OTT Conference 2024 – Think tanks and their communities

Organised by OTT
Event type Conference
Location Barcelona, Spain
Start date 21 May 2024
End date 23 May 2024
Register
Join think tank leaders, funders and policy experts from around the world to connect, learn and exchange ideas at OTT Conference, this year hosted in partnership with Fundació Bofill.

Get in touch to sponsor the OTT Conference

 

What to expect

OTT conferences are designed to create opportunities for formal and informal interactions, and for participants to create sessions on topics relevant to them.

The programme includes a public event on the first evening, followed by a lineup of keynote addresses, plenary and parallel sessions. Scroll down to the working agenda for more details.

The programme includes extended coffee and lunch breaks for networking, a marketplace of ideas, and fringe events hosted by participating organisations throughout the week.

We invite you to use your time in Barcelona to organise meetings and fringe events with other conference-goers. If you want our support to connect you with other participants from a specific sector or region, reach out.

If you’re still unsure about what to expect, watch the final reflections and sessions from last year’s conference.

Conference sessions will take place in English.

Think tanks and their communities

The topic of this year’s conference is think tanks and their communities. The early think tanks began within communities addressing local issues. However, think tanks have evolved and today are often perceived to be part of the elite. While think tanks have become trusted evidence sources for policymakers, are they trusted members of their communities? How many people walk past think tank offices without knowing what transpires within?

Think tanks are beginning to recognise that true progress comes when they embrace their roles as facilitators and collaborators, working alongside communities to bridge the gap between research and policy.

At the OTT Conference 2024 we will discuss questions like, what communities do think tanks belong to? How can think tanks contribute to their communities? And how can they build trust, engage and collaborate with them?

If you would like to submit a session proposal, please read our guidelines.

Registration

The OTT Conference is an invitation-only event. We are inviting think tank leaders and funders to register your interest in attending the conference. We will get back to you as soon as possible. To make sure you are included in future invitation lists sign up for our Newsletter!

Register your interest

Additionally, check out the list of participating organisations so far.

There is a small registration fee to support conference costs: 160 GBP standard fee, and 80 GBP reduced fee for selected countries. Participants are expected to cover their own travel and accommodation costs. We are working closely with our partners to secure funds to support the participation of thinktankers from the Global South.

Partnership and sponsorship

We are grateful for the support of the Hewlett Foundation, Robert Bosch Stiftung, Mercator Stiftung, Ford Foundation, Soapbox and Fundació Bofill.

If you would like to learn more about how to support the conference, please contact us.

Agenda

Public event I Tuesday 21 May 2024

6:30pm - 8:30pm
Inclusive digitalisation: the role of think tanks

The rapid pace of digitalisation presents vast opportunities, yet it also creates and exacerbates inequalities, particularly in the Global South. The digital era has outpaced policy, leaving a gap in understanding what is at stake and lacking sufficient research or policy experience to leverage the opportunities and navigate the challenges.

Addressing these issues requires breaking away from traditional research dynamics. We must embrace diverse disciplines– from technical expertise to psychology. And we must incorporate perspectives from the Global South, where innovative solutions to resource constraints and infrastructure development in geographically dispersed areas are being pioneered. By learning from the successes and challenges in the Global South, we can develop more inclusive and equitable approaches to digitalisation worldwide.

This event will explore the critical role of think tanks in crafting inclusive policies for the digitalisation of public services, such as education. Join us to discuss how think tanks can participate in building inclusive and diverse digital ecosystems for the public good.

Facilitator:

Enrique Mendizabal, Founder and Director of OTT

Speaker:

Margarita Gòmez, Executive Director of Southern Voice

Héctor Gardó, Project Manager at Fundació Bofill

Day one I Wednesday 22 May 2024

9:00am
Registration & coffee

Get your welcome pack and meet other conference-goers on the Bofill patio.

9:30am
Welcome

Ismael Palacín, Director of Fundació Bofill
Enrique Mendizabal, Founder and Director of OTT
Estefanía Terán, Director of On Think Tanks

10:00am
Keynote address - Changing roles: why and how think tanks evolve

Liliana Alvarado, Executive Director of Ethos (Mexico)

Traditionally, think tanks have focused on delivering evidence-based recommendations to decision-makers. Due to unstable government relationships, shifting donor priorities and new development approaches, think tanks are diversifying and evolving - engaging with new actors, methodologies and ways of measuring their impact.

Are we prepared for think tank evolution away from their traditional role? How can think tanks engage more with their communities, while preserving their core identity? And when it comes to influencing policy change, how effective are think tank strategies that seek to empower communities to advocate for change versus influencing decision-makers directly?

