The future of think tank communications in Peru

22 August 2013

On Monday 12th August, On Think Tanks and GRADE, a think tank based in Lima, held the first conference on the future of think tank communications in Latin America. The panelists were Enrique Mendizabal, of On Think Tanks; Paula Pino, a communicator at GRADE; Hans Rothgiesser, head online editor at SEMANA Economica; and David Zaldivar, online communications specialist at the Ministry of Education. The conference was moderated by Norma Correa. This conference was inspired by a similar event held in London last April organised by a group of communicators, and which has resulted in a blog, WonkComms.

We invite you to join this LinkedIn group in order to share ideas and other think tank communicators’ support: WonkComms América Latina.

Some important resources to read and see before the event:

In this event, communicators from think tanks, the media, the public sector and experts in new forms of communication offered their thoughts on the challenges and opportunities that think tanks face in Peru. They provided tips on good communications practices as well as the experiences they had gone through working as communicators of research.

Norma Correa (@nb_correa), an anthropologist who specialises in social policy, ethnicity and development, began by introducing each of the panelists:

Enrique Mendizabal of @onthinktanks was the first speaker and began laying the groundwork for the topics discussed ahead. He presented four theoretical ideas first proposed by Nick Scott, the main communicator and online manager at ODI, which are about communications today and in the future. These ideas are:

  1. “From cradle to grey”: Communicators must ensure that the content generated by think tanks never dies – publishing things online permits access to the content throughout time.
  2. “Reusing the wheel”: Think tanks must also use existing online tools instead of creating new ones, most of which are free.
  3. “Being there”: They must communicate in places where people already go to get information
  4. “Revolutionary evolution”: They must try new ideas and new practices in a way that lets them learn what works best.

Enrique also presented four practical ideas for think tank communications. Think tanks must be open, transparent and interactive. They cannot just disappear while working on a project. They must also develop their own communications models, thus creating a brand and an image that is easily relatable to them. Furthermore, few think tanks have a sufficient number of staff actually trained in communicating – the role of communication should be professionalised. Finally, they must also assign sufficient resources to this task, and change the ways in which they work on projects or contracts.

Enrique’s presentation – Wonkcomms and some theoretical ideas on think tank communications

Paula Pino (@GRADEPeru) highlighted that it is not enough to just publish a publication in PDF format on a think tank’s web page. The classical research format must aim towards more creative ideas, and documents have to work with new digital tools that help research compete in the marketplace of ideas. Ideally, digital formats should be included from the moment a research project is born.

She concluded by emphasizing that future researchers must have a clear capacity to communicate and to incorporate this into research design.

Paula’s presentation – Experiences from a Peruvian think tank

Hans Rothgiesser (@mildemonios) was next, and began by pointing out that the main problem researchers have is that they often do not consider the prejudices that exist among the media. For instance, certain sectors and decision-makers do not accept statistics and data. A reluctance to accept data can lead to a lack of interest in listening to researchers, which sometimes results in aggressiveness towards them. For many research centres the solution is silence, which creates confusion among the population. Researchers and think tanks must have a thick skin in order to participate in debates.

There is a mistaken belief that change and impact is created just by publishing information. This information has to be accompanied by a communications campaign, and it has to be presented at the right time.

Hans also stressed that think tanks must position themselves as experts as to be easily identifiable by the media, experts that understand their audiences, who have a network of allies and who have a following.

Hans’ presentation – Models of communications and practice for think tanks: a media perspective

David Zaldivar (@davidzaldivar) recounted his experiences as an online communications specialist at the Ministry of Education. According to him, the first step before any type of communication is to do a diagnostic of where you intend the message to go. Then, organisations, specially large organisations like ministries, must organise all of their digital platforms and standardize them – this includes organising the communications team as well.

David’s presentation – Lessons from the State

The event concluded with a round of questions from the audience.

A full account in Spanish of the presentations and issues discussed in this event can be found in its EventBrite page.

Participants also tweeted their thoughts on the event under the hashtag #thinktankcomms, which can also be found at @onthinktanks