August 17, 2018


On Think Tanks Conference 2019

On Think Tanks, foraus, University of Bath, Universidad del Pacífico – Think Tank Hub, Geneva
start date: February 4, 2019 end date: February 7, 2019

The On Think Tanks Conferences are 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 foraus and the Think Tank Hub, the University of Bath, Universidad del Pacífico,  Soapbox and the Africa Capacity Building Foundation, with the support from the Hewlett Foundation, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, the Open Society Foundations, and, in the past, 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 a change 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. In 2018, about 80 thinktankers from all over the world engaged on thoughtful debate and networking.

Read more about the OTT 2018 conference.

Watch the OTT 2018 Conference:

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, OTT will only schedule a few key-note speakers and sessions to kick-start the process. In the run up to the event, we will be asking potential 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 Think Tank Hub‘s venue in Geneva also offers all participants the opportunity to meet each other in smaller groups or bilaterally to establish new or strengthen existing partnerships. We will build 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 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, please complete the survey below. We will let you know as soon as possible. You will be able to follow the discussion via @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.

Express your interest here.

Who will be there?

Checkout who was there in 2018: the OTT 2018 Conference participants.

What will we talk about?

The OTT Conference is an opportunity to explore a range of issues such as:

  • The moral case behind think tanks and evidence informed policy
  • The future of think tank communication
  • Public engagement
  • Women, gender and think tanks
  • Funding think tanks
  • Capacity building efforts for think tanks around the world
  • Think tank business models
  • Think tanks, the rise of populism and the shrinking civic space
  • Think tank credibility
  • Transparency: beyond the finances
  • Monitoring and evaluating impact
  • Leadership
  • Design thinking for think tanks
  • Research excellence
  • Political knowledge regimes, research systems and evidence informed policy
  • And more…

What if I want to talk about something else?

We are asking participants to help put together each session and chose the issues to be discussed. We will reach out to them to help put together the programme and will again to co-develop the final schedule (we cannot address them all).

There are going to be spaces (offices and meeting rooms designed for small teams 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.


The following outline will be developed in close consultation with the participants. It will involve the following:

Monday 4th February: Academic meeting (at the Think Tank Hub)

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

Monday 4th February, 7:30pm: Public event on think tanks and public engagement: how can think tanks successfully engage with the general public? (at the Think Tank Hub )

To open the OTT Conference we will organise a public event in Geneva in partnership with foraus.

Tuesday 5th– Wednesday 6th February: OTT 2019 Conference (at the Think Tank Hub)

Outline for the 2-day schedule: topics will be 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.

Thursday 7th February: OTT Team meeting (closed meeting)

The OTT Team will meet to report on the previous year, present new projects and review 2019-2020 plans.

This is what participants said about the OTT Conference in 2018

I liked the most an exchange on the issue of think tanks working in different contexts. I especially liked the keynote speeches of Hans Gutbord and Ruth Levine and the session on new types of think tanks from foraus and Centre for London. I appreciated the chance to co-design the agenda through the online survey, along with the reading material and presentations from the conference. The long breaks were a great opportunity for networking! 

The format of the conference worked well. Participants were able to actively contribute to the discussion, and it was a balanced combination of presentations and working group discussions. The conference also offered a good networking opportunity for potential new partnerships. The organisation was perfect. 

Without a doubt, it’s one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended. It was a pleasure and very rewarding at a personal and professional level.

Really great presentations, networking was nice, but seeing everyone going through similar things in such diverse contexts was also interesting and reassuring.

Request for support

OTT would like to request support from organisations who wish to partner so that we may be able to:

  • Support the participation of executive directors from think tanks in developing countries and researchers with a focus on think tanks. Their participation will contribute towards broadening and deepening their knowledge about new developments in the sector as well as establishing new relationships and partnerships with other participants. The participating executive directors will be able to organise a session during the OTT Conference thus informing the event’s agenda and possible efforts projects that may arise from it;
  • Support to the general costs of the conference. This contribution will help OTT share the lessons learned from the OTT Conference with a wider audience, manage the logistics involved in the organisation, cover part of the catering and support planning for the OTT Conference in 2019;
  • Specifically support our efforts to provide greater communication coverage of the conference – videos of the key-note presentations, more interviews with participants, brief notes about each session to share with a wider audience, etc.;
  • Host the participants to a networking cocktail or activity; and/or
  • Support the Conference in the long term by, for instance, providing funding, venues (including catering), communication support, etc. for future conferences.

Reading list

To help participants get in the mood we offered a reading and viewing list – developed, in part, by the 2018 participants’ own recommendations.

(Some basics)

Watch and listen

Special thank you

Special thank you is due to our main supporters (so far):


And to the various contributions made by:

  • The University of Bath
  • foraus
  • Universidad del Pacífico
  • Open Society Foundations
  • Soapbox
  • ACBF