Getting a network of 51 think tanks to promote southern research together

13 October 2020

Southern Voice‘s mission is to ensure that southern expertise not only reaches, but also influences, global development debates. That is why we wanted to ensure that analysis on the COVID-19 pandemic produced within our network of 51 think tanks would have an impact beyond local contexts. To achieve this, we designed a COVID-19 Digital Knowledge Hub to collect and categorise the timely research and response by our member think tanks. Here’s how we did it, what the results were and what we’ve learned along the way.

Our approach

Developing this new product was a big task. Not only did it require a significant effort from the Southern Voice Secretariat, but we also needed to work closely with colleagues in 25 countries across three continents.

Getting the internal communication channels flowing took several weeks and hundreds of e-mails. But it worked. For almost two months, we reached out to the communications or administrative staff of all 51 member think tanks. All of them chipped in, sending us headshots and bios of their researchers, and keeping us up to date on their new COVID-19 content.

The design of the Hub itself differs drastically from other products we have developed so far. Although the Southern Voice website hosts it, it consists of 80% external links. This means that we are driving most of the traffic to our network members’ sites.

Getting the Hub ready to launch was also a team effort. To increase visibility and impact, we wanted both the Secretariat and members, to be involved in its promotion.

As a first step, Southern Voice produced a series of short animations presenting each of the four Hub sections. We also created social media cards and post templates. In early September, we shared this social media kit with our network members. We asked them to help us promote the Hub. The idea was to combine efforts for a strong push across platforms, continents and time zones.

We also reached out to our international partners, so that they, too, may help us spread the word about this new digital resource. The large amount of positive and enthusiastic feedback we received from them confirmed the usefulness of our new product.

The results

More think tanks actively involved themselves in the promotion of the Hub than they did in any of our other recent projects. This collaborative push to promote the platform in the first week of September led to a high number of page visits during that month. The total was equivalent to that of the first five months of the page’s existence. It shows that the collective promotion worked.

The Hub’s homepage has now replaced our main Southern Voice website homepage as the most visited part of our domain. We are also pleased to note that the Hub’s Experts Database is getting a lot of traction. It is currently the second most visited page within the Hub.

Notably, a majority (55%) of the Hub’s users are based in the Global North, in cities such as New York, Washington, Toronto or Ottawa. This data is in line with a key objective of ours, which is to ensure visibility of southern research beyond its regions of origin.

We also see a lot of interest in the ‘by SDG’ section. This part categorises the content produced by our members according to the specific Sustainable Development Goals it addresses. Southern Voice’s primary mission remains to analyse the achievement of the UN 2030 Agenda.

A stronger network 

Here are a few things we learned while working on this initiative:

The collaboration helped infuse a sense of collective ownership to the project. It also showed our members the benefits of being part of the network.

Our coordinated effort to promote the Hub gave the initiative good visibility, driving traffic to the platform. Thanks to the members’ engagement, we reached and influenced their networks as well.

A very welcome side-effect of this endeavour is the strengthening of internal connections within the network and the promotion of new voices, such as from junior researchers. Due to the platform’s growing reach, many of them contacted us, asking to publish with Southern Voice.

As we develop our Hub further, we aim to respond in the most effective way to the knowledge needs of the global development community. At Southern Voice, we strongly believe in the value of southern expertise. Without that perspective, the ‘new normal’ won’t differ from the ‘same old’. We want to ensure that developing countries don’t lag even further behind when the world rebuilds post-COVID-19. The Hub is one of our many efforts to achieve this.