The information that senior management needs: the Managing Think Tanks Series

13 May 2013

Just like ensuring financial sustainability and accountability, effective leadership means being fully aware of how the various parts of the organisation are working – in order words, being informed. This ranges from having information about basic finances to how the think tank has communicated with the public:

Without such information, leaders have trouble leading because they are more often responding to events than anticipating them.

This week’s Managing Think Tanks chapter provides several types of monitoring information that think tanks should regularly assemble and use. The monitoring program described is most useful for a think tank with a fairly large staff (50+) with specialists in areas such as personnel and public relations. Smaller think tanks can tweak the program in order to best suit their needs.

Some points to keep in mind. First, information has to be channeled to the right person at the right time. This is not always the organisation’s president. Managers should decide who is the most suited to receive information in order to improve the organisation’s work. Second, the information generated and provided should be in a simple, straightforward format. Third, basic financial indicators are discussed only in passing.

What to monitor?

As in the corporate sector, think tanks can use the concept of a balance scorecard in order to score themselves in key operations. It suggests five critical areas that senior managers should monitor:

  1. The public policy perspective. Success in communicating research results to policymakers, other stakeholders, and the public, and in informing the public on key issues of the day.
  2. The client perspective. Success in meeting the expectations of donors who sponsor policy work and of those contracting with the institute for research, pilot projects, and evaluations.
  3. The internal business perspective. Success in efficiently conducting research, communications activities, and support functions.
  4. The innovation and learning perspective. Success in enhancing the skill level and mix of the staff and in defining important policy projects to pursue.
  5. The financial perspective. Success in raising funds to support the research program and properly managing the institute’s resources.

Tables with indicators for each area are provided in the chapter.

Finally, since each think tank is different, organisation leaders should identify different areas for which they already have good information, and areas they need to work on. It is important for them to weigh the potential benefits from generating or collating additional information from the weaker areas against the costs. If the leaders think that more information is needed, then options must be considered for generating that information on a regular basis and who should receive it.