Foreword by Enrique Mendizabal
2023 tested us profoundly. Our organisation faced shifts in our business structure and team dynamics, continuously evolving to better engage with the evidence-informed policy landscape.
Our projects have pushed our boundaries. We’ve embraced new partnerships, such as with the Jacobs Foundation, and adapted to the evolving dynamics of longstanding allies, like the Open Society Foundations (OSF).
We’ve helped to launch initiatives like the African Education Research Funders Consortium and dealt with unforeseen challenges and contexts, such as our work with the EU Representative Office in Palestine.
Our partners have encountered their share of adversity, yet their dedication remains a source of inspiration. Particularly, our colleagues based in Israel and the West Bank who have endured the impacts of conflict. OSF’s staff has also persevered through a complex organisational reform process. Regrettably, our 2023 Think tank state of the sector report shows a global decline in the environment for evidence-based policy and think tanks sector more broadly.
Despite this, we’ve seen the fruits of our collective efforts, however modest they may be in the grander scheme of our partners’ pursuits.
Notably, feedback from the African Education Research Funders Consortium has been exceptionally positive. And OTT’s Research Support Service has proven its worth, with our team delivering invaluable knowledge and support to our clients. Our engagement with ACED also contributed towards bolstering a rising think tank in West Africa.
Our joint venture with the Jacobs Foundation on EdLabs is worth highlighting here, as I think it underscores our distinctive proactive and curious approach. We first explored the relative absence of data on the effectiveness of policy labs back in 2021. We then revisited it for a study on knowledge translation in the Global South with IDS and IDRC in 2022/2023. We pursued this issue in dialogues with funders, highlighting the opportunity to strengthen the evidence base and this led to the collaboration with Jacobs Foundation who are pioneering this work in the education sector.
This year, On Think Tanks brought together its global community of think tanks at Chatham House and has set the stage for the upcoming 2024 and 2025 conferences in Barcelona and Johannesburg. The 2023 Think tank state of the sector report sparked in-depth discussions on the challenges faced by think tanks globally, informed by insights from over 300 leaders. Lastly, the School for Thinktankers resumed its in-person format, in collaboration with Bruegel in Brussels, reinstating a cherished tradition.
I would like to take this moment to personally thank my team, our partners, collaborators, clients, funders and community. It was a year full of challenges, we made it through, we achieved, we learned. We look forward to continue our efforts, together, in 2024.
How to read this Annual Review
This year we decided to keep it simple. Scroll down the page for a round-up of 2023 highlights.
Think tanks and political uncertainty
Throughout 2023, we created space for conversation about how think tanks can not only navigate and survive new and persistent forms of political uncertainty, but also play a role in countering it.
Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this conversation, at the OTT Conference 2023 and online. Highlights include Open Society Foundation’s Goran Buldioski who reflected on four certain trends for think tanks amid innumerable political uncertainties, Dhananath Fernando who told us how his think tank has navigated turbulent times in Sri Lanka, and Erica Schoder from the R Street Institute, who shared her perspective on why trust is the think tank’s strongest asset.
From Guadalajara to Colombo, and everywhere in between!
We’re proud to have partnered with so many organisations striving to make the world a better – more evidence-informed – place. We look forward to working with you again: ACED, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Data for Accoutability, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Africa Education Research Funding Consortium, the EU Representative Office in Palestine, IDRC, the Jacobs Foundation, Laudes Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Tax Justice Network, Teach For All, and the University of Bristol. Frejus Thoto, Executive Director of ACED, thank you for this feedback:
When ACED decided to “internationalise,” we sought a reliable thought partner to support us in the process. OTT was a unique entity that blended expertise in the knowledge sector with specific experience in supporting similar processes. So, partnering with their team was an obvious choice for us.
School for Thinktankers, Brussels
Our annual school is an opportunity to learn about the many dimensions of think tanking (not just research!) and to strengthen and prepare for leadership roles. This year we were delighted to formalise a partnership with Bruegel, a leading economic think tank in Brussels. Take a peek at the 2023 school cohort and trainers, and 2024. Don’t miss out, register early for 2025.
Research support service
Over 10 years of partnering with think tanks, philanthropic foundations, governments and global organisations have highlighted a common challenge: teams are always dedicated to their missions, but often overwhelmed by day-to-day demands.
This is why we’ve launched the OTT Research Support Service. Think of us as your extended work bench.
We’ve been trialing this model within teams at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, delivering both proactive and reactive research support. If you are interested in learning more about the service, get in touch to discuss your needs.
Voices of evidence users
This year we launched the “Voices of evidence users” series offering firsthand insights from the people who use evidence in decision making. Through the series we aim to contribute to building a greater understanding among researchers, evidence brokers and funders about the realities of evidence use, from the perspective of the policymaker.
Interviews are conducted by our partners, mostly think tanks, in different parts of the world. Starting the series: Veredas Institute interviewed Samara Mariana de Castro on strengthening Brazil’s democracy with digital policies, ACEPA talked to Dr. Abraham Ibn Zackaria, Deputy Director of Research in the Parliament of Ghana, and Emily Hayter interviewed Julia Pomares, Chief Advisor to the Government of the City of Buenos Aires. Get in touch to suggest an interview from your context.
OTT Conference 2023, Chatham House, London
We very much enjoyed meeting with the 130+ thinktankers, think tank funders and policy experts from over 30 countries who joined us at Chatham House in London. Here’s what you had to say about the conference:
OTT Conference 2024 with Fundació Bofill
We’re looking forward to reuniting with thinktankers and funders from around the world in Barcelona, Spain in May. Hosted by Fundació Bofill, we will be exploring think tanks and their communities.
OTT Talks is a platform for sharing ideas and experiences on topics that matter to people and organisations that generate, communicate, use and fund evidence. Some of our favourite conversations from 2023:
- The small think tank trap: Simon Maxwell
- Candid talk about funding: David Sasaki, Hewlett Foundation
- Watchdog think tanks: Liliana Alvarado, Ethos, Mexico
- Thinktanking in the Caribbean: Damien King, CAPRI, Jamaica
Think tank state of the sector
44% of think tanks globally say it is getting harder to operate. And that rises to over 50% in Africa and Latin America & the Caribbean. Download the report.
We hope you enjoyed exploring the 2023 data and the regional responses that help to provide more nuanced analysis on the sector in different contexts, including: Think tanks are taking notice of the canaries dying around them, by Enrique Mendizabal (Peru); Six factors that can enable think tanks to develop, by Vardan Atoyan (Armenia); Why are Asian thinktankers pessimistic about the future? By Tricia Yeoh (Malaysia); and The threats to think tank survival are real, By Bonnie Benesh (Curaçao).
We were invited to present the findings at the European Think Tank Conference hosted by DGAP in Berlin; the Southern Voice Conference in Nairobi; the Africa Think Tank Summit hosted by ACBF; the Evidence Policy Action Forum hosted by ACED; to think tanks in Georgia, Armenia, Mexico and Peru; and to the Bosch Foundation and our Funders Circle. Our hope is that these discussions mark the start of an ongoing conversation between local think tanks. Request a breifing.
In 2022, CRIK and DEVE translated the global report into Arabic, helping reach more think tanks across the region, and in 2023, we did a special Saudi Arabia edition of the state of the sector report.
In 2024, we aim to establish stronger partnerships with local think tanks and funders in developing and disseminating the state of the sector findings. If you would like to be involved, get in touch.
Build a think tank guide now available in Arabic and French
The Build a think tank guide is a fantastic resource for anyone setting up or growing a think tank. It draws from articles, case studies and advice from our community over the years. The guide is framed around a series of questions.
In 2023, with support from IDRC, we were delighted to be able to publish a French Translation. We hope that the translation will be a valuable resource for think tanks in West Africa and other francophone communities. If you would like to support translation of the guide into another language, get in touch!