On Think Tanks End of Year 2016

20 December 2016

It has been a year of great change at On Think Tanks. And as we come together to plan even more services and resources for think tanks in 2017, let us take some time to reflect on what 2016 brought us.

And, if you like what you see, why not support us in 2017?

A new home

On Think Tanks launched a new website in early 2016. The site, developed by Soapbox, has transformed the OTT blog into a portal which offers a range of services to its users: a jobsboard, an events calendar, a Newsletter, and organises our content through various categories including themes and series.

The new website has boosted On Think Tanks’ visibility. Between January and November 2016 the site received: 380,000 page views and our Newsletters now reach over 3,600 people every two weeks.

In many ways, this new virtual home reflects the consolidation of On Think Tanks physical home. Since 2015 OTT has been hosted by Universidad del Pacifico, in Peru, and mainly supported by a grant from the Hewlett Foundation -which has been kindly renewed for two more years. The relationship with the university establishes On Think Tanks as a truly global effort with a very strong foot in the south.

New content, new channels

On Think Tanks published articles, resources and series on various themes, topics and regions. This has come in the form of:

  1. Online Series: After the launch of the new website in March OTT has produced a series per month, including: Communication as an orchestra, Doing Policy Relevant Research, How to attract and retain young talent, Think tanks and transparency, Think tanks and video, Think tanks: definition and terminology, and Think tanks’ governance and management.
  2. Digital publications: Some of the new series and some older ones were repackaged into of digital publications: On Think Tanks and Elections, Peer Review for Think Tanks, Think Tanks and Universities, Women in Think Tanks, and A Different Look at Transparify Results; and videos: Women in Think Tanks, Think Tank Definitions.
  3. We published the results of the 2-year Exchange programme which saw thinktankers from Latin America, Europe and Indonesia work on a collaborative project:
    1. Business models: cases from Latin America and Indonesia
    2. Communications for sensitive policy issues: comparative approaches from Latin America, Europe and Indonesia
    3. Performance self-assessments for think tanks
  4. Individual articles and resources, including more than 70 articles and more than 15 resources.
  5. In total, OTT has published 61 interviews including a series on Latin American Leaders and African Executive Directors; with one on South Asian Directors to be launched in 2017.
  6. In 2016, On Think Tanks launched On Think Tanks TV with 5 double videos of US based think tanks (one video on a policy issue the think tank works on and another on an organisational practice). The videos provide a template to extend these videos to other countries and regions (check one out below).

A growing global and diverse community of onthinktankers

The OTT Team

In 2016, On Think Tanks began a process to strengthen its own governance and management. This involved:

  1. Establishing and recognising key roles among On Think Tank’s main collaborators. you can find out more about each of them here: Our People.
  2. Establishing an Advisory Board which includes (in a personal capacity):
    1. Ruth Levine, Hewlett Foundation
    2. Lawrence MacDonald, World Resources Institute
    3. Norma Correa, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú
    4. Priyanthi Fernando, International Women’s Rights Action Watch-Asia Pacific
    5. Xufeng Zhu, Tsinghua University
    6. Stephen Yeo, On Think Tanks
    7. Simon Maxwell, Overseas Development Institute
    8. Jill Rutter, Institute for Government
    9. John Shwartz, Soapbox

Gender balanced

In 2016, we saw a significant rise in participation from contributors from different regions, specially women –it dedicated an entire series to Women in Think Tanks.

The Women in Think Tanks series in particular has received significant attention and has provided an attractive platform for future work. Since its publication, OTT produced a digital publication and a series of short videos to reach new audiences. On Think Tanks has also supported and participated in events related to understanding and promoting the role of women in think tanks, most recently through an event on women in academia at the 1st Evidence Week in Peru and a panel on women in social sciences in Peru for the Grupo Sofia.

On Think Tanks has also consolidated its team to include a balance between men and women: 5 of the 9 core team members are women, 4 of the 9 members of the newly appointed advisory board are women, and 4 of the 7 trainers in the On Think Tans School are women.

