Speed Dating for think tanks: how to meet your future partner?

11 July 2011

The Think Tank Fund has launched a call for proposals for learning between Eastern European and former Soviet Union think tanks and peers in Latin America and East Asia.

The project reduces the financial barriers to partnership building and peer learning between organisations from different regions. The funds will make it possible for two think tanks to work together, visit each other, and maybe even plan future projects. However, before this can happen, other barriers need to be addressed.

Getting to know about other think tanks in the first place is not that easy. How could this happen? Maybe researchers from think tanks meet in global fora or conferences, or in some occasions thy work as part of broader consortia in which other researchers may also be involved. But these are accidental meetings. And they may or may not lead to the right match.

Think tanks seeking to benefit from this grant should not underestimate the importance of finding the right fit. The right fit is not just a common interest to benefit from the funds or to learn from others. The right fit implies that the think tanks getting together are the right ones for each other. Since think tanks come is all shapes and forms it is therefore possible that two very different centres may end up trying to learn from each other and find out that their different structures limit learning between them: for example a think tank with mostly associate researchers may not find the right match in a think tank with mostly full time researchers.

Similarly, short -term project driven think tanks may find it difficult to learn from long-term programme driven ones; advocacy think tanks may find it frustrating to collaborate with academic research think tanks; etc.

Of course, these differences could be a reasons to work together, but this cannot be assumed nor should it be left to chance.

This means that both think tanks ought to be clear, right from the start, of what is it that they want to get out of the relationship, agree on the approaches to achieve this, and know why they think that they are the right match for each other. Vagueness at this stage will result in failure.

With busy domestic political processes to monitor and lots of fires to fight it is not surprising that think tanks from different regions do not know many others elsewhere. Their usual out-of-region links tend to be with think tanks in U.S. and Europe where their researchers studied or from where their funding comes. Finding partners in other regions is much harder.

As individuals we deal with these issues in different ways: upon moving to a new city we search for opportunities to meet others by joining clubs or neighbourhood activities, maybe go speed dating or online dating; others resort to the more traditional matchmaking skills of organised religion (“oh, you should meet my daughter/son, she/he is such a good girl/boy”); while other prefer to go solo and chance it at nightclubs or bars. For each its own.

For organisations, the places and spaces for finding the right fit to try to develop a partnership, may not be that obvious. Just like people they ought to expect lots of trials and errors -and it would be naive to assume that they’ll get it right the first time.

So how can we help?

Here are a few ways that I would like to recommend -and would be keen to support:

  • Sign up to Twitter and find each other -some of you are already following @onthinktanks so it should not be hard to let onthinktanks act as a matchmaker. Twit this: Re: @onthinktanks I am looking for #thinktanks in [insert region] to partner with. If you are following @onthinktanks or #thinktanks you’ll be able to find each other and you can take it from there. Because only 140 characters are allowed you won’t be bombarded with lots of text to read and may find it easy to dismiss unsuitable matches.
  • Alternatively, start following @ThinkTankFund and do the exact same thing.
  • The Think Tank Fund also has a Facebook page that you could use to meet each other. ‘Like’ it and post comments.
  • You could also write a few lines below (in the comment box) introducing yourselves. Think of it as Speed Dating: you have 10 lines at most to let others know 1) what your think tank is about and 2) what you are looking for in this potential partnership. You can then reply below or directly to those who posted an interest (do let me know if you do so that I know if this had any effect). I can act as a filter to make sure that the responses you get are clearly articulated and not just random spam.
  • Or you could join the ebpdn and post an interest there. There are think tanks from all over the world signed up -as well as sub-communities for each region that may help you get your messages to the right audiences. This might be a bit riskier and you may end up getting lots of responses from people rather than organisations -but it is worth a try.

Whatever you chose I will try to repost any responses to make sure that those who chose other options don’t miss out. So maybe this is not just about speed dating but also match-making.