Diana Thorburn, Director of Research at CAPRI

1 October 2020

The Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) is a not-for-profit, public policy think tank dedicated to the production and dissemination of impartial, evidence-based knowledge to inform economic, governance, sustainable and social policy decision-making in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean. Diana Thorburn Ph.D.  is Director of Research at CAPRI. Dr. Annapoorna Ravichander, editor at large for South Asia at On Think Tanks, conducted this interview.

Annapoorna Ravichander: What are the main functions/activities of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) and what is your role?

Diana Thorburn: CAPRI is a non-profit, independent public policy think tank based at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Our work is concentrated in four main areas: the economy, the environment and sustainability, governance, and social issues, which include gender, citizen security, and health. We conduct research that seeks to answer pertinent policy questions and provide evidence-informed policy recommendations that are grounded in the extant policy environment. Our work takes the form of written reports, consultations with stakeholders and policy makers, and public fora where our reports are launched with a panel discussion with relevant stakeholders, followed by a question and answer session.

My role as director of research is, broadly, to ensure that all the research we do and the reports we produce are done to the highest methodological and editorial standards. More specifically, I participate in determining our research agenda, conceptualising research projects, supervising researchers’ work from start to finish and editing the final report. I ensure that the organisation’s quality assurance protocol is adhered to and, as necessary, I engage in the research and writing myself. Finally, I represent the organisation in a variety of arenas, including presenting research results, whether on the media, to closed audiences, or at our public fora.

AR: As a think tank, how has funding affected CAPRI?

DT: Funding affects our very existence and everything we do- from the research that we conduct, to our staffing. As an independent think tank, we do not have a parent organisation that we rely on. The majority of our core funding is from large Jamaican corporations and a couple of non-Jamaican private businesses. That core funding primarily pays most of the organisation’s 12 employees. The University supports us with office space, overheads and two salaried positions. Most of our research funding comes from international development partners. The main ones we’ve worked with in the past few years are the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO, formerly DFID,) UNICEF, the European Union, the Inter-American Development Bank and USAID, in response to themed calls for proposals. This means that, for the most part, our research agenda is not solely determined by us. While we are fortunate to be in a stable financial situation, our salaries are well below market rates which makes it difficult to hire and retain quality talent.

AR: In your opinion, what are the best ways that think tanks can work together? What best practice would you recommend?

DT: The best ways that CAPRI could work with other think tanks is through staff exchanges, attendance at each other’s events, and sharing proofs of concept (including replication of innovative research projects). To date CAPRI’s efforts at working with other think tanks have not borne fruit, due to lack of funding and lack of capacity to meaningfully follow up.

AR: How do you see the space of women in think tanks? Equally represented? Or some areas male dominated and others female dominated? How does the revolving door work for men and women? Are there any differences?

DT: Jamaica may be unusual with regard to the gender dynamics of organisations like CAPRI, and professional organisations more generally. Women generally outnumber men in administrative and middle management positions. Of the twelve people at CAPRI, the only men are the executive director and two interns. Ninety percent of applicants for vacancies are women and so far none of the few men who applied ended up taking the job, whether on our end or theirs. Our low salaries may be a factor here: women in general, for a wide variety of reasons, tend to accept lower salaries than men.