Capacity building

In 2016, On Think Tanks launched the On Think Tanks School with a first series of 6 short courses and 2 long courses.

The short courses focused on:

  • Governance and Management (13 participants)
  • Fundraising (15)
  • Policy research agendas (28)
  • Publications (24)
  • Data visualisation (30)
  • Monitoring and evaluation (19)

The long courses focused on:

  • Fundraising (24 participants from the Latin American think tank network ILAIPP –note: this activity is not funded by the Hewlett Foundation)
  • Monitoring and evaluation (17)

This pilot year served to test a novel approach to delivering capacity building services to think tanks: ask the participants to pay. On Think Tanks devised a cost and income sharing arrangements with the trainers. All income generated this way will be spent on the OTTS.

An important aspect of the OTTS is the support that OTT is offering regional think tank networks such as ILAIPP and the South Asia TTI think tanks network through two consultancies. The South Asia project won’t start until 2017 but the ILAIPP projects started in 2016. This project involved developing a Long Course on Re-thinking Fundraising models as well as long term mentoring for the participating think tanks as well as ILAIPP as they develop and test new fundraising strategies.

A great deal of planning for On Think Tanks School Activities for 2017 has also taken place, including:

  • On Think Tanks has launched a new On Think Tanks Fellowship Programme, through which up to 10 Fellows will be supported over a year-long programme to develop their skills to lead think tanks.
  • The School of Thinktankers, partly funded by the Swiss Government and participants’ contributions and in collaboration with the Swiss foreign policy think tank, foraus, will be held in Geneva in January 2017. We will be looking for new cities where to hold future schools.

Events and Engagement

Travel and outreach in 2015 and 2016 focused on Africa (Kenya), South Asia (India) and East Asia (China). This provided the opportunity explore new connections in East Africa, South Asia, and East Asia, strengthen links with key think tanks there, and establish new links with think tank funders.

On Think Tanks participated in meetings and workshops organised by its hosts. The relationship in both cases has led to appointing an African editor and South Asia editor. On Think Tanks has also appointed a member of its new Advisory Board from China.

Far from expecting think tanks to come to us, we have continued to make an effort to join them where they are already meeting and working. Thus we participated in the following events in 2015 and 2016:

  1. January 2015: Think Tank Initiative Global Exchange in Istanbul.
  2. April 2015: Cartagena Data Festival in Cartagena with Development Progress.
  3. June 2015: Nairobi Data-Driven Communicators Meeting in Nairobi with APHRC.
  4. July 2015: The role of think tanks in promoting evidence based policy in Peru with Universidad del Pacífico and the Alianza Peruana para el Uso de la Evidencia.
  5. October 2015: On Think Tanks and Premio PODER hosted the 3rd National Think Tank Awards
  6. November 2015: 1st Think Tank Encounter between African and European Think Tanks in Casa Africa.
  7. November 2015: Meeting of Global Health Policy Think Tanks and Academic Institutions in Geneva.
  8. November 2015: Workshop on digital communications for think tanks in Bangalore with CSTEP.
  9. February 2016: Support to start-up think tank in Tunisia and presentation on the role of think tanks in democratic transitions
  10. March 2016: Global Development Network Conference on Education Policy organised in Lima and promoted by On Think Tanks.
  11. April 2016: GIGA and Tsinghua University Conference on Asian Think Tanks
  12. June 2016: Delhi interviews with think tanks and the Think Tank Initiative
  13. October 2016: Tunisia Global Table hosted by BMW Foundation on developing a new social contract for the Maghreb and the role of think tanks
  14. October 2016: Accra meeting on lessons to promote evidence informed policy organised by the Vaka Yiko programme under BCURE (DFID)
  15. October 2016: On Think Tanks and Premio PODER hosted the 4th National Think Tank Awards 
  16. October 2016: On Think Tanks promoted the first Latin American Evidence Week with over 1,200 participants in 30 events.
  17. November 2016: The first meeting of Chinese and Latin American think tanks held in Peru
  18. December 2016: On Think Tanks facilitated the First Spanish and African think tanks meeting in Casa Africa.

