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
Think tank leaders, funders and policy experts from around the world gathered at Fundació Bofill in Barcelona to connect, learn and exchange ideas.

View outputs


About the conference

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 see the agenda.

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 participants to use their time in Barcelona to organise meetings and fringe events with other conference-goers. We are happy to help in connecting you with other participants from specific regions or sectors.

Think tanks and their communities

The 2024 conference topic was 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 discussed 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?

View OTT content on think tanks and their communities.


The OTT Conference is invitation-only as we have limited space. Check future conferences.

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.

View registered participating organisations for OTT Conference 2024.

Partnership and sponsorship

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

Get in touch if you would like to sponsor OTT Conference 2025.


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.


Enrique Mendizabal, Founder and Director of OTT


Carme Colomina, Senior Research Fellow and Editor, Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB)

Denis Foretia, Co-Chair of the Denis & Lenora Foretia Foundation and Executive Chairman of the Nkafu Policy Institute

Héctor Gardó, Digital Equity Strategy Director at Fundació Bofill

Margarita Gòmez, Executive Director of Southern Voice

Day one I Wednesday 22 May 2024

Registration & coffee

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


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

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?

Coffee break
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

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.


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

Vanesa Weyrauch, Associate Consultant at OTT (Argentina)

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?

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)

Tricia Yeoh, Chief Executive Officer of IDEAS (Malaysia)

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

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.

Africa - Denis Foretia, Co-Chair of the Denis & Lenora Foretia Foundation and Executive Chairman of the Nkafu Policy Institute, and Amelia Broodryk, Director of Communication at the Institute for Security Studies

Asia - Emilio de Miguel Calabia, Deputy Director of Casa Asia-Madrid

Balkans/Southern Europe/Eastern Europe - Gjergji Vurmo, Senior Researcher on governance, anticorruption and EU enlargement, Institute for Democracy and Mediation, and Sonja Stojanovic Gajic, Organisational Consultant and Researcher

Latin America and the Caribbean - Lorena Alcazar, Senior Researcher at the Group for the Analysis of Development (GRADE), and Margarita Beneke de Sanfeliú, Director of the Center for Research and Statistics at FUSADES

Middle East and North Africa (MENA) - Nader Kabbani, Director of Research at the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, and Sherine Ghoneim, Director of Communications and Policy Outreach at the Economic Research Forum (ERF)

Northern and Western Europe - Kathleen Van Hove, Senior Policy Officer at the European Centre for Development Policy (ECDPM), Wanda Nick, External Relations Manager at the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), and Weronika Perlinski, Head of the Think Tank Lab at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP)

USA and Canada - Erica Schoder, Executive Director at the R Street Institute, and Steve Witt, Director at the Center for Global Studies in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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)

Keynote address - Building bridges across communities and bottom up accountability

Tricia Yeoh, Chief Executive Officer of IDEAS (Malaysia)

Malaysia is a highly complex society comprising communities from multiple ethnic and religious backgrounds. Polarisation of race and the widening divide between liberals and conservatives in recent years, exacerbated by social media, have split communities further. Similar trends are taking place across many other regions.

How can think tanks help build bridges across communities? What networks and partnerships need to be activated?

Community 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. Most communities at the subnational level typically don’t have the right tools or mechanisms to push for policy change.

Can think tanks that typically work with policymakers transition to working with communities on the ground?

Dr Tricia Yeoh will share her organisation’s experience of strategically positioning themselves to build bridges across divided communities in Malaysia, as well as working with communities at the subnational level to build bottom-up accountability and policy reform, concluding with thoughts for the think tank ecosystem at large.

Coffee break
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. 

Keith Burnett, Independent Consultant (United Kingdom)

Nick Scott, Independent Consultant / WonkComms (Spain)

Sonia Jalfin, Executive Director of Sociopúblico (Argentina)

T20: reflections on the process

The session will assess the effectiveness of the T20, building on the assessments that were made at the Brazil T20 Inception Conference around the engagement between the T20 process and policymakers. Although there is a significant amount of policy briefs produced in the T20 process, there is a need for a stronger engagement process with policymakers to ensure continuity and enhance the thought leadership provided by the T20 into the G20 policy process. Moreover, the discussion will hear lessons from Indonesia and Brazil to inform South Africa as it prepares for its presidency. It is expected that this session may
attract other think tanks which are not involved in the T20 and would like to use the opportunity to learn about the T20 process. The following are the specific objectives:
- To assess the effectiveness of the T20 in terms of influencing the G20 agenda
- To draw lessons from Indonesia and Brazil T20 processes to feed into South Africa’s T20 and G20 processes

Sven Grimm, Head / Extraordinary Professor, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, Chief Executive of SAIIA, South Africa

Anthea Haryoko, Chief Innovation & Development Officer, Center for Indonesian Policy Studies, Indonesia

Larissa Wachholz, Senior Fellow for Asia Program, CEBRI, Brazil

Goodwill Kachingwe, Head of Monitoring and Evaluation at SAIIA, South Africa

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.

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.

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)

Round up

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

Informal drinks

Fundació Bofill

Day two I Thursday 23 May 2024

Registration and coffee

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


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

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.

Coffee break
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?

Facilitator: Angela Huston, Director of Strategy at IRC (Netherlands)

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)

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 stakeholders (individuals, companies, public entities, research institutes) with whom think tanks operate.

This workshop will offer participants the chance to explore the features that characterise different models - and corresponding benefits - of think tank membership and consider what approaches work best in what circumstances while respecting values and working principles.

Cormac Bakewell, Partner at Soapbox (United Kingdom)

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

"Unconference": 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.

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.

Julie LaFrance (IDRC)
Christopher Maloney (Hewlett Foundation)
Rumeli Banik (The Pew Charitable Trusts)

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?

Coffee break
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.

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

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)

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.

Elizabeth Ngala, Director of Finance at the Mawazo Institute (Kenya)
Gabriela Keseberg Dávalos, Director of Global Public Affairs at Southern Voice, (Bolivia)
Fany Beatriz Ramos Quispe, Transdisciplinary Coordination Officer at the Belmont Forum / IAI STeP Fellow, (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. 

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)

Round up

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


Keynote speakers

Tricia Yeoh

Tricia Yeoh

CEO, Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS)

View 'Tricia Yeoh' profile
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