and practice using new methodologies or tools. They are unlikely to work well on their own and should consider other communication outputs as well as long term support (virtual and face to face) for the participants as they endeavor to apply what they have learned.
  • They are targeted at supposedly interested people and hence the language used should take their level of understanding of an issue or method into account. Workshops can focus on a number of issues such as methodologies, the application of new findings, and the use of new technologies. Where possible professional or experienced facilitators should be used to ensure an appropriate management of the workshop and the participants. Ideally, these will also be members of the research team.
  • Successful workshops or trainings work with the grain of capacity development and attempt to build on participants’’ own strengths for instance taking advantage of on the job opportunities to learn, using existing and respected teaching institutions such as universities, etc.
  • Workshops should be developed and managed by the relevant researchers with the support of the communications leader or an events manager to ensure consistency and appropriate linking with other communications outputs.

Seminars (and participation in seminars)

  • Seminar presentations offer the opportunity to put forward new ideas to informed audiences. They can be used to present findings of research but are likely to be more effective if the researchers elaborate on an opinion.
  • They are targeted at an informed audience attending an event and so should make assumptions about the level of knowledge of the participants. The language used must be engaging; researchers may need some public speaking training to develop their skills.
  • Seminar presenters should make full use of new technologies (e.g. see Nick Scott’s presentation on Prezi) and multi-media to develop compelling and interesting presentations. Reliance on word-heavy PowerPoint presentations can be counter-productive to the objectives of the researchers.
  • Seminar presentations should be developed by the researchers/speakers with the support of the communications leader (or team) to ensure style consistency and the use of new technologies or approaches.


  • Webinars can help present similar information as in the case of workshops and seminars but using online tools to incorporate participants in remote locations.
  • Their planning and design should take into account the constraints presented by the use of a technology greatly dependent on secure access to the Internet.

Public Events (debates and presentations)

  • A public event is an opportunity to present an idea or research finding (research report, policy brief, etc.) in public and amidst an informed and interested audience. Unlike Seminar presentations, the think tank must consider the roles that other members of a panel will play. Public events can be used in conjunction with other communication tools for maximum impact.
  • They are targeted at an informed and interested audience and so should consider a minimum level of understanding of the issues discussed. The choice of speakers or panelists is very important in a public event as they contribute to its credibility and impact. Speakers should either have something to present, provide critical commentary to the ideas presented, and/or have the capacity to speak in representation of an important and relevant policy stakeholder or group.
  • Events (and event series, below) should be structured to achieve maximum impact. For example: invitations should be sent well in advance, they should be kept to 1 to 2 hours long; scheduled at lunch-time or after work depending on what is more appropriate in the centre’s country or city; include speakers presenting different views to encourage participants to engage with the discussion; provide supporting materials for the participants to read and refer to during the presentations; allow sufficient time for questions and interventions from the participants; record the proceedings using video and note-taking; etc.
  • Public events should be managed by the communications leader and/or events manager but in close collaboration with the relevant researchers as they should be in charge of the content and invitations.

Public Event Series

  • public event series is a way of bringing together a body of knowledge to the public and maintaining and issue on the agenda for longer. It provides opportunities for sponsorship and for engaging with a broader set of people and groups. Where possible, events series should be given priority over one-off events.

Private meetings with key stakeholders

  • Private meetings can be used to present the organisation, an idea, highlight a problem that needs to be tackled, argue for a solution, or simply to maintain a relationship. In general, though, those meeting key stakeholders should also consider what resources they will ‘leave’ behind (e.g. a story, the key arguments in a policy brief, the policy brief itself, a reference to a website, or simply a business card). These meetings are a great opportunity to gain information about the stakeholders as much as it is to influence them. Back to office reports and other feedback activities should be established to ensure that the organisation as a whole learns from these.
  • The audiences of private meetings are very specific so the message has to be tailored to those participating. An in depth stakeholder analysis (possibly using tools such as the Alignment, Interest, and Influence Matrix) should precede any private meeting if the centre’s preventatives are not fully aware of the interests and positions of the people they will be meeting.
  • Meetings should be organised to work for both the centre and the stakeholders. The centre should avoid these meeting being seen as lobbying (e.g. only meeting in government offices) or unethical (e.g. by paying for them to travel to events or seminars) activities. In some cases, pre-arranged breakfast meetings with other research centres could offer an opportunity to influence without the reputational risks.
  • The executive director should be closely involved in the arrangement of private meetings but researcher and the communication leader should be able to organise them too.


  • MOOCs present research methods, theory, and findings in a format apt for educational purposes. They allow research centres within universities or with clear pedagogical objectives to reach a broader audience (global). They are the online equivalent of a lecture.
  • The audience for a MOOC is interested and relatively informed although a registration process can help define how informed the participants are. The style can be academic but, given the nature of the medium, should combine other media such as short videos, animations, etc.
  • MOOCs can be short stand-alone informative videos or involve several videos in a series of lectures. They can be managed by the centres themselves or presented as part of existing initiatives such as Coursera or a national or regional version.
  • Planning and managing the MOOCs can be the responsibility of the communication leader or the researchers if the centre hosts them; if the centre’s MOOCs are presented via existing services then these will have their own conditions and demands. Pedagogical quality assurance, though, should be sought to ensure that the MOOC sessions are prepared and delivered effectively.

Do you have examples of these tools that you would like to share? Please do and help build our shared knowledge and experience: Communication channels and tools