Of particular interest is the development of the Think Tank Awards in Peru which offer a model to study and support think tanks locally. On Think Tanks has continued to support the PODER Think Tank of the Year Awards in 2015 and 2016. The jury grew in both years and in 2015 included the current Prime Minister and in 2016 the Vice-President of Peru. The incoming director of CIUP wrote an op-ed in Peru’s main broadsheet highlighting the importance of the award and in both years the ceremony was attended by several Secretaries of State.

New initiatives

The Open Think Tank Directory will be launched in February 2017. So far, OTT has developed a basic database of over 2,300 think tanks and we are in the process of populating the database with information related to size, themes, funding, etc. and validating it. Supported by the Think Tank Fund, it will be launched with the intention of:

  1. Helping think tanks to find possible partners and collaborators; and
  2. Supporting research on think tanks by providing a reliable and open data base.

In 2016 On Think Tanks supported a new initiative in Latin America, starting in Peru: Evidence Week 2016. Funds for the Evidence Week came from a project funded by the Vaka Yiko Programme (part of DFID’s BCURE) but On Think Tanks played a leading role in shaping the design, approach and content of the week. More than 1,200 participants joined 40 organisations, 110 speakers, and 30 events across the country to learn about, strengthen and celebrate the use of evidence in policymaking.

Among the participants were several top Peruvian think tanks. For 2017, ILAIPP, TTI’s network in Latin America, and others have expressed an interest in joining the effort to make the Evidence Week an annual Latin American fixture.

What did we learn?

In the period 2015-2016 we have learned a few lessons that have been incorporated into On Think Tanks 2017-2018 strategy. They include:

  • It is not enough to publish and file new articles and resources. Edited series and courses are effective ways to reach out to the On Think Tanks Audience to achieve meaningful results. The On Think Tanks School in particular provides invaluable opportunities to engage with On Think Tanks’ audiences directly. The School, however, needs to deliver value for money for the participants who, as paying customers, will demand more than if their participation was covered for by a third party. More resources and dedication will be awarded to the OTTS.
  • The sheer volume of content produced by On Think Tanks and its collaborators as well as its presence in various social media platforms, demand a long term communications strategy. On Think Tanks will invest in its communications capacity by employing a full time communications expert in 2017-2018 (to begin with).
  • On Think Tanks sought to increase the number of collaborators to the site over the last two years. This has been achieved and many have joined the core team. However, as the team grows it is no longer possible for the Director to act as the main connector between them. Relationships need to develop between all members of the team. There is an increasing need for all to come together virtually and physically. Thus, in 2017 we will organise the first annual On Think Tanks Team Conference.
  • Presence in various fora and engagement with think tanks communities around the world must take advantage of OTT’s collaborators. We will work with regional editors in the short term and seek to build a network of new OTT Fellows to help us reach new spaces across the world.
  • Finding the right host is not as hard as finding the right hosting relationship. The relationship between On Think Tanks and Universidad del Pacífico has developed over the last two years. Changes in OTT’s strategy, changes in staff, and changes in staff at CIUP have forced both parties to explore different approaches to the relationship. We have learned to find entry points in existing spaces and strengthen the relationship with key staff. Similarly, supporting UP in organising the Evidence Week and hosting the GDN’s Annual Conference in 2016 offered OTT an opportunity to demonstrate its added value to its host.

Looking forward

On Think Tanks has started planning the 1st On Think Tanks Conference to be held in London in February 2017. This will bring together the entire OTT Team (plus trainers) and some of its Advisory Board members as well as a group of partners and collaborators.

The conference will provide an opportunity to share lessons and work together on new projects: do keep an eye out for the On Think Tanks School, The Fellowship Programme, more Videos of think tanks and the Open Think Tank Directory.

We hope you will join us in supporting policy research across the world.