“If aliens came to planet Earth, they would not come in search of fuel or minerals. They would come looking for new ideas”. – David Sasaki, 2022. Programme Officer at the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation
The Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL) is the largest fair of its kind in Latin America and the second largest in the world (after Frankfurt). Organised annually by the Universidad de Guadalajara, Mexico, it welcomed more than 800,000 people, 2,100 publishers and held more than 300 events in 2022.
In addition to its literary and cultural contribution, the FIL has political influence at the state and national levels. Every year, government officials, political leaders, social activists, and students attend the Fair, making it a favourable space for dialogue, confrontation and knowledge translation.
At the FIL, debates on controversial issues occur through the presentation of evidence in meetings, panels and book presentations. The country’s most prominent universities participate in the event, taking advantage of the space to position their publications and ideas among the readers attending it.
Of course, major national and international publishers also participate, inviting their most prominent authors and boosting sales of their most popular titles. Public bodies such as the National Electoral Institute and the National Institute of Anthropology and History also participate to publicise their programmes.
The Fair also hosts the FIL Pensamiento, an event that, in the words of David Gómez Álvarez, “arose because many academics in the social sciences had no space to present their publications but wanted to participate“. The FIL Pensamiento is a series of forums and meetings that seek to “bring the general public closer to current issues in the social, political, economic and environmental fields“.
The FIL Pensamiento has been held at the Fair for almost a decade. It has become the ideal place for networking and dialogue between actors from academia, civil society and government. In 2018, the International Meeting of Government and Civil Society, an event that brings together civil society organisations, think tanks, opinion leaders and public servants to encourage discussion and dialogue between these sectors, was born at the FIL Pensamiento.
In December 2022, the directors of four of the country’s most prominent think tanks – Edna Jaime, Sofía Ramírez Aguilar, Valeria Moy and Roberto Vélez – together with economist Mario Campa and Hewlett Foundation Programme Officer David Sasaki participated in the 4th International Meeting on Government and Civil Society to discuss the use of evidence in decision-making.
This panel, which aimed to discuss the importance of evidence-based governance, began with a specialised conversation on the importance of think tanks in generating evidence-based proposals and the role of public institutions in policy-making. However, after reading the audience, the speakers noted that most attendees were high school and university students who may have attended the event out of self-interest or as part of school activities.
Therefore, speakers focused on communicating their findings in a way understandable to a young group unfamiliar with evidence-creation and policy-making processes. The speakers not only made their findings understandable, but they also began to engage with the audience by answering questions and posing direct queries. One speaker asked the audience what problems the City of Guadalajara faced that could potentially be solved by using evidence. This interaction led to a lively discussion, with participants pointing to issues such as insecurity, the housing crisis, and inadequate public transportation options.
The Fair brings specialised leaders in academia and evidence creation closer to policymakers, students and professionals from different sectors unfamiliar with the technical language often used by think tanks and research centres.
On the communication of knowledge, David Sasaki pointed out that it is essential to not assume that others know what you are talking about: “if we don’t speak the same language, we have nothing to communicate”. Valeria Moy added to this last point, “if civil society cannot speak the same language as the general public, then communication is not possible”.
This is an example of the practices that make the FIL a favourable space for knowledge translation. The Fair encourages authors and lecturers to speak to a general audience in words that can be understood by everyone who attends the event, creating a space where the general public, government officials, students and professionals come in search of new ideas year after year.
The FIL’s success is mainly because those who participate as authors and speakers manage to translate their thoughts to establish two-way communication with those who listen. Think tanks should pay more attention to this event and to the opportunities it brings to connect with policymakers and the general public in a single space.