OTT Conference 2024 – Day one session summaries

12 June 2024
SERIES OTT Conference – Think tanks and their communities

Day one 22 May 2024

The OTT Conference 2024 brought together think tank leaders, funders, and policy experts from across the globe at Fundació Bofill in Barcelona. This year, our central theme revolved around the dynamic relationship between think tanks and their communities. As think tanks evolve, their role as facilitators and collaborators becomes increasingly vital in bridging the gap between research and policy. This article provides a summary of the key ideas discussed during day one of the two-day conference.

Keynote address – Changing roles: why and how think tanks evolve

Liliana Alvarado, Executive Director of Ethos, Mexico

Liliana Alvarado delivering her keynote address at the OTT Conference 2024.

In her keynote address, Liliana reminded us that “think tank” is not a static concept. While a think tanks traditional role has been to influence policymakers, think tanks are also, at their core, catalysts of change. And they are having to evolve. Due to unstable government relationships, shifting donor priorities and new development approaches, think tanks are diversifying and evolving – engaging with new actors, methodologies and ways of measuring their impact.

Lilana argues that many think tanks have exchanged work with the public sector for work with the community. Think tanks are embracing their role as facilitators and collaborators with citizens as holders of valuable knowledge and evidence.

Work with communities should not be seen as a deviation – rather a natural extension – of think tank work, argued Liliana. She shared three pieces of advice to put this into practice:

  1. Change your communication style to be direct and jargon free. As an example, Liliana presented a “cowboy style” anticorruption booklet published by her think tank, Ethos.
  2. Reassess the power or collaboration – including establishing networks at the subnational level. For example, Ethos formed two collectives of organisations called “Anti-Corruption Citizen Force” and “Suitable Profiles Now”, which helped push back against a presidential initiative in Mexico that sought to eliminate key institutions.
  3. Adapt information to enable participation from certain groups. For example, Ethos has created communications campaigns in six indigenous languages. The campaigns also emphasized the importance of access to culturally relevant information.

Watch/read keynote address

Parallel sessions

How can think tanks maintain their integrity in a flawed democratic landscape?

Photo of session at OTT Conference 2024. Goran Buldioski, Director of Programs for Open Society–Europe and Central Asia speaks.


Think tanks operating in flawed democracies are confronted with growing polarisation, populism, and diminishing democratic and civic spaces. Such trends are eroding citizens’ trust in public institutions. This exerts pressure on the sector and threatens its ability to conduct independent and rigorous research, advocate for policy reform, secure funding, and collaborate across borders. In response, think tanks must adapt to safeguard their organisational integrity, ensuring that they stay faithful to their vision, mission, and values to serve the interests of their communities.

Co-organised by the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS) and the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM) in Albania, this session asked participants: In what ways are relationships with policymakers being impacted or challenged and how can think tanks maintain a constructive relationship with them? What role can the board of directors/trustees play in stewarding organisational priorities and strategies? How can donor expectations and think tank relationships with donors be managed to maintain independence and integrity? And How can international collaboration and networks offer reputational gains and support to think tanks in this dynamic landscape?


  • Anthea Haryoko, Chief Innovation & Development Officer, Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (Indonesia)
  • Gjergji Vurmo, Senior Researcher on governance, anticorruption and EU enlargement, Institute for Democracy and Mediation (Albania)
  • Tricia Yeoh, Chief Executive Officer of IDEAS (Malaysia)
  • Speaker: Goran Buldioski, Program Director (outgoing), Open Society Foundations Europe and Central Asia (Berlin)

Key ideas discussed:

  • Integrity in research and practice within varied political contexts: Participants discussed how integrity can be maintained in research, even in non-democratic or hybrid regimes. They emphasised the need to understand the power dynamics and specific contexts of these regimes, which can influence the integrity and operational strategies of research organisations and think tanks.
  • Balancing normative standards with practical realities: There is a focus on the challenges of maintaining integrity while navigating the demands of both foreign donors and domestic political environments. This includes dealing with varying expectations and standards of integrity, as well as the practical necessity of sometimes compromising to maintain access and influence.
  • Market and audience for policy-oriented research: participants highlighted the importance of understanding the market for policy-oriented research, including who funds it and who uses it. This ties into the broader question of how think tanks and researchers define and maintain their integrity while addressing the needs and expectations of different stakeholders, including those who may not share the same appreciation for scientific knowledge or normative standards.

Beyond policy research: how think tanks are driving evidence use


OTT’s latest 2023 State of the Sector report found that think tanks identify a lack of evidence use by government as a key challenge. So how can think tanks respond to this? What should their role be, and what are the trade-offs they face? The discussion was kicked off by three think tanks who are working to strengthen evidence use by policymakers: ACED in West Africa, SDPI in Pakistan and Veredas in Brazil. Drawing on a conversation initiated through the 2024 School for Thinktankers, explored the role of independent policy research institutes in supporting evidence use across different contexts.


  • Emily Hayter, Senior Associate – Evidence Use Lead at OTT (facilitator)
  • Frejus Thoto, Executive Director of ACED (Benin)
  • Laura Boeira, Executive Director of Instituto Veredas (Brazil)
  • Vaqar Ahmed, Deputy Executive Director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (Pakistan)

Key ideas discussed:

  • There is need for capacity development to access and communicate evidence, understand users and build research skills that will help shape the field of evidence use.
  • Trust is not given. It takes a long time.
  • Diversity of opinions can make it hard for think tanks to work together. Think tanks should align their expectations and formalise their core values. At the same time, there is the question of balancing doing it alone for quick wins vs slow wins through collaboration.
  • Think tanks need to understand the policy cycle. Because of power asymmetry, it makes more sense to target the unusual suspects. Getting the Director would be more influential than the Minister.
  • When working with government, one needs to understand that by the time the policymaker contacts a think tank for evidence, they are usually already late. There needs to be innovative ways to adapt to policymakers needs such as a chatbot to respond quickly to their questions.
  • A deep understanding of policy needs is required. Not all policies require new research. Sometimes they are looking for expert advice. Adapting research to those policy needs is important.
  • Important for think tanks not to think of themselves as the only ones with solutions. It is better to work in coalitions to achieve the goal of strengthening evidence use.

Future orienting your think tank


The world faces accelerated change and uncertainty. Think tanks must adapt at strategic and operational levels. Strategically, they must approach change systematically by developing a future orientation, relying on horizon scanning to anticipate opportunities and disruptions. Operationally, they must integrate feedback from this future orientation, develop organisational systems and skills to identify relevant activities, policy levers, and solutions, and respond swiftly to opportunities adjusting course when necessary. This session discussed think tanks’ efforts to improve their future orientation, systems thinking, and agile operating framework to navigate changing environments.


  • Nader Kabbani, Director of Research at the Middle East Council on Global Affairs (Qatar) (facilitator)
  • Vanesa Weyrauch, Associate Consultant at OTT (Argentina) (facilitator)
  • Cheikh Oumar Ba, Executive Director of Initiative Prospective Agricole et Rurale (Senegal) [unable to attend]
  • Ranil Dissanayake, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Global Development (United States)
  • Sherine Ghoneim, Director of Communications and Policy Outreach at the Economic Research Forum (Egypt)

Key ideas discussed:

