Organising Staff Training – the Managing Think Tanks Series

18 March 2013

Last week’s chapter dealt with good practices for motivating and retaining think tank staff. It also touched upon training programs – this week’s chapter expands on that subject and considers the development and implementation of a routine program of staff training.

It is common for think tanks to experience considerable staff turnover. Junior researchers and support staff in particular tend to rotate frequently as people leave and as the organisation expands. On-the-job training of new staff is thus done: this usually involves old staff explaining how things work to newcomers. Training that goes beyond this has to do with the development of human capital, which is particularly important for less experienced researchers.

Many new researchers do not have a strong grounding in policy analysis or in program monitoring and evaluation— skills that are very likely to be needed at most think tanks. It is certainly possible for support staff and researchers to gain competence gradually through mentoring from their peers, but this practice can be inefficient: colleagues do not always have time to explain carefully, not all colleagues can answer the questions posed, and the explanations almost certainly will not be as thorough as they could be. Hence, think tanks need to have an ongoing program of in-house staff training.

The chapter outlines a comprehensive training program for a think tank at the second or third stage of development, and on programs that benefit significant groups of the staff. Struyk gathers his info from his observations of what is needed in terms of training and experiences at several think tanks.

This training program makes a distinction between analysts and support staff. For analysts, there are three types of training:

1. General orientation

Analysts are taught the organistion’s primary tasks and how to be a successful consultant. New researchers are familiarised with the operating style of the organisation and introduced to favored work patterns. Surprisingly, few think tanks have this kind of orientation.

2. Human capital building

Researchers’ skills should be constantly updated. Also, they might need to learn new skills in order to do their job properly at the think tank.

3. Tools for the researcher

Tools training increases staff productivity. A list of tools is provided.

For support staff, appropriate types of training are general orientation and tools.

Once think tanks have developed a training program, they have to consider its organisation. Four organisational issues are discussed in the chapter, such as funding training and determining what kinds of training certain staff should receive. Funding can come from core funding and from training events included within projects. The actual training program implemented depends on the organisation’s training resources, the needs identified, and the number of people that will be trained in a given period. Participation should be open to interested staff, and programs can always be mandatory for specific staff groups. And finally, using the think tank’s own staff to be the people in charge of the training is always preferable.

Appendices B and C at the end of the book contain examples of outlines or basic workshop presentations for some of the courses discussed in this chapter.