On Think Tanks Conference 2020

Organised by On Think Tanks, DGAP
Event type Event
Location RBSG and DGAP, Berlin
Start date

Please note: Less than two weeks ago we chose new dates for the event, but we have all been witness to how much can change in just a few days. While we are still hopeful to deliver a conference in Berlin, the reality is that we cannot make plans, or expect others to make plans, based on hope or optimism. 

This is not a decision we make lightly, but On Think Tanks has always been a reflection of our community – and our community faces very uncertain times these days. We feel that the best way we can keep supporting this community is by creating spaces and resources through the new challenges we are facing. 

The OTT Conference is a unique opportunity to bring together thinktankers, think tank scholars (who study think tanks), policy entrepreneurs and think tanks funders from around the world to share experiences, present their research, co-develop solutions to common challenges and establish new or strengthen old partnerships.

The OTT Conference is designed to provide participants with as much freedom as possible to determine the issues they wish to address, lead the organisation of panels or workshops, and shape the meeting’s outcomes.

As with every OTT Conference, we  wish to offer participants the opportunity to meet each other in smaller groups or bilaterally to establish new or strengthen existing partnerships.

OTT will film the Conference and report it to a wider audience, hence maximising the benefits for those who were not able to attend.

To learn more about our Conferences visit: On Think Tanks Conferences You can also find out about our follow up 1-day conferences, including in Pretoria (2018) and Washington DC (2019).

To learn more about the OTT 2019 Conference read our 2019 report.

Or watch the video:

Partnership and support

All our Conferences are delivered in partnership.

In 2020 the OTT Conference is delivered in partnership with:

  • German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) – that will co-host the Conference.
  • The German Development Institute (DIE) and the Managing Global Governance Network (MGG) – that will be providing support for the participation of think tanks from emerging economies.
  • The Robert Bosch Foundation (RBSG) – that will host the public event on the first day.
  • Universidad del Pacifico (Peru) -who host the OTT team in Lima
  • Soapbox – who support the design of the OTT Conference

And with the kind support from:

  • The Open Society Foundations: Open Society Initiative for Europe (Berlin) and the Economic Justice Program (New York)
  • Stiftung Mercator
  • The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

We are looking for additional financial and in-kind support. Get in touch if you are interested.

This year we have launched two Communities of Practice (CoP) led by close partners. The Belgrade Center for Security Studies (BCSP) will lead a CoP on state capture and the impact on think tanks. Southern Hemisphere, in South Africa, and DGAP, in Germany, will lead a CoP on monitoring and learning with think tanks. They have led the design of two parallel sessions during the Conference.

What will the conference be all about?

The Conference’s main theme has been defined in conversation with our partners throughout 2019:

  • Technology and think tanks: how it affects their context, research agendas, and organisational development and practice. 

However, most sessions will touch on other issues concerning think tanks’ changing contexts, governance and management challenges, the changing nature of the funding landscape funding landscape, the future of research communications, gender and diversity, etc.

Who is this for?

The Conference is for think tank leaders and thinktankers, policy entrepreneurs in the field of evidence informed policymaking, policy research funders and think tank scholars who are interested in critical unpacking the think tank label, addressing the opportunities and challenges these organisations face, and exploring the changes within and around them.

The Conference is a perfect space to:

  • Present new research on think tanks or evidence informed policy and seek feedback from fellow participants;
  • Seek out help or support from peers to address a challenge or take advantage of an emerging opportunity;
  • Explore new collaboration and launch new partnerships;
  • Learn about think tanks, how to fund and support them, how best to work with them, etc.

We expect about 80-90 participants. We have found this to be the appropriate number of participants that allow for a friendly and highly engaging conference. If you cannot use the form please email Eva at [email protected]

What can you expect?

Watch and listen to the 2019 participants share their main takeaways:

Programme and approach (draft)

The programme is designed to maximise the opportunities of interaction between the participants and promote four key principles:

  • Inclusivity: we want everyone to have a chance to share their knowledge and experience
  • Trust: we want everyone to feel confident enough to share their knowledge and experience and ask any questions they have
  • Informality: we want everyone to feel at home, find their own way through the Conference, make new friends, strengthen old relationships, and enjoy themselves.
  • Quality: we want conversations to be intellectually challenging and to move the debate forward

Please note that the programme will be reviewed over the following months in light of having postponed the Conference to September.

Day 1 –

1400-1800: Academic meeting (for up to 35 people) (venue RBSG)

As part of the OTT Conference week, the University of Bath’s research network on think tanks, Universidad del Pacífico (in Peru) and OTT, organise a pre-conference meeting for think tank scholars. This session offers a chance to present new papers, seek-out collaboration opportunities and explore new issues. Participants also include practitioners, funders and researchers.

If you want to join this meeting please email: [email protected] and [email protected]

1900: Public event Think tanks and technology (venue: RBSG)

To launch the OTT Conference we will organise a public event in Berlin in partnership with our hosts. This open event offers the chance to reach a wider local audience besides the participants to the Conference.

This event will offer an overview of OTT’s 2019 Annual Review which focuses on think tanks and technology.

  • Speaker 1: Jonathan Tanner (Government v The Robots)
  • Speaker 2: Marek Tuszynski (Tactical Tech)
  • Speaker 3: Sonia Jalfin (Sociopúblico)
  • Speaker 4: Sebastian Rieger (Stiftung Neue Verantwortung)
  • Moderator: Enrique Mendizabal (On Think Tanks)
This session will address:
  • What are the technological changes that are affecting policy research and think tanks in particular?
  • What are the effects (positive and negative) of these changes to: the context in which think tanks operate, the issues that think tanks will need to study, the methods/tools/skills they will need to study them, the way they engage and communicate with their audiences, their own governance, management and strategies, etc?
  • What are the implications of these changes and effects for how think tanks are led and supported in the future?

Registration for this public event will open in March.

Days 2 and 3: OTT 2020 Conference (venue: the German Council of Foreign Relations – DGAP)

Outline for the 2-day schedule: topics will be reviewed and defined by the participants themselves. There are 6 types of spaces to share ideas:

  • Plenary presentations and debates are 30 minutes long (presentations should not be more than 15 minutes long) and intended to give us “something to think about.” The speakers will be identified by OTT and its partners drawing during the run-up to the Conference.
  • Parallel sessions are 1h 30 minutes. These sessions are designed to encourage an open discussion. Instead of panellists we put forward “conveners” to kickstart each session with a short presentation or by asking leading questions to the participants. These sessions are an opportunity to share experiences, concerns, insights and seek advice. The topics are defined through a series of surveys with participants who recommend the issues they wish to talk about and then nominate themselves to lead some sessions. The workshop sessions (45 minutes long) offer participants the chance to present a successful initiative, a recent study, launch a new project or publication or request peer support.
  • (New) The venue will provide the opportunity to showcase work on think tanks in the form of posters and other “exhibit” formats.
  • Extended coffee-breaks (30mins) and lunch-breaks (1h 30mins) will allow participants to engage with each other directly.
  • The OTT Conference app provides an opportunity to network, share resources and make appointments to meet and work together.
  • Informal meetings and after-work drinks. At the OTT Conference we encourage participants to network and therefore create opportunities and spaces for this to happen within the framework of the event.

The outline below is indicative and may change with the recommendations of participants themselves (some speakers are yet to be confirmed).

Day 2 – 

900-930: Welcome: DGAP and OTT welcome everyone to the 4th OTT Conference. A brief round of (name/ organisation / country) introductions. An explanation of the “rules of the game”.

930-1000: Keynote 1: Stephanie Hankey, Tactical Tech: on data and politics (CONFIRMED)

1000-1030: Keynote 2: Daniela Schwarzer, German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP): on think tanks in the 2020s: opportunities and impact

1030-1100: Coffee break

1100-1230: Parallel A

  • A1: Think tanks and technology, convened by Gollerkeri Gurucharan (PAC India) and Annapoorna Ravichander (Public Affairs Foundation) This sessions builds on from the public event on think tanks and technology delving deeper into which technologies and how they affect think tanks and their environment (CONFIRMED)
  • A2: Diversity and think tanks, convened by Pauline Chetail (Brussels Binder -Belgium), Norma Correa (PUCP, Grupo Sofía -Peru), Rose Mutiso (Mawazo Institute), Aleksandra Chmielewska (IEMed) and Marcos Gonzales Hernando (TASC) (CONFIRMED)
  • A3: Working at scale: emerging lessons from an emerging field, convened by Rob McLean (IDRC) and Simon Hearn (OTT) (CONFIRMED)

12:30-1400: Lunch

1400-1430: Keynote 3: Diane Stone, Central European University (CONFIRMED)

1430-1600: Parallel B

  • B1: Learning about public engagement: how to foster learning about public engagement globally?, convened by Carla Ross (The Wellcome Trust) and Stephen Yeo (OTT) (CONFIRMED)
  • B2: Research excellence and credibility: what can can think tanks and universities learn from each other?, convened by Andrea Baertl (OTT), Rob McLean (IDRC) (CONFIRMED), Arlette Beltrán (Universidad del Pacífico) and Jon Harle (INASP)
  • B3: How does digitalisation affect and change think tank collaboration? roundtable convened by DIE and their partners from Instituto Mora (Mexico), FGV (Brazil), RIS (India), Stellenbosch University (SA), CSIS (Indonesia), Hamburg University and IAI (Rome) (CONFIRMED)
  • B4: TBC

1600-1630: Tea break

1630-1800: Parallel C

  • C1: Automated, Personalised, Targeted: using technology to drive your research communications, convened by John Schwartz (Soapbox) and Sonia Jalfin (Socio Público)(CONFIRMED)
    We live in the age of information and disinformation. An age where we take for granted the proliferation and replication of ideas – the merging of data, truth and opinion. How can complex, detailed policy ideas based on research and evidence cut through? This session looks at new ways that think tanks can harness the power of technology for communications – how automation can help put more of our work in more places, how targeting can ensure we are putting it in the right places, and how personalisation can ensure our messages hit home.
  • C2: How does change happen? Is it time for think tanks and their funders to rethink their approach? convened by Jessica White (The RSA), Jeff Knezovich (WHO) and Memory Kachambwa (Femnet)
  • C3: Policy foresight and data science: promises and perils, convened by Dr. Georgios Kolliarakis (DGAP) (CONFIRMED) and Lieve van Woensel (Head of Foresight, European Parliament) (TBC)

1800-1830: Report back

Free evening but join us for drinks at the …  (tbc)

Day 3 – 

900-930: Welcome back: Enrique Mendizabal facilitates a session with interventions from the participants themselves.

930-1000: Keynote 4: Rose Mutiso, Mawazo Institute: on supporting African women in research

1000-1030: Keynote 5: Dustin Gilbreath, CRRC Georgia: on machine learning to predict policy problems

1030-1100: Coffee break

1100-1230: Special session: Funding and think tanks: lessons from initiatives to support think tanks and implications for the future, with Goran Buldioski (OSF), Julie LaFrance (former TTI), Daniel Grutjen (Stiftung Mercator), Kristina Server (Fundable Impact LLC), Savior Mwambwa (OSF)

1230-1400: Lunch

1400-1445: Workshops:

  • WK1: Tactical Tech: Data detox session with Safa Ghnaim (Germany) Everyday steps you can take to control your digital privacysecurity, and wellbeing in ways that feel right to you.
  • WK2: CPD: Strategy development  (Bangladesh)
  • WK3: UNICEF: Global mapping of (potential) research partners for UNICEF: an open consultation: In collaboration with On Think Tanks and Southern Voice, UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti is developing a mapping of research organisations that are based in UNICEF’s global programme areas. The aim is to identify a broad range of organisations in UNICEF programme countries for potential partnerships to generate evidence for children. The mapping will result in a directory and a visual network map for UNICEF staff to consult when requiring research support or partners. In this session we will present a short overview of the project and gather input for the usability of these tools and next steps, as well as the broader utility of the mapping.
  • WK4: Transparify: how is the index calculated and what are Transparify’s future plans (CONFIRMED)

1445-1615: Parallel D

  • D1: State capture and think tanks, convened by Sonja Stojanovic Gajic (BCSP) (CONFIRMED)
  • D2: Think tanks as learning organisations (monitoring and learning for think tanks), convened by Dena Lomofsky (Southern Hemisphere) and Claire Luzia Leifert (DGAP) (CONFIRMED)
  • D4: Think tanks and impact investment: is there an opportunity?, convened by Belissa Rojas (OTT)  (CONFIRMED)
  • D5: TBC

1615-1645: Tea break

1645-1745: Final open session on what awaits the year until the next On Think Tanks Conference and the new connections made.

Goodbye drinks and reception with brief reflections from participants on a topic to be defined