  • Key questions raised: should think tanks adopt future-oriented methods and horizon scanning to identify opportunities, challenges and disruptions? Can they (do they have the capacity to do so in terms of skills and money? Are think tanks fit for purpose?)? And how can they do it?
  • The change in the sector was described as a shift from rowing to white water rafting. Rowing is a disciplined sport, the waters and currents are understood by the oarsmen, and the path (from point A to B) is relatively straightforward. In white water rafting, the waters are rough, the path is not smooth, and rowers must constantly adapt to their situation.
  • There is an appetite for future-orienting think tanks but many of these conversations remain at an abstract level. The field is generally difficult to navigate without clear methodologies and tools. It’s not easy to do this work when the sector doesn’t speak specifically about the HOW.
  • With specific reference to horizon scanning, there needs to be more clarity on: which ‘horizon’ is used as a base? Which year? What conditions are considered? And what have been the practical experiences and cases of conducting horizon scanning?
  • How does horizon scanning differ from the 5-year strategic plans funders expect think tanks to do? Would funders be open to replacing the traditional 5-year plan? Currently, there is a mismatch between what think tanks are prepared and interested to do vs. donor practices and expectations.
  • Unpopular opinion! Think tanks in their current form don’t need to exist forever. A prediction is that tanks will become small consultancies comprising a handful of specialists/experts who will need to keep adapting research practices according to contextual needs.

Approximately 100 people pose for the end of conference group photo.

Regional meetups


Thinktankers from Asia gathered to discuss the issues facing the sector in their region. Participants were posed three questions: (1) Are think tanks really trying to reach out to civil society, if not how could they make deeper contacts? (2) How relevant is think tank work for society in general and do we impose our solutions? (3) Will think tanks continue to be relevant in the future without major changes?

Key ideas discussed:

  • In many countries think tanks are legally registered as civil society organisations, therefore they are already part of the civil society. But they fulfil different objectives than NGOs (think tanks are not activists).
  • To be “closer” to communities think tanks need resources, which are scarce. Plus there are other NGOs already doing this.
  • It depends on the context – new think tanks are trying to reach out to civil society.
  • Several thinktankers agreed that their think tanks imposes views over their communities (and advocated for those views). Participants briefly debated whether this was “valid” or not and discussed that imposing solutions is not the same as imposing values. Think tanks tend to impose values, not solutions.

Western Europe

Thinktankers from Western Europe gathered to discuss the issues facing the sector in their region. Participants split into groups to discuss the following questions: 1. What are the most pressing challenges (organisational/structural/contextual) for your think tank? 2. How is your organisation addressing and navigating these challenges? What “coping strategies” are you applying? 3. What would you need to move forward?

Key challenges discussed:

  • Limited funding with increasing staff numbers: Balancing the budget with rising personnel costs while maintaining operational efficiency.
  • Spread too thin across topics and deliverables: Addressing too many issues diluting focus and effectiveness.
  • Finding and retaining staff with the right profiles and skills: Recruiting and keeping talented individuals with the necessary expertise and aligning them with organizational
    needs. Allow experts to “grow” within the organisation.
  • Meaningful engagement with communities, partners, and policymakers: Ensuring deep, impactful relationships that drive policy change rather than superficial interactions.
  • Engaging stakeholders from the start, identifying who and how: Involving the right stakeholders early in the process and understanding the best methods for engagement.
  • Navigating the innovation paradox: Balancing the need for innovative approaches with the constraints of traditional frameworks and resistance to change.
  • Identifying the “right” business model: Developing a sustainable model that aligns with organisational goals and market realities.
  • Balancing cooperation vs competition in funding and research: Navigating the tension between collaborating with peers and other think tanks and competing for the same resources.

Coping strategies discussed:

  • Increase collaboration among think tanks and other actors: Foster partnerships and joint strategies to leverage collective strengths and resources.
  • Set specific, achievable goals: Define clear, measurable objectives to maintain focus and track progress effectively.
  • Diversify funding sources: Explore and secure various funding streams to reduce dependency on a single source and enhance financial stability.
  • Segment and prioritise target audiences: Identify and focus on key audiences to ensure that efforts are directed where they will have the most impact.
  • Include external expertise: Bring in outside knowledge and skills to complement internal capabilities and address gaps.
  • Foster a sense of belonging within the organisation: Cultivate a strong organisational culture that promotes loyalty and engagement among staff.
  • Form coalitions and co-create with funders while maintaining independence: Collaborate with funders on mutually beneficial projects while preserving organisational autonomy. Securing diverse and stable funding sources by forming strategic alliances with multiple funders.
  • Design collaboration strategically, including cultural alignment: Plan and implement collaborative efforts that align with both strategic goals and organisational culture for maximum effectiveness.


