[This post was originally written for the On Think Tanks 2016 annual report in Spanish by Carolina Trivelli. The text was translated by Erika Perez-Leon, On Think Tanks’ digital content editor, and edited by Carolina Kern.]
Giving awards to think tanks allows us to recognise the work of these institutions. By rewarding best practices, the award is also an opportunity to motivate local think tanks to innovate, learn and grow.
It is not easy to define what a think tank does. Some do applied research, while others promote spaces for dialogue and debate or advocate for public policies and private interventions. Others seek to inform public opinion. Those who win the Premio PODER al Think Tank del Año (PODER Think Tank of the Year Awards) are usually organisations who have managed to combine all these elements. They have created new and solid knowledge based on research efforts, they have communicated it in an effective and creative manner, they have achieved changes in policies or actions of others (either from the public or private sector) and they have contributed to the public debate.
Accomplishing all these is not easy, nor is it always achieved. It requires a diverse set of skills, as well as alliances with strategic partners and human and financial resources. Above all, it requires credibility, which depends on the prestige and trajectory of the organisation. The Premio PODER helps consolidate this.
Through these first years of the Award, we have seen applications improve and diversify. Some think tanks always apply, whilst others only do so when they consider they have done an outstanding job on a particular theme.
There are not many think tanks in Perú, so the PODER Think Tank of the Year Awards try to do two things: encourage established organisations to become more confident, and inspire newer organisations to become more established. In addition, the Award is a vehicle to inspire those who are thinking of funding a think tank – be it within the public or the private sector – to do so. Organisations who do consulting also do ‘think tank activities’, so they are invited to participate as well. The ultimate goal is to increase the number of high-quality think tanks in the country.
Countries with plenty of think tanks tend to have higher critical capacites and are better able to make decisions that are informed by evidence. Their citizens also tend to be better informed, with a real understanding of social, political, cultural and institutional realities. The award is a way to support the establishment of more think tanks in Peru.
We have an ongoing agenda to establish and expand the community of think tanks in the country. We need to increase the visibility of their work, and help this work be appreciated by society. Think tanks need financial resources to pay for their research, publications, communication campaigns, support staff, office space and other expenses. These resources are scarce as there is limited appetite in investing in the generation of knowledge and public goods like the ones these organisations produce. Unlike other countries in the region, state support for think tanks is almost non-existent. As a country, we have an enormous hurdle to overcome.
Think tanks in Peru must also get better at attracting and retaining talent. These organisations rely on people, and whether they succeed or not depends on their ability to have a solid and competitive team in place. The skills of these teams must be diverse, ranging from research to communication experts. After all, advocating, debating and placing topics on the agenda is complex and depends on experienced team members.
The PODER Think Tank of the Year Awards increase the visibility of the actions of Peruvian think tanks. At the same time, they open the discussion on their role, composition, and contribution on the national level. Over the last few years of running the Award, we have seen that there is great potential for think tanks in the country.