Think tanks and their key audiences: what do they have to say?

19 September 2013
SERIES Think tanks and communications 26 items

Last month, On Think Tanks organised two communication for think tanks events in Peru. The first one was with GRADE on the future of think tank communications. The second one was organised by IEP and took an interesting approach. We went straight to some of think tanks’ key audiences and asked them, directly:

  • How do they prefer to access new ideas and knowledge -the kind that they need to do their work?
  • How could think tanks communicate better with them?
  • And to offer us some examples of good and bad experiences with think tanks

Like GRADE’s event, this too was inspired by WonkComms in the UK.

The event’s Spanish report can be found here:  Los think tanks y la comunicación con el actor clave. And pictures of the event are here in IEP’s Facebook page.

At this event we asked a well-known journalist, politician and researcher to share their views on the manner in which their professions like (or have to) communicate with others -particularly with researchers and think tanks.

Alberto Mori was the moderator. Alberto, IEP’s communication officer, described the origins of the event and how we had developed the concept. It offers, he said, an opportunity for think tanks to get advice straight from their audiences.  

 Rosa María Palacios, journalist and op-ed writer for La República@rmapalacios

Rosa María Palacios offered a very clear image of the challenge that she faces every day to filter the enormous amount of information that she receives. Everything, she said, competes for her attention and she has had to develop a few rules and processes to make her job easier.

As a journalist, she looks for immediacy -something that she recognises goes against the grain of most think tanks. Her main sources of information are:

  • Newspapers (she reads 8 every day) mostly online
  • Twitter
  • Press releases sent to her emails
  • News and specialised portals.

Accessibility and credibility of the sources are very important for her. When a source works well then it is very likely she will go back to it. Also, she rather prefers personal phone calls and conversations with experts.

Among other things, she recommended the following:

  • “If you are not ‘in the networks’ or do not have a good website with an archive and online publications it is quite likely that no one will notice you and pass on to another source. You compete with others who have more accessible information”
  • Very well designed emails are very useful
  • Everything must be linked-up (e.g. Twitter with links so that the user can access more information and share it)
  • You have to draw attention to yourselves

 Juan Sheput, former deputy-minister for Labour and member of Perú Posible. @JuanSheput

Juan Sheput spoke as a politician. Political work, he explained, has to do with the development of an immediate opinion and of public policy.

For the former politicians go to the media and now Twitter. For the latter politicians in Peru face a serious problem: the absence of political party think tanks. Parties, he said, do not have the capacity to develop public policies. This capacity is being substitute by lobbies, private interests, law firms and other groups.

This differentiates Peru from countries like Chile where they that think tanks that offer ideas to political parties who then go on to consolidate them and development into public policy.

He recommended, among other things, that:

  • Research in Peruvian think tanks is too far removed from national interests. Think tanks need to get closer to parties.
  • Researchers must get involved in the formation of public opinion. Today, too few of them are sufficiently visible.
  • Think tanks must be more accessible. It is unhelpful to just show the books being published if they cannot be easily downloaded to be read.

 Ricardo Cuenca, social psychologist and Principal Researcher at IEP. @richicuenca

Ricardo Cuenca argued that researchers are learning to use other types of information and access it in different ways.

Not only are there new sources of information and knowledge (besides academia) but there is much more out there and this can become a serious challenge.

Ricardo Cuenca’s presentation focused on the ‘power of the fact’. A fact (a killer fact), well communicated, has a power that the study from where it was taken, doesn’t. This forces researchers to think about the balance that must exist between the capacity that they have to draw attention with a fact or a short and punchy message and whether they should actually do it. They need to find the middle ground between immediacy and lethargy.

There are many opportunities that researchers can take advantage of. It is now possible to reach politicians, policymakers, journalists and other actors in a way that would not have been possible before. The new communities that are forming online make it easier to share complex ideas without having to depend on the single fact or a 140 character Tweet.

Finally, he concluded that it is important for researchers and communicators to learn how to communicate with each other.

The event is part of a series focused on think tank communications for think tanks in Peru.

You can follow the discussion via:  @onthinktanks@ieperuanos or #thinktankcoms