Thinktankers from Africa gathered to discuss the issues facing the sector in their region.

Key issues that emerged:

  1. Funding
  • The biggest challenge affecting the ability of all think tanks to set their own agenda and be flexible is funding. There is project funding but no core funding.
  • Think tanks are now becoming innovative with sources of their funding: they are now venturing into consultancies; they face competition between research agenda and the need for long term funding; endowment Fund/investment is one option; some think tanks are putting money from consultancies and savings from overheads into investment thus gaining interest; some think tanks are selling products and/or their services.
  • Increasingly, some funders design calls for proposals that ensure the money goes back to their countries. There is a need to think about partnering with the Global North.
  • Think tanks should think of diversifying their funding sources to private sector. This is not common in Africa.
  1. Bridging policy gaps in evidence use
  • TTs should measure their impact and usefulness in bridging the knowledge gap.
  • People do not understand what evidence use is. There is a lot of evidence available, but policies are not informed by it.
  • Needs based biases-think tanks are often approached to provide technical recommendations that meet the interest of political agenda.
  • To what extent do think tanks know the end users? How much are think tanks working with government to shape the agenda? Trust between users and generators/producers of research is important.
  • Demand vs supply side of evidence use. Are politicians evidence literate? Can the evidence be trusted?
  1. Networks and collaboration
  • Build platforms for think tanks in Africa to collaborate e.g. joint proposals.
  • Cluster ourselves into areas of expertise and geography. Networks need to be strengthened.
  • Collaboration should go beyond research. Coalition with media is more likely to have impact than just with think tanks.

Eastern Europe

Thinktankers from Eastern Europe gathered to discuss the issues facing the sector in their region.

Key issues discussed:

  • Unique regional challenges: the implications of the Foreign Agents law in Georgia, the Ukraine-Russia war, the spread of disinformation (described as a cultural war on the values of truth, transparency, accountability etc.), extreme polarisation (creating an environment where citizens must be for or against something. No grey areas and discussion spaces, only black and white).
  • The Foreign Agents law in Georgia as a key example of an architecture of bad faith laws that are being introduced to curtail the activities of civil society. It complements the government’s general criticism of and opposition to civil society and think tank activities. The tension between government and civil society and think tanks has narrowed the space for progressive political engagement on policy.
  • There was concern that the Foreign Agents law can inspire other nations to adopt similar laws that have a negative bearing on civil society and think tank activities.
  • There was a strand of discussion that focused on the liberal values that were commonly shared by European countries. These values may no longer be gaining ground.  A different set of values and principles seems to be spreading throughout Europe. It is important for think tanks to understand these values, ideas and principles.
  • In light of recent political changes in the region, will the EU still be viewed as an ally of Eastern European nations? Or what will a new system of values and change bring (and what types of regional partnerships will such a system lead to)?
  • Can and should think tanks which share the liberal values of the European Union learn from each other and form strong relationships? This question was raised while discussing how authoritarians tend to learn from other authoritarians. Liberal-oriented thinkers are yet to provide a clear and coherent response to the mass appeal of authoritarian decision-making.
  • Continued regional engagement through various discussion forums was seen as important to open the space for constructive engagement with diverse actors across the political spectrum.


Thinktankers from Latin America and the Caribbean met to discuss common challenges.