10:30am
Coffee break
11:00am
Parallel sessions
Beyond policy research: how think tanks are driving evidence use

OTT’s latest 2023 State of the Sector report found that think tanks identify a lack of evidence use by government as a key challenge. So how can think tanks respond to this? What should their role be, and what are the trade-offs they face?

This discussion will be kicked off by three think tanks who are working to strengthen evidence use by policymakers: ACED in West Africa, SDPI in Pakistan and Veredas in Brazil. Drawing on a conversation initiated through the 2024 School for Thinkt Tankers, we will explore the role of independent policy research institutes in supporting evidence use across different contexts.

Facilitator: Emily Hayter, Senior Associate - Evidence Use Lead at OTT

Speakers:
Frejus Thoto, Executive Director of ACED (Benin)

Laura Boeira, Executive Director of Instituto Veredas (Brazil)

Vaqar Ahmed, Deputy Executive Director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (Pakistan)

Future orienting your think tank

The world faces accelerated change and uncertainty. Think tanks must adapt at strategic and operational levels. Strategically, they must approach change systematically by developing a future orientation, relying on horizon scanning to anticipate opportunities and disruptions. Operationally, they must integrate feedback from this future orientation, develop organisational systems and skills to identify relevant activities, policy levers, and solutions, and respond swiftly to opportunities adjusting course when necessary. This session will discuss think tanks' efforts to improve their future orientation, systems thinking, and agile operating framework to navigate changing environments.

Facilitator: Nader Kabbani, Director of Research at the Middle East Council on Global Affairs (Qatar)

Speakers:
Cheikh Oumar Ba, Executive Director of Initiative Prospective Agricole et Rurale (Senegal)

Ranil Dissanayake, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Global Development (United States)

Sherine Ghoneim, Director of Communications and Policy Outreach at the Economic Research Forum (Egypt)

How can think tanks maintain their integrity in a flawed democratic landscape?

Think tanks operating in flawed democracies are confronted with growing polarisation, populism, and diminishing democratic and civic spaces. Such trends are eroding citizens’ trust in public institutions. This exerts pressure on the sector and threatens its ability to conduct independent and rigorous research, advocate for policy reform, secure funding, and collaborate across borders.

In response, think tanks must adapt to safeguard their organisational integrity, ensuring that they stay faithful to their vision, mission, and values to serve the interests of their communities.

Co-organised by the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS) and the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM) in Albania, this session will ask participants: In what ways are relationships with policymakers being impacted or challenged and how can think tanks maintain a constructive relationship with them? What role can the board of directors/trustees play in stewarding organisational priorities and strategies? How can donor expectations and think tank relationships with donors be managed to maintain independence and integrity? And How can international collaboration and networks offer reputational gains and support to think tanks in this dynamic landscape?

Facilitators:
Anthea Haryoko, Chief Innovation & Development Officer, Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (Indonesia)

Gjergji Vurmo, Senior Researcher on governance, anticorruption and EU enlargement, Institute for Democracy and Mediation (Albania)

Speaker: Goran Buldioski, Program Director, Open Society Foundations Europe and Central Asia (Berlin)

12:30pm
Regional meetups

How can we build stronger regional think tank communities? Meet with your regional peers to discuss shared challenges and opportunities for collaboration. This interactive space will be facilitated by session conveners from each region.

1:30pm
Lunch
2:45pm
Plenary session - Unpopular opinions

Join us for a lively plenary session, creating a safe space for candid dialogue about evidence-informed policymaking.  

Everyone is invited to share their unfiltered opinions and challenge the status quo. Participants are given the chance to agree or disagree. After different viewpoints have been heard, the original sharer will be given the floor to offer final reflections. Did they change their mind?

Facilitator: David Watson, Managing Director, Communications and Publishing at Chatham House (United Kingdom)

3:15pm
Keynote address - Building bottom-up accountability with grassroots communities in Malaysia

Tricia Yeoh, Chief Executive Officer of IDEAS (Malaysia)

Grassroot voices must be heard for democratic accountability to be truly representative and to create impact. Yet, activism and thought leadership tend to emerge from urban centres. More rural or semi-urban communities typically don’t have the right tools or mechanisms to push for policy change.  

Dr Tricia Yeoh will share her organisation's experience of working with communities at the subnational level to build bottom-up accountability and policy reform on budget transparency and political financing over the last two years.

3:45pm
Coffee break
4:15pm
Parallel sessions
Global minds, local hearts: the role of think tanks in advocacy

​Think tanks play an important role in linking global discussions with domestic policy agendas. One of the ways in which they do this is by participating in international policy forums where they can exchange good practices and form communities of practice to support implementation of those good practices. International collaboration also helps think tanks to anticipate future challenges within their context, and to propose evidence-informed solutions.​​ This session will provide two examples of global networks that bring together different organisations to connect global policy proposals with local agendas.

Facilitator:
Jai Asundi, Executive Director of the Center for Study of Science, Technology, and Policy (India)

Speakers:
Arzu Abbasova, Research Analyst at the Royal United Services Institute (United Kingdom)

Gala Díaz Langou, Executive Director at the Center of Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth (Argentina)

Natia Seskuria, Associate Fellow at RUSI and Founder and Executive Director of the Regional Institute for Security Studies (Georgia)

Sona Mitra, Director of Policy and Research at the Institute for What Works to Advance Gender Equality (India)

T:20: reflections on the process

Session details coming soon.

New digital media: think tank partners, competitors or role models?

As think tanks turn towards the public and their communities, new opportunities and challenges emerge. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, new digital media has been revolutionising how we access information. In this session we will explore:

Should think tanks worry about new digital media emerging as sources of evidence and expertise? How can think tanks better engage with and collaborate with new digital media? What can think tanks learn from new digital media and its efforts to inform the public?

We will hear from leaders in the field and consider how the lessons they have learned over the last few years may be useful for think tanks and the broader evidence informed policymaking sector.

Speakers:
Amelia Broodryk, Director of Communication at the Institute for Security Studies (South Africa)

Maurice Otieno, Director of the Baraza Media Lab (Kenya)

Marco Sifuentes, Director of La Encerrona (Peru)

Think tanks and their role in tackling state capture and corruption

State capture and corruption are challenges that deeply affect the work and mission of think tanks across the board, although the risks are particularly clear and omnipresent for think tanks focusing on governance issues. Can we, as a collective, build over time strategies and collaborative approaches and strategies to support our work in this space?

This workshop is planned as the first stage in a co-creation process, sponsored by the Governance Action Hub at Results for Development. The intention is to identify entry points for engagement, peer-learning and peer-support for think tanks to be able to connect evidence, political savviness, and action as they devise strategies to deal with state capture and corruption.

Speakers:
Dani Kaufmann, Senior Fellow at Results for Development and Brookings Institution (United States)

Mario Picon, Director of the Governance Action Hub (United States)

Chiara Rosselli, Co-Founder and Executive Director at Advancing Process in Politics (Italy)

Liliana Alvarado, Executive Director of Ethos (Mexico)

5:45pm
Round up

Come back together to reflect on the day’s main takeaways.

6:15pm
Informal drinks

Location to be confirmed.

Day two I Thursday 23 May 2024

9:00am
Registration and coffee

Join other conference-goers on the Bofill patio for a welcome coffee.

9:30am
Welcome

A quick recap of day one and what to expect on day two.

10:00am
Keynote address - Do think tanks need to start rebuilding trust?

Ismael Palacin, Director of Funaciio Bofill (Spain)

International research tells us that public trust in institutions is declining - and this includes think tanks. Think tanks used to base their legitimacy on robust research. But they can no longer take this legitimacy for granted.  

Legitimacy today may be granted or questioned on any given day depending on the actor and their current context. Trust, therefore, must be (re)built each day.  

To do this think tanks must get down to the ground and deliver real value to the actors we work for. We must get used to the provisional nature of the knowledge and solutions we provide. And we must consider diverse knowledge, promoting solutions that different actors can own and apply.

10:30am
Coffee break
11:00am
Parallel sessions
2024 a year of elections: the role of think tanks?

This session explores the role of think tanks before, during and after elections. Speakers will share different experiences from around the world. Refelcting on questions like how can think tanks contribute to policy analysis and evidence-informed decision-making in elections? What is the role of think tanks in simplifying complex discussions for different audiences? How can we help to promote informed-public engagement during elections? And what future challenges do think tanks face in election processes?

Speakers:
David Tripepi-Lewis, Director of Partnerships and Development at the Institute for Government (United Kingdom)

Rasheed Draman, Executive Director of the African Centre for Parliamentary Affairs (Ghana)

Gabriela Suarez, Executive Director of FARO (Ecuador)

Think tanks: new challenges, new models?

Reality is changing and to confront the issues of the current world, new think tank schemes or models are required to address these challenges. In other words, to have a role in today’s complex current landscape, think tanks must innovate not only their products or lines of action but also their operating model. This may be especially important in specific regions or thematic areas. 

Facilitator: Oswaldo Molina, Executive Director of Red de Estudios Para el Desarrollo (Peru)

Speakers:
Aida Aidarkulova, Executive Director of the Central Asian Policy Studies Unlock (Kazakstan)

Joel Moffat, student and writer for The Security Distillery student think tank (Europe)

Membership for the benefit of all

Think tank membership often involves individuals and organisations signing up for exclusive access to content and events in return for a regular payment.

But such schemes can do more than simply raising revenue – important as that is – and focus on fostering a more profound exchange between think tanks and the communities in which they operate.

This workshop will offer participants the chance to explore the features that characterise different models of think tank membership and consider what approaches work best in what circumstances.

Facilitators:
Cormac Bakewell, Partner at Soapbox (United Kingdom)

Naomi Isaacs, Director of Brand and Strategy at Soapbox (United Kingdom)

12:30pm
Open forum: what’s missing from the conversation?

This is your chance to drive the conversation! What critical topics are on your mind? Propose new discussion topics at the conference and vote for your favourite ideas.

1:30pm
Lunch
2:45pm
Plenary session - A conversation with think tank funders

Strong think tank-donor partnerships are essential for meaningful impact – but how do we get there?  

Join this dynamic conversation to address key questions like: how can funding support different ideas and balanced debate? How can funders collaborate to support their think tank partners? How is impact shaped by funding cycles? Share your experiences and reflections to build on the conversation.

3:15pm
Keynote address - Think tanks and youth: moulding active and responsible citizens

Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, Chief Executive of the South African Institute of International Affairs (South Africa)

By virtue of their focus on effective policy-making for the future, think tanks have a responsibility to consider young people as an important constituency in shaping their research agenda and as a critical audience for engagement. 

SAIIA’s youth programmes have pioneered an approach that emphasises co-creation of research priorities, policy engagement and advocacy with young people on issues from sustainability and climate change to gender.  

Elizabeth Sidiropoulos will explore how such initiatives can create a greater connection between think tanks and the communities in which they exist. How can think tanks become vehicles for sensitising policymakers to the importance of inclusive policy-making that is not divorced from constituencies such as youth?

3:45pm
Coffee break
4:15pm
Parallel sessions
Jumpstarting AI for think tanks

As AI slowly but decisively enters the world of think tanks, this session offers an opportunity to evaluate our current position and future prospects. ​​​ 

Hosted by Sociopúblico as part of its recently launched AI for think tanks learning community, the session will provide a hands-on approach to integrating this new technology into think tank work. 

To kick off, Nick Scott and Keith Burnett will unveil fresh insights from the WonkComms survey on think tank communications and AI.  La Caixa Foundation will then share their firsthand experience of leveraging AI to evaluate grantee proposals. 

Speakers:
Arantxa Ribot Horas, Director of the Social Observatory of the La Caixa Foundation (Spain)

Keith Burnett, Independent Consultant (United Kingdom)

Nick Scott, Independent Consultant / WonkComms (Spain)

Sonia Jalfin, Executive Director of Sociopúblico (Argentina)

Are we facing a leadership crisis?

According to Ipsos research, we’ve entred an eara of polycrises. At the same time, scholars argue that we’re facing a severe leadership crisis. Current leadership models are not only ineffective, they are failing us.

Why and how have leadership models failed us? Has this failure ultimately led us to the polycrises era? What alternative leadership models are needed, and how can we ground them in the communities they serve?

This session seeks to give participants space to discuss these questions, with a view to imagining and constructing new ideas and solutions for effective leadership models to get us out of the polycrises.

Speakers:
Caroline Mose, Director of Programmes at the Mawazo Institute (Kenya)

Fany Ramos Quispe, STeP Fellow to the Belmont Forum (Uruguay)

How does an evidence community strive?

This workshop will delve into the drivers, challenges and values related to the sustainability of evidence communities. Participants will be asked to reflect on their experiences and aspirations related to collaboration, trust-building, cultural sensitivity, and inclusive representation in the evidence field. We will imagine strategies for future-proofing leadership and promoting diverse voices. The session aims to propose actionable insights on how evidence communities can evolve sustainably and equitably over time. 

Facilitators:
Andile Madonsela, Co-director and Gender & Evidence lead of the Pan-African Collective for Evidence (South Africa)

Laura Boeira, Executive Director of Instituto Veredas (Brazil)

Laurenz Mahlanza-Langer, Executive Director of the Pan-African Collective for Evidence (South Africa)

Rumeli Banik, Principal Officer of the Evidence Project at The Pew Charitable Trusts (United States)

Tanja Kuchenmüller, Unit Head of Evidence to Policy and Impact at the World Health Organization (WHO)

5:45pm
Round up

We will come back together in plenary for final reflections and takeaways from the two days.

6:15pm
Close

Keynote speakers

Tricia Yeoh

Tricia Yeoh

CEO, Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS)

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Liliana Alvarado

Liliana Alvarado

Executive Director, Ethos Innovación en Políticas Públicas

View 'Liliana Alvarado' profile
Ismael Palacín

Ismael Palacín

Director, Fundació Bofill

View 'Ismael Palacín' profile
Elizabeth Sidiropoulos

Elizabeth Sidiropoulos

Chief Executive, South African Institute of International Affairs

View 'Elizabeth Sidiropoulos' profile