Why pay attention to management? -the Managing Think Tanks series

6 March 2013
SERIES Think tanks governance and management 19 items

The title of this blog post is also the title of the first chapter of Ray Struyk’s book, Managing Think Tanks. During the following weeks, we will be publishing chapter summaries in order to delve deeper into governance structures, staff management, improving leadership and streamlining administrative processes. (For a preview see this Masterclass on managing human and financial resources.) Governance and management strategies and skills have never been a strong forte among the think tank community: Struyk attributes this to the fact that most think tank directors focus exclusively on what they believe are their organisation’s main tasks – expanding the number of policy options considered to address a nation’s problem, providing hard facts and analysis to political parties and NGOs, empowering small players in the political process, etc. Also, directors tend to be academics who have little experience in management, thus overlooking administrative details important to the think tank’s efficient functioning.

There is a more fundamental reason for senior managers at think tanks to make time to address basic administration and financial management tasks: their organizations will work more efficiently. Dynamic, charismatic leadership cannot offset flawed administrative systems

Managing Think Tanks provides guidance to think tanks and other research organisations on addressing problem areas they might encounter. Each chapter is filled with specific, real-world examples from think tanks around the globe gathered from interviews with leaders of ten leading Western think tanks and more than thirty think tanks in transitional economies. Struyk also relies on his thirty years of experience working at think tanks, fifteen years studying and mentoring them, as well as on a close study of superior management practices recommended both for non-profit and for-profit organisations.

The donor community has worked on institutional development in the past. These efforts have tended to focus on the needs of young institutions, such as equipment to support research operations and Internet access and home pages. Donors have also tended to organize workshops that addressed the needs of start-up NGOs more generally, providing skills to new and comparatively simple operations.

However, changes are happening in the world of think tanks in developing countries. A considerable number of think tanks around the world either have or will reach what is called the “second stage of development”:

“Second-stage” institutes are at the point where they move from a low, often highly variable level of operations and a small number of sponsors to a higher level of activity—a larger staff, more projects, greater specialization in staff assignments, and more opportunities in the policy process and for educating the public on current policy issues.

When they reach this stage, think tanks have to alter their management and financial systems in order to be efficient and effective.

Of course, these think tanks are not the book’s only target audience – foundations and other supporters of think tanks, such as bilateral and multilateral donors, who are interested in helping think tanks improve their processes.

Check back with us every week for a new chapter summary. The following chapters of Managing Think Tanks will touch upon the following: