More on our COVID-19 initiative

16 April 2020

Our response to the COVID-19 