Key ideas discussed:

  • The most important challenge is financial sustainability. Think tanks are suffering from limited access to cooperation funds because, on the one hand, cooperation is not prioritising the region (with a few exceptions) and, on the other hand, it is earmarking the budget for issues such as security and humanitarian aid given the current armed conflicts. This is problematic if the think tanks do not have experience or expertise in the issues being funded.
  • In addition, in some countries in the region, neither the private nor the public sector can be counted on.
  • Moreover, funders’ budgets are for covering activities and not for other expenses or costs that think tanks need to cover. Core funding is needed.
  • Finally, a problematic practice is the lack of voice from the Global South. Often, funding from the North is conditional on researchers from the North and they look to think tanks in the region for minor tasks (lack of Southern Voice).
  • Lack of regional spaces that function and are legitimised and participatory, where politics and certain problems such as insecurity, migration and drug trafficking are discussed at the regional level. These are issues that should be analysed and addressed at the regional level and not only at the national level.
  • Restrictions on civic space by authoritarian and popular or populist governments. Democratic fragility is a major problem, as is centralisation of power and lack of long-term vision. This is worsened by apathy for politics, lack of public trust, and misinformation.
  • The challenge of managing think tanks in complex environments was discussed, both to discuss issues, disseminate them, and advocate, and to obtain information for research when there is no official data or when the data is not real.
  • It is perceived that the cooperation partners do not truly understand the problem of the closure of civic space, which can even lead to persecution of thinktankers. There was discussion of the possibility of carrying out studies and making national problems visible in regional spaces in order to minimise the risks for think tanks and raise awareness among funders.
  • There is interest in knowing the results of the OTT survey for the State of the Sector report on the political context and polarisation in the region.
  • A peer support space is needed to share experiences and good practices


Thinktankers from the MENA region met to discuss common challenges. Key ideas discussed forthcoming 😊

North America

Think tanks from the US and Canada gathered to discuss the issues facing the sector in their region.

Key ideas discussed:

  • The role of universities within the think tank community was emphasised, particularly in terms of training graduates who may work in the industry and facilitating dialogue and relationships within policy spheres.
  • Think tanks face challenges due to political polarisation, with funders and politicians pressuring them to take sides, which affects the quality of their research and public recommendations.
  • Think tanks need to adopt a holistic approach to policy issues through the concept of connectivity, which involves integrating diverse regions and topics to address complex, interrelated challenges.
  • The shrinking of civic spaces, both physical and intellectual, was a significant concern. This includes the reduced space for constructive dialogue and debate, which affects the ability of think tanks to operate effectively.
  • In the US, this is compounded by the decline in pluralism and increased polarisation. Bradley from Global Solutions Initiative highlighted how shrinking civic space affects dialogue and engagement with diverse viewpoints.
  • Addressing the root causes of shrinking civic spaces, such as the capacity and visibility of local civil society organisations, is essential for ensuring their meaningful participation in policy processes. The Gaza conflict was mentioned as an example of how political optics and donor relations can impact research and dialogue in higher education.
  • The rise of the nation-state post-pandemic, affecting how think tanks and universities engage with each other and with policymakers, was also mentioned.
  • There was a consensus on the need to engage and educate funders about the importance of supporting diverse viewpoints and maintaining the independence of think tanks.

Plenary session: Unpopular opinions

Photo of plenary session at OTT Conference "Unpopular Opnions", the facilitator David Watson is on the stage, one of the participants is sharing her unpopular opinion.


A lively plenary session, creating a safe space for candid dialogue about evidence-informed policymaking.  Everyone was invited to share their unfiltered opinions and challenge the status quo. Participants are given the chance to agree or disagree. After different viewpoints have been heard, the original sharer will be given the floor to offer final reflections. Did they change their mind?


David Watson, Managing Director, Communications and Publishing at Chatham House (United Kingdom)

Keynote address – Building bridges across communities and building bottom-up accountability

Tricia Yeoh, Executive Director of IDEAS, Malaysia

Tricia Yeoh delivering her keynote address at the OTT Conference 2024. She stands at the podium, on the screens behind her the slides read "Good governance, transparency, anti-corruption and accountability".

Malaysia is a highly complex society comprising communities from multiple ethnic and religious backgrounds. Polarisation of race and the widening divide between liberals and conservatives in recent years, exacerbated by social media, have split communities further. Similar trends are taking place across many other regions. How can think tanks help build bridges across communities? What networks and partnerships need to be activated?

