April 6, 2021


OTT Conference 2021: think tanks and change

On Think Tanks – Online
start date: April 20, 2021 16:00 CEST end date: April 22, 2021

Welcome to the 2021 OTT Conference co-hosted by the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP)!

This year, the Conference’s main topic is think tanks and change.

Last year we hosted our first online conference, which we split into three online events. We welcomed hundreds of thinktankers, think tank scholars, funders and policymakers from around the world. You can read more about the 2020 events (and watch the recordings) here.

Please register to join us this 20-22 April 2021 to discuss think tanks and change. As usual, our 2021 conference will include sessions organised by the OTT team and by partner and friend organisations. We look forward to seeing you there!

Day 1: 20 April
Think tanks and change

(All times in CEST = Berlin time)

Opening remarks, Enrique Mendizabal (OTT) and Daniela Schwarzer (DGAP)

16:10 – 17:00
Keynote and Q&A

From think tank to change hub
Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America

17:15 – 18:15
Parallel sessions

Parallel session 1: Changing think tanks
with Julia Pomares (CIPPEC, Argentina) and Karin von Hippel (RUSI, UK)

Karin and Julia will consider the paths that RUSI and CIPPEC have followed throughout their history. RUSI, of course, is 190 years old, while CIPPEC, has recently turned 20. Still, they have faced similar decision points in their histories: to adopt new agendas, internationalise, choose new leadership, etc.

Parallel session 2: Think tanks and democratic transitions
with Sonja Stojanovic Gajic (former director BCSP,Serbia) and Ignacio Irarrázabal (Centro UC de Políticas Públicas UC, Chile)

Sonja and Ignacio will consider the different roles that think tank can play during democratic transition as well as the impact these may have on them. In both Chile and Serbia think tanks played important roles in bringing about democratic change and today, as new both face new pressures to their democratic institutions, think tanks need to respond.

Parallel session 3: TBC

18:20 – 18:50
Closing remarks with keynote listeners
with Scarlett Varga (Bruegel, Belgium and the Brussels Binder) and Sherine Ghoneim (Economic Research Forum, Egypt)

Day 2: 21 April
Sessions organised by partner organisations

10:00 – 11:00
Building capacity and resilience of European think tanks, hosted by European Policy Centre (EPC), Brussels

Panelists: Fabian Zuleeg (Managing Director, EPC) and Sophie Pornschlegel (Senior Policy Analyst, EPC)

How think tanks operate has a significant impact on democracy: they can support it by providing policymakers with evidence-based policy advice or undermine it by deliberately manipulating policymaking and public opinion. In addition, COVID-19 has created a volatile environment for think tanks, especially in terms of governance and financial resources. The well-being of the sector is thus more crucial than ever to ensure independence and ethical standards. In this interactive online session, we would like to discuss with other European thinktankers how to build capacity and resilience of the sector and, more specifically, propose the establishment of a “European Think Tank Centre” or “European Alliance of Independent Think Tanks”, which could advocate for the interests of the sector towards EU institutions, create a common framework of cooperation and joint ethical standards, and help support think tanks in European countries that have experienced democratic erosion.

Follow updates on Twitter: @epc_eu | @FabianZuleeg | @spornschlegel

11:40 – 13:00
How African think tanks have been preparing for the post COVID-19 change
, hosted by the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF)

More information coming soon

13:00 – 14:00
Can thinking and planning for scaling the impact of research help bridge the research uptake-to-implementation gap?, hosted by On Think Tanks

Speakers: Hayley Price-Kelly (IDRC), Kerry Albright (UNICEF), Simon Hearn (OTT) and Enrique Mendizabal (OTT)

In the past, most researchers focused their efforts on generating knowledge. Then, some took on the challenge to communicate their work and to make it more accessible – but that was it. Others have gone the extra mile and tried to get their research to be used in decision making – research uptake – but the boundary has been set here. Implementation is still beyond the reach of most policy researchers and think tanks. Thinking about scaling impact may help to break through this boundary.

But if researchers interested in uptake had to think about communications and engagement more broadly, those interested in scaling impact need to think about: partnerships and coordination (horizontal and vertical), capacity development, implementation gaps, political cycles (long term), the role of every possible actor involved, dynamic evaluation, etc.

In this session we will explore if thinking about scaling impact can help push the research uptake agenda forward.

Follow updates on Twitter: @ScalingScience | @onthinktanks

14:00 – 15:00
A bright future ahead: new participatory approaches to strategic foresight, hosted by foraus and the Think Tank Hub Geneva

Speakers: Emily Munroe (Head of Strategic Anticipation at GCSP),  Andrina Frey (co-lead of Migration Programme at foraus), and Wailea Zuelch (Engagement Manager at foraus and responsible for the Future of Human Mobility project)

We are living in an increasingly unstable and unpredictable world. In the face of global challenges such as climate change, Covid-19 and social inequalities, a growing number of citizens, many of them young people, are disillusioned about both the future and the capacity of political systems to tackle the challenges of the 21st century. This makes it more necessary than ever to involve civil society in decision-making processes, to bridge the gap between science and policy and to prioritize long-term over short-term outcomes in political action.

Conveyed by the think tank foraus – Swiss Forum on Foreign Policy and the Think Tank Hub Geneva, this event aims to discuss the importance and potential of strategic foresight with a focus on participatory strategic foresight. Experts from foraus and the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) will present the most recent development in the field using concrete examples drawn from ongoing projects. The session will include an interactive part which will allow participants to practically engage with foresight methodologies.

Follow updates on Twitter: @foraus | @ThinkTankHub_CH

15:00 – 16:00
Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning as a force for change,
hosted by the OTT MEL Community of Practice

Facilitators: Rebecca Kendall (R Street Institute), Claire Luzia Leifert (German Council on Foreign Relations, DGAP), Dena Lomofsky (Southern Hemisphere), Sarine Karajerjian (American University Beirut)

This is an interactive workshop to collaboratively explore how monitoring, evaluation and learning can become a force for change in think tanks: for individuals, programs, and organisations – rather than a dull and cumbersome bureaucratic task. We will share our lessons learned and tools from the Community of Practice of MEL practitioners and are curious to learn from your experiences. The results of the workshop will enrich / flow into a blog series that will be published on the OTT blog.

One year into the “new normal” we will consider how monitoring, evaluation, and learning can re-empower our organizations to get back into the driver’s seat and become a force for social change – instead of being driven by it.

15:00 – 16:00
To be confirmed, hosted by Cast from Clay

More information coming soon

16:00 – 17:00
The impact of the pandemic and social justice movements on North-South research partnerships, hosted by Alexander Wooley (AidData)

More information coming soon

17:00 – 18:00
Think tanks and the power of imagination, hosted by Soapbox

In many ways, the role for think tanks is to map the pathways to a different future. Evidence is vital to this process – but it takes a leap of imagination to first of all ask ‘what if’. It takes imagination to explore big challenges from new and different perspectives. And it takes imagination to think about life in a different timeframe – or different place.

Imagination can also help think tanks better connect with audiences. To help them bring ideas and evidence to life in more relatable, understandable and wonderful ways. From video games to board games, fiction to film, creative thinking can transform policy research from the abstract to the real. And in ways that can speak to people more powerfully than data alone.

Hosted by Naomi Issacs, brand strategist at the think tank design studio Soapbox, this session convenes a panel of leading policy communicators to inject an extra spark of imagination into day two of the conference.

17:30 – 18:45
Think tanks: global reach, global perspectives,
hosted by Christopher Rastrick (Ministry of Education, Government of Ontario, Canada) and Donald Abelson (Brian Mulroney Institute of Government and St. Francis Xavier University)

Speakers: Heidi Ullrich (ICANN), Karlyn Bowman (American Enterprise Institute), and Nana de Graaf (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

More information coming soon

Day 3: 22 April
Closing panel on the future of think tanks

16:00 – 17:50
Closing panel

The future of think tanks
with Dede Amanor-Wilks (Director of IEA Ghana), Yamini Aiyar (CPR, India) and  Daniela Schwarzer (DGAP, Germany); moderated by Andrea Ordoñez (Southern Voice, Ecuador)

Think tanks have faced unprecedented pressures over the last year. Many have taken advantage of the opportunities presented by the pandemic to usher radical changes to their strategies and business models. Others have had to change to survive. Around them, new political, economic, social and technological trends are changing the environments in which they exist. How will think tanks respond and evolve over the next 100 years?

17:50 – 18:00
Closing remarks and thank yous

Throughout the conference

During the online event, there will be several spaces open for participants to engage. These include:

  • Booths for partners to showcase recent work or projects
  • A networking space that randomly connects participants to each other – why not make new friends?
  • ‘Coffee rooms’ for participants to meet in smaller groups and discuss an issue of common interest
  • Chat function for the whole event which will allow participants to share resources with each other – including through direct messaging

This event is possible thanks to the support from the Hewlett Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, Mercator Stiftung, Universidad del Pacífico, and Soapbox.

How to register?

Click on Book Event below.