November 24, 2020

Opinion

Ethics and organisational partnerships

[The summary of this session was written by Marília Ferreira da Cunha, Digital Communications Officer at On Think Tanks.]

Partnerships between think tanks and other organisations are not always equitable and can create dilemmas and challenges for both sides. This may affect the overall equity of the policy research system in a country, a regional or globally. Alba Gómez reflects on how organisational partnerships, following certain principles and guidelines, could be more ethical.

Alba Gómez (European Council on Foreign Relations), hosted by Ajoy Datta (On Think Tanks).

Key takeaways

Partnerships between think tanks and other organisations are not always equitable and can create dilemmas and challenges for both sides. This may affect the overall equity of the policy research system in a country, a regional or globally. Alba Gómez, from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), reflected on how organisational partnerships, particularly with funders, following certain principles and guidelines, could be more ethical.

Alba started by pointing out an aspect that was also referred to by Ruth Levine: it is important to take advantage and promote partnerships with funders as think tanks should see themselves as providing value. Alba reminded us that think tanks should not undersell themselves thinking that they are the weakest link of the partnership. 

As it was mentioned throughout the conference, it is the utmost importance for think tanks to maintain independence and transparency. Think tanks should do their research on funders: to have a successful partnership, organisations need to share the same values. 

The general public, the thinktankers, all stakeholders should be aware of who is funding who, the amounts and what for. The dilemma with data privacy is important and should be addressed, but there is even a bigger deal with the audiences, who are now even more preoccupied with issues such as credibility and trust. 

However, these are not only aspects important to external audiences. Think tanks should have guidelines and communicate them internally. Alba highlights the importance of having a process on think tanks about funding and partnerships and maintaining that transparency within the organisation.

From the chatbox

Questions and comments:

What is included in your due diligence of funders? What are the most important things to know about them? How do you find out?

What about partnerships with non-donor organisations? How different are the challenges you face, including on the agenda-setting front?

What aspects of partnerships do you value the most? Apart from trust and core funding provided by funders, what else are you interested in?

Ruth Levine talked about think tanks as boundary crossers. Think tanks act as public intellectuals on one day and on the next day they act as private advisors to policymakers. Making sure that you’re not drawn to one side too much is key. Can you share how ECFR manages to find the right balance?

As a funder, I reviewed about ten investments that attempted some kinds of North-South research or policy partnerships. One major factor of success was the history of their relationship together: both institutional and personal.

Forced funder brokering rarely worked (I’m not sure if it ever did). The reasons for failure were many though: not recognising how long coordination and partnership development takes, disagreement on approaches, issues with funding flows, logistical issues (e.g. settling contracts and MoUs).

Watch the video to find out how Alba answered these questions.

About the authors:

Ajoy Datta:  Director of Programmes at On Think Tanks with a focus on improving policy influencing, decision-making and management practices.

Alba Gomez:  Deputy Director for Strategic Partnerships at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)

Read more from: Ajoy Datta Alba Gomez

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