Community voices must be heard for democratic accountability to be truly representative and to create impact. Yet activism and thought leadership tend to emerge from urban centres. Most communities at the subnational level typically don’t have the right tools or mechanisms to push for policy change. Can think tanks that typically work with policymakers transition to working with communities on the ground?

Dr Tricia Yeoh shared her organisation’s experience of strategically positioning themselves to build bridges across divided communities in Malaysia, as well as working with communities at the subnational level to build bottom-up accountability and policy reform, concluding with thoughts for the think tank ecosystem at large.

Read/watch keynote address

Parallel sessions

Think tanks and their role in tackling state capture and corruption


State capture and corruption are challenges that deeply affect the work and mission of think tanks across the board, although the risks are particularly clear and omnipresent for think tanks focusing on governance issues. Can we, as a collective, build over time strategies and collaborative approaches and strategies to support our work in this space? This workshop was planned as the first stage in a co-creation process, sponsored by the Governance Action Hub at Results for Development. The intention is to identify entry points for engagement, peer-learning and peer-support for think tanks to be able to connect evidence, political savviness, and action as they devise strategies to deal with state capture and corruption.


  • Dani Kaufmann, Senior Fellow at Results for Development and Brookings Institution (United States)
  • Mario Picon, Director of the Governance Action Hub (United States)
  • Chiara Rosselli, Co-Founder and Executive Director at Advancing Process in Politics (Italy)
  • Liliana Alvarado, Executive Director of Ethos (Mexico)

Key ideas discussed:

  • There is a disconnect between priorities for reforms and the likelihood of the reforms happening. The disconnect is tough in issues such as anti-corruption.
  • In corruption, actors try to change the implementation of the rules of engagement while state capture can happen withing the legal frameworks.
  • Corruption definition should change from abuse of public office for personal gain to the prioritisation of private and polity of rules of engagement.
  • The notion of corruption has changed. Politicians are making tailor made laws to serve their interests. The length of capture is important to understand.
  • Can think tanks do anything about corruption/state capture?
  • Anti-corruption topic has its own challenges. Governments don’t want to be told they are corrupt.
  • Some think tanks have taken a journalistic approach to dealing with corruption. One must be aware that their relationship with government is going to be tense (break down) or non-existent. When the relationship breaks down, think tanks start acting as a watchdog.
  • There are many risks associated with this topic e.g. attacks on organisation and/or staff, legitimacy of the organisation can be questioned, you might get less funding, and more difficult to form an alliance.
  • Think tanks can be facilitators of corruption. Some think tanks receive massive donations from MPs or are close to government or MPs use the think tanks to get to parliaments.
  • Think tanks are better at connecting the dots and publishing the reports and giving vocabulary for the rest of civil society and researchers to use. You need a signal from an insider to know where to dig for information.
  • State capture is a political project. It is legitimised. Many come to power by popular vote and then rewrite its laws.

T20: reflections on the process


The session assessed the effectiveness of the T20, building on the assessments that were made at the Brazil T20 Inception Conference around the engagement between the T20 process and policymakers. Although there is a significant amount of policy briefs produced in the T20 process, there is a need for a stronger engagement process with policymakers to ensure continuity and enhance the thought leadership provided by the T20 into the G20 policy process. Moreover, the discussion included lessons from Indonesia and Brazil to inform South Africa as it prepares for its presidency. The session was designed for think tanks who are not involved in the T20 and would like to use the opportunity to learn about the T20 process.


  • Sven Grimm, Head / Extraordinary Professor, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
  • Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, Chief Executive of SAIIA, South Africa
  • Anthea Haryoko, Chief Innovation & Development Officer, Center for Indonesian Policy Studies, Indonesia
  • Larissa Wachholz, Senior Fellow for Asia Program, CEBRI, Brazil
  • Goodwill Kachingwe, Head of Monitoring and Evaluation at SAIIA, South Africa

New digital media: think tank partners, competitors or role models?


