Lessons from the OTT Conference

7 March 2019

As head of the Policy Engagement and Communication, Resource Mobilisation and Training team at the Public Affairs Centre (PAC), the 2019 OTT Conference gave me lessons which are both useful and important.  Here are some I would like to share:


As a think tank, networking is important because many invitations for funding proposals or responses to RfPs from think tanks have a strong networking element. Projects which include a networking component can give a more diverse representation and analysis of a problem or challenge. Think tanks with similar strengths can use these opportunities to learn, share and strengthen their research impact. However, it is important to have a systematic approach to partnership: identify opportunities and deep dive into the issues, rather than just look at certain aspects and analyse these. It’s important to have a proactive approach with all stakeholders.


When engaging with funders it is important to showcase your project’s importance. Approach them with a features vs benefits idea, why should a funder support you? What is in it for them? Show how your experience is rich, how your research analysis is robust, and how it is based on evidence. Show what benefits could be garnered to make the policymaking process more useful. Use the STAR approach to assess what one needs to know:

  • Situation
  • Target
  • Action
  • Results

Core Funding has become imperative, since several think tanks require funds for institutional building, increasing capacities of staff by providing appropriate trainings, and sometimes to work on specific research topics which are important but not necessarily supported by a funder. Think tanks may want to seek contracts rather than grants and also begin exploring government funding.


From a funders perspective think tanks need to understand that a funder also seeks the following when they receive proposals and applications:

  • What is the challenge you have identified?
  • How did you arrive at this idea?
  • What is the Theory of Change?
  • What is the outcome you are expecting?
  • What will the estimated cost and expected time line be?
  • Most importantly, know your funder and don’t be afraid to engage with them and know how they select ideas.

Policy engagement

This is a key activity in all think tanks and many organisations have dedicated staff to undertake policy engagement activities. Don’t be afraid to engage with people. It is very important to include policy engagement in the mission and vision statements of think tanks.