Welcome to the 2024 OTT Conference series

12 June 2024
SERIES OTT Conference – Think tanks and their communities

The 2024 OTT Conference brought together think tank leaders, funders, and policy experts from across the globe at the beautiful Fundació Bofill in Barcelona. This year, our central theme revolved around the dynamic relationship between think tanks and their communities. As think tanks evolve, their role as facilitators and collaborators becomes increasingly vital in bridging the gap between research and policy.

A global gathering

Think tanks are pivotal in shaping public policy, but their impact is magnified when they actively engage with the communities they serve. This conference provided a unique platform for thought leaders to explore this evolving role. Attendees delved into crucial questions, such as:

  • What communities do think tanks belong to?
  • How can think tanks contribute to their communities?
  • How can think tanks build trust, engage, and collaborate with these communities?

These discussions highlighted the need for think tanks to move beyond traditional roles and to see themselves as integral parts of the societal fabric, working hand in hand with communities to foster meaningful change.

Key sessions and insights

The conference featured several noteworthy sessions, each delving into different aspects of think tanks’ roles and challenges. Here are some highlights:

  • Inclusive digitalisation: the role of think tanks: The rapid pace of digitalisation presents vast opportunities but also exacerbates inequalities, especially in the Global South. This public session explored the critical role of think tanks in crafting inclusive policies for digitalisation. Facilitated by Enrique Mendizabal, Founder and Director of OTT, and featuring speakers like Carme Colomina from CIDOB, Denis Foretia from the Nkafu Policy Institute, Héctor Gardó from Fundació Bofill, and Margarita Gòmez from Southern Voice, the discussion emphasised the need to incorporate diverse perspectives and disciplines to bridge the digital divide. By learning from innovative solutions in the Global South, think tanks can help develop more equitable digital ecosystems.
  • Changing roles – why and how think tanks evolve: Liliana Alvarado, Executive Director of Ethos (Mexico), delivered a keynote addressing the evolving roles of think tanks. Traditionally focused on delivering evidence-based recommendations, think tanks now face the challenge of unstable government relationships, shifting donor priorities, and new development approaches. Alvarado discussed how think tanks are diversifying and engaging with new actors and methodologies, emphasising the need for think tanks to empower communities while maintaining their core identity.
  • Building bridges across communities and bottom-up accountability: Tricia Yeoh, CEO of IDEAS (Malaysia), delivered a keynote on building bridges across divided communities and fostering bottom-up accountability. She shared experiences from Malaysia, emphasising the role of think tanks in working with communities to promote democratic accountability and policy reform.
  • Do think tanks need to start rebuilding trust? Ismael Palacín, Director of Fundació Bofill (Spain) discussed the decline in public trust in think tanks and the need to rebuild it. He argued that think tanks must deliver real value daily and promote diverse knowledge. Palacín emphasized the importance of staying responsive and relevant to communities.
  • Think tanks and youth: moulding active and responsible citizens: Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, Chief Executive of the South African Institute of International Affairs (South Africa) stressed the importance of engaging youth in think tank activities to shape inclusive policies. She shared SAIIA’s approach to co-creating research priorities with young people. Sidiropoulos called on think tanks to foster active citizenship among youth to ensure future policies are reflective of diverse needs.

Parallel Sessions The conference included various parallel sessions that covered a broad spectrum of topics including (this list is courtesy of Southern Voice’s recap):

  • Why and how think tanks evolve
  • How think tanks drive evidence use
  • Orienting think tanks for the future
  • Maintain integrity in a flawed democratic landscape
  • Building bridges across communities and bottom-up accountability
  • Artificial intelligence for think tanks
  • Reflections on the T20 process
  • New digital media
  • Tackling state capture and corruption
  • Rebuilding trust
  • The role of think tanks in 2024 elections
  • New challenges and models for think tanks
  • Youth: moulding active and responsible citizens
  • The role of think tanks in advocacy
  • Regional meet-ups provided a space for think tanks to discuss shared challenges and opportunities for collaboration within their regions.
  • “Unconference” time provided a space for participants to propose and vote on additional session topics.

Read a summary of the sessions from Day one and Day two.

Our gratitude to our partners and sponsors

The success of the OTT Conference 2024 would not have been possible without the generous support of our partners and sponsors. We extend our heartfelt thanks to the Hewlett Foundation, Robert Bosch Stiftung, Mercator Stiftung, Ford Foundation, Casa Asia, Soapbox, and Fundació Bofill. Their contributions and commitment to fostering collaboration and innovation in the think tank community are deeply appreciated.

Our gratitude to all participants

The Conference would not have been possible without the active participation of the OTT community.

You can follow their reactions here.

And explore the pictures of the event here.

Looking ahead: 2025 OTT Conference

We are excited to announce that the OTT Conference 2025 will be hosted in Johannesburg by the South African Institute of International Affairs. This upcoming conference will continue to build on the themes of community engagement and collaboration, bringing together global experts to share their experiences and insights.

As we look forward to next year’s conference, we remain committed to fostering a vibrant community of think tanks that are not only thought leaders but also active partners in their communities. Stay tuned for more updates and reflections from this year’s conference, and we hope to see you in Johannesburg for another enriching experience.

Register your interest

We need support. We are looking for think tank partners and funders to help make the 2025 OTT Conference, even better!

Contact us to partner or support the Conference

Connect and reflect

We invite all participants and interested parties to stay connected and continue the conversation. Share your thoughts and reflections on the conference sessions, and join us in building a stronger, more collaborative think tank community. We will be happy to add articles to this series to reflect participants experiences.

Thank you for being a part of the 2024 OTT Conference. Together, we can drive progress and create lasting impact through meaningful collaboration and community engagement.

For more details, session recordings, and summaries, please explore the series.