As think tanks turn towards the public and their communities, new opportunities and challenges emerge. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, new digital media has been revolutionising how we access information. Should think tanks worry about new digital media emerging as sources of evidence and expertise? How can think tanks better engage with and collaborate with new digital media? What can think tanks learn from new digital media and its efforts to inform the public?


  • Amelia Broodryk, Director of Communication at the Institute for Security Studies (South Africa)
  • Maurice Otieno, Director of the Baraza Media Lab (Kenya)
  • Marco Sifuentes, Director of La Encerrona (Peru)

Key ideas discussed:

  1. Should think tanks be worried about the continued predominance of new digital media – are they competitors?
  • Do “real” experts have a platform in the media to share knowledge?
  • The media needs think tanks and think tanks need the media.
  • Can we trust all media outlets to properly communicate research?
  • Except for investigative journalists, new media outlets often don’t have the same rigour as think tanks.
  • Many speakers felt that think tanks and new media were not necessarily competitors, so there is room for both.
  • One main goal of think tanks is to influence the media, so that they understand the topics and the questions so that the media can filter these ideas through to policymakers.
  • Often social media and “mudslinging” can drown out research and nuance.
  • This debate depends on who a think tanks considers as their audience- policy makers and/or the public. We’ve seen a rise in not-for-profit newsrooms who are (crow) funded to do research. Often, these organisations have a campaigning-nature and are ideologically driven.
  • “Researchers make important things visible” and “journalists make important things interesting.”
  1. How can think tanks work better with the media?
  • Think tank partnerships with online media can be mutually beneficial, so that media publications have quality information and think tanks reach a wider audience.
  • One think tanks spoke of a decision to no longer distribute their content, but rather partner with content consultants to distribute their studies.
  • Think tanks can do briefings with the press.
  • Think tanks can contact media in advance of when they want to publish so the news schedule can be planned by the media.
  • An interesting question was raised on whether think tanks prefer to be “referenced” or for their work to be widespread any maybe lose recognition as the source.

Jumpstarting AI for think tanks


As AI slowly but decisively enters the world of think tanks, this session offered an opportunity to evaluate our current position and future prospects.  Hosted by Sociopúblico as part of its recently launched AI for think tanks learning community, the session provided a hands-on approach to integrating this new technology into think tank work. proposals.


  • Keith Burnett, Independent Consultant (United Kingdom)
  • Nick Scott, Independent Consultant / WonkComms (Spain)
  • Sonia Jalfin, Executive Director of Sociopúblico (Argentina)

Key ideas discussed:

Nick Scott and Keith Burnett unveiled fresh insights from the WonkComms survey on think tank communications and AI, conducted between February and April with 110 respondents, mainly from think tanks:

  • The survey showed that 90% of respondents have used AI for work, with the top two uses being text development (76%) and transcribing/summarising for meetings (49%).
  • 25% admitted to producing internal documents using AI without disclosure.
  • 95% hoped that AI would increase their productivity, 43% wanted help identifying how AI could create efficiencies.
  • 55% wanted access to self-directed online learning designed for communication teams.
  • The survey highlighted the absence of AI policies in many organisations, and the need for clearer guidelines.
  • The discussion touched on the broader implications of AI beyond efficiency, such as the need to rethink traditional processes and the potential for AI to introduce new ways of working and collaborating.
  • There was an emphasis on balancing AI use with human oversight to ensure ethical and effective application.

La Caixa Foundation then shared their firsthand experience of leveraging AI to evaluate grantee proposals.   The experiment ultimately was not successful in phase one due to the complexity and diversity of proposals. The main challenge: the foundation’s selection process involved multiple evaluators from different fields, which AI struggled to replicate accurately. Despite the experiment’s outcome, the approach was valuable for understanding the limitations of AI and highlighted the need for human oversight in complex decision-making processes.

Read AI use in think tanks: six survey findings.