School for Thinktankers 2021

Organised by On Think Tanks
Event type Courses
Location Online
Start date 25 January 2021
End date 6 February 2021

The School for Thinktankers is going online! We look forward to welcoming thinktankers and policy entrepreneurs from around the world to our new digital learning platform in February 2021.

The 2021 School for Thinktankers is a two-week programme delivered from 25 January to 6 February. Over the course of these two weeks participants are expected to join the learning space every day from 12:00 GMT to 15:00 GMT.

The programme is designed to deepen your think tank knowledge and help you prepare for future leadership roles. It offers practical knowledge, learning opportunities and networks to help you and your think tank grow in core areas such as fundraising, communications, financial management, policy engagement and more.

Hear what former participants had to say about their experience


As the on-site version of the School for Thinktankers, the 2021 online edition is designed to prepare the next generation of think tank leaders. A think tank leader cannot rely solely on being a great researcher, they also must be managers, networkers, and communicators. Unfortunately, many researchers and think tankers do not get to build many of these skills during their careers; and by the time they are ready to take on leadership roles it is (almost) too late. The School for Thinktankers wants to remedy this problem by creating a space to learn about the many dimensions of working in, and leading, a policy research centre.

Taught by senior thinktankers and expert practitioners, the programme has a practical approach. It is designed to:

  • Prepare and inspire the next generation of think tank leaders
  • Build a community of emerging think tank leaders to support and learn from each other
  • Encourage participants to reflect on their own organisation and how to support its development

Programme and delivery

The School for Thinktankers is unique in the knowledge that participants acquire and the networks they build. The structure and delivery of the course has been planned to ensure learning and to maximise engagement between participants and facilitators.

The 2021 School for Thinktankers will cover the following:

Module 1. Think tanks and evidence-informed policy

      • What is a think tank? History, roles and models in differing contexts
      • Evidence-informed policy: the role of evidence as input for policy decisions and the role of think tanks in policy processes

Module 2. Governance and management

      • Think tank business models
      • Boards: importance and structure
      • Leading a think tank: challenges and key functions

Module 3. Policy relevant research

      • Developing a policy relevant research agenda
      • Research methods and policy objectives

Module 4. Communications

      • Communication strategies
      • Digital tools for policy influence
      • Branding and positioning

Module 5. Fundraising and financial management

      • Funding models and fundraising strategies
      • Engaging with funders
      • Financial management

Module 6: Monitoring, evaluation, and learning

      • How to assess the value of a think tank? MEL systems and tools
      • Using data for learning

Cross-cutting issues (included through the course) like diversity, inclusion, transparency, and credibility in think tanks

What do we offer?

The programme includes:

  • How-to videos. 15-minute pre-recorded lectures are delivered by experts in the field and structured to convey information and explain an issue, emphasising good practice on how to approach the issue.

Here is a sneak peek of what you can expect from the how-to videos

  • Live sessions. These are 30 minutes to 1.5-hour sessions with experienced thinktankers. Presenters will give a small presentation and then engage in a dialogue where participants can ask specific questions, engage with experts, and discuss with their peers.
  • Networking activities. Embedded in the programme are networking activities for participants to get to know each other, the experts, and facilitators.
  • Study groups: Participants will be assembled into groups of four or five to support their learning and engagement.
  • Background materials: Participants will receive a background note and a reading list for each module.
  • Discussion with peers and experts. Through a dedicated platform and during the live sessions participants will engage in guided discussions to enhance their practice and knowledge.

At the end of the training, participants who have successfully completed the course will receive a certificate. The criteria to receive this certificate includes: attending 10 live sessions and engaging in peer discussions in at least four of the modules.

Our approach

Our approach focuses on learning by doing, with real case studies, in a collaborative environment. The School for Thinktankers:

  • Is based on evidence. It draws on adult learning theories and builds on lessons learnt during our work and previous experiences delivering training.
  • Encourages participants to collectively bring and reflect critically on their experience, and on the lessons and experiences shared in the programme.
  • Helps participants to address and propose solutions for ongoing professional issues.
  • Provides participants with new tools to try new approaches in their workplace.
  • Promotes engagement between participants, trainers, and course facilitators to build a community of learning, acknowledging that learning and professional growth is usually a social process in which conversation and feedback are vital.
  • Enables participants to receive individual guidance and supervision from experienced thinktankers coming from a range of backgrounds and social contexts.
  • Provides learning materials in various formats as well as actionable outputs, which participants can adapt and use in their organisations.


Trainers include directors and former directors at leading think tanks. In previous editions we have had trainers from the Overseas Development InstituteChatham HouseforausThe Graduate InstituteBelgrade Center for Security Studies and Centre for Economic Policy ResearchSee the list of our past lecturers.


For 2021, speakers and trainers will include (list will continue to update):

What do past participants say?

“A complete look at think tanks today and the people who drive them.” 2018 participant

“It is an amazing networking space and also lectures were great” 2018 participant

(I liked most) “The diversity of the participants, and the dialogue that was established.” 2019 participant

“I liked the richness and breadth of content covered as well as the opportunity to network with leaders from across the world.” 2019 participant

(I attended the School for Thinkankers because) “I wanted to learn how to grow a young think thank and have a comprehensive understanding of what is needed to run it properly. I believe I received exactly the type of information I wanted.” 2020 participant

(I liked most the) “illuminating content, really great connections and perspectives from such a diverse group of participants.” 2020 participant

“I felt it was a very well thought out agenda with great speakers! So much expertise from the speakers but also from the participants in the group. Would recommend to others!”.” 2020 participant

You can see the profiles of previous participants here.

Can I apply?

We welcome thinktankers from around the world, working in all think tank roles, including in research, fundraising, communications, project management or human resources.

The course is designed for early and mid-career thinktankers, aspiring to future leadership roles. But we also welcome policy entrepreneurs interested in setting up their own think tank, recent graduates or experienced thinktankers who are perhaps moving into leadership positions or facing a particular challenge.


The 2021 School for Thinktankers costs USD950 +UK participants will have to pay course fee+ VAT .  EU-based participants will also have to pay course fee + VAT , unless an organisation that is already registered for VAT is paying their fees + which covers:

  • Two-week online programme with 36 hours of live training.
  • An online study pack.
  • Access to an online forum for fellow participants, alumni and OTT School experts and team.
  • Diploma upon completion of a personal learning journal.
  • Access to the OTT Fellows and Alumni network.

We offer 5% discount to organisations that send two participants, and 10% for those that send three or more.


Applications are now closed, but if you are interested in future editions please sign up here and we will write when we launch the next edition.