On Think Tanks Conference 2018

Organised by On Think Tanks, University of Bath, Universidad del Pacífico
Event type Event
Location University of Bath in London, 83 Pall Mall, London
Start date 13 February 2018
End date 15 February 2018

The On Think Tanks Conference is an opportunity to bring together thinktankers, think tank scholars, 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 organised by OTT in collaboration with the University of Bath, Universidad del Pacífico and  Soapbox with the support from the Hewlett Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Bath and SENACYT (the Panamanian science and technology council)+

The OTT Conference was initially conceived as an opportunity to invite OTT’s collaborators and partners to join the OTT Team right after our own annual meeting. After the first conference in February 2017, we decided to gradually broaden the number and range of participants to include individuals from organisations who may or may not have collaborated with OTT but who would contribute to a rich and fruitful discussion.

Watch the OTT Conference 2017

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. It has taken us a few months to come up with the programme below.

Hence, in 2018, OTT has only scheduled a few key-note speakers and sessions to kick-start the process. In the run up to the event, we have asked participants to help us produce sessions that they would like to lead and/or be part of. These may include presentations, panels, group-work and workshops.

The University of Bath’s venue in London also offers all participants the opportunity to meet each other in smaller groups or bilaterally to establish new or strengthen existing partnerships. We have built-in time for this to take place.

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

You can follow us via @onthinktanks fb.com/onthinktanks and #thinktanksmatter #ottconference

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.

This is not an open conference – mainly, because space is limited. But if you wish to be considered in case there is an opening, please complete the survey below. You will be able to follow the discussion via @onthinktanks fb.com/onthinktanks and #thinktanksmatter #ottconference

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.

Who will be there?

To find out more about each of the participants and to get in touch with them, visit: the OTT 2018 Conference participants.


The following outline has been developed in close consultation with the participants:

Monday 12 – Tuesday 13th February: OTT Team meeting (closed meeting)

The OTT Team will meet to report on the previous year, present new projects and review 2018-2019 plans.

The OTT Team meeting is also an opportunity for OTT Team members and Advisory Board members (those who can join us) to meet and explore possible collaborations.

OTT’s team and board are based all over the world and do not often have the chance to spend time with each other. Therefore, this opportunity to meet is invaluable for the sustainability of the initiative.

Tuesday 13th February, 7:30pm: Public event: Are research centres and think tanks facing a credibility crisis? The view from around the world (at the NUJ – The Chapel, 308 Grays Inn Road, London, WC1X 8DP)

To mark the end of the OTT Team meeting and to open the OTT Conference we will organise a public event in London in partnership with University of Bath and a local think tank.

The panel will involve:

  • Sonja Stojanovic Gajic (BCSP)  –Sonja replaced Kathryn Oliver (LSHTM)
  • Ruth Levine (Hewlett Foundation)
  • Norma Correa (PUCP)
  • Nick Pearce (University of Bath)

Moderated by Enrique Mendizabal (On Think Tanks)

Sign up here

14-15th February: OTT Conference (83 Pall Mall, London)

Outline for the 2-day schedule: topics may be further reviewed and defined by the participants themselves. There are 4 types of spaces to share ideas:

  • Plenary presentations and debates are 45 minutes long (presentations should not be more than 15 minutes long) and intended to give us “something to think about”
  • Introductory presentations to the parallel sessions are 30 minutes long and intended to set the scene.
  • Parallel sessions are 1h 30 minutes
  • Extended coffee-breaks (30mins) and lunch-breaks (1h 30mins) will allow participants to engage with each other directly.

Day 1: 14th February

  • (900-930) Opening remarks and introductions
  • (930-1015) Key-note presentation and debate:
    • Ruth Levine (Hewlett Foundation) on the “Moral case for evidence informed policy”+
  • (1015-1045) Coffee-break
  • (1045-1115) Introductory presentation to the parallel sessions: Hans Gutbrod on authoritarian resurgence and how it might affect discussions on think tanks in populist contexts and credibility.+
  • (1115-1245) Parallel sessions A:
    • Parallel session A1: “What challenges do think tanks in populist and highly polarised contexts face and what roles can they play?” with presentations by Sonja Stojanovic Gajic (BCSP), Iulian Groza (IPRE), Simonida Kacarska (EPI) and Christopher Rastrick (University of Western Ontario)+ with commentaries from Salvador Sanchez, Vice-Minister at the Ministry of the Presidency of Panamá
    • Parallel session A2: “Enhancing the sustainability and effectiveness of think tanks in developing countries” with Barassou Diawara and Thomas Muthali (ACBF), Giancarlo Roach (Senacyt), and Julie LaFrance (Think Tank Initiative)
    • Parallel session A3: “The Open Think Tank Directory: a new tool for think tanks and think tank scholars“ led by Jeff Knezovich (On Think Tanks) and Andrea Baertl (On Think Tanks)
  • (1245-1315) Report back
  • (1315-1445) Lunch
  • (1445-1530) Key-note presentation and debate
    • Robert McLean (International Development Research Centre) on “The Science of Scalability”
  • (1530-1700) Parallel sessions B:
    • Parallel session B1: “Research credibility: how to gain it, how to maintain it, and how (not) to lose it” with Andrea Baertl (On Think Tanks), Jordan Tchilingirian (University of Bath) and Till Bruckner (TranspariMED)
    • Parallel session B2: “Design thinking for think tanks” led by Melanie Rayment+
    • Parallel session B3: “Women, knowledge and think tanks” with Josephine Tsui (ODI), Denisse Rodriguez (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin) and Norma Correa (PUCP)+
  • (1700-1730) Report back
  • (1730-1830) Tea and follow-up opportunity

Evening: Social outing including a group activity. Last year we had a “walking tour of the neighbourhood around Chatham House”.

Day 2:

  • (900-930) Report back from Day 1
  • (930-1015) Key-note discussion: “How can think tanks be drivers of policy innovation?” a conversation with Norma Correa (PUCP)
  • (1015-1045) Coffee-break
  • (1045-1115) Introductory presentation to the parallel sessions: “New think tanks in complex contexts: the case of Timor-Leste” by Stephen Yeo (OTT).
  • (1115-1245) Parallel  sessions C:
    • Parallel session C1: “How to measure the impact of think tanks?” kickstarted by Donald Abelson (The University of Western Ontario) with a commentary by Enrique Planells-Artigot (ESIC Business & Marketing School and Helen Tilley (ODI)
    • Parallel session C2: “Grassroots, city and regional think tanks: opportunities and challenges” with Ben Rogers and  Joanna Corfield (Centre for London) and Luca Brunner (global foraus)
    • Parallel session C3: “How to move beyond financial transparency?” facilitated by Dustin Gilbreath (Transparify) and Hans Gutbrod (Transparify)+
  • (1245-1315) Report back
  • (1315-1445) Lunch
  • (1445-1530) Show and engage sessions: This is an opportunity for participants to present ideas, projects or challenges and request advice from their fellow participants.  If you with to receive advice please get in touch with Enrique Mendizabal. Click the + sign for more information.
    • Show and engage session 1: “Will think tanks change with a new emerging leadership? Lessons from the OTT Fellowship programme” +
    • Show and engage session 2: “A new digital dashboard to monitor policy engagement: Lessons from IFAD” +
    • Show and engage session 3: “Play Futures: how to develop a new field and achieve impact?” +
  • (1530-1700) Parallel sessions D: +
    • Parallel session D1: “The Future of think tank communications” with John Schwartz (Soapbox), Nicole Valentinuzzi (Institute for Government) and Carolina Kern (On Think Tanks) – this is also an opportunity to lunch a new Communications Health Check for think tanks.
    • Parallel session D2: “Mobilising domestic funding for think tanks” with David Tripepi-Lewis (Institute for Government), Ana Patricia Muñoz (Grupo FARO) and Cristina Bacalso (Youth Policy Labs)+
  • (1700-1730) Tea-break
  • (1730-1800) Report back
  • (1800-1830) Presentation of OTT Strategy 2018+, closing remarks and discussion

Friday, 16th February: Academic meeting (83 Pall Mall, London)

As part of the OTT Conference week, the University of Bath’s research network on think tanks and OTT , are organising a post-conference meeting for think tank scholars. To register to this event please email: Jordan Tchilingirian at [email protected]

  • (10:30-11:00) Introduction to the OTT/Bath think tank and policy research network by Jordan Tchilingirian (University of Bath)
  • (11:00-11:20) New models of subjective well-being in cultural advocacy: a politics of research between the market and the academy by Susan Oman (University of Manchester)
  • (11:20-11:40) Gender and policy research careers by Norma Correa (PUCP)
  • (11:40-12:20) Think tanks and Trump, a conversation between Donald Abelson and Christopher Rastrick (University of Western Ontario)
  • (12:40-13:20) Lunch
  • (13:20-13:40) Understanding credibility by Andrea Baertl (On Think Tanks)
  • (13:40-14:00) British think tanks and the economic crisis, by Marcos Gonzalez Hernando (City University/University of Cambridge)
  • (14:00-14:15) Break
  • (14:15-14:35) What can think tanks learn from alt-metrics, by Kate Williams (University of Cambridge)
  • (14:35-15:00) Researching think tanks with digital methods and data sprints: warnings, opportunities and initial findings by Rebekah Larson (University of Cambridge), Susan Oman (University of Manchester) an Jordan Tchilingirian (University of Bath)

What if I want to talk about something else?

We have asked participants to help put together each session and chose the issues to be discussed. So far, those who have registered have suggested the issues below. We have reached out to them to help put together the programme and will again to co-develop the final schedule (we cannot address them all).

Suggestions for other issues to discuss include:

  • Cross-national think tank networks
  • Mobilising domestic funding for think tanks in developing countries
  • Think tanks in China and other BRICS
  • How to study think tanks
  • Cyber-security for think tanks
  • Think tanks and electoral campaigns
  • and more…

There are going to be spaces (booths designed for small team to work in) available and time during breaks and lunches to discuss some of these issues with other participants. We will help you find those interested in the same things as you.


Reading list

To help you get in the mood we offer a reading and viewing list for your reference. Do let us know, in the form, below, if there are any other resources that you would like to share.

(Readings to inspire)

(Some basics)

Watch and listen


Special thank you

Special thank you is due to our main supporters:

And to the various contributions made by:

  • The University of Bath
  • Universidad del Pacífico
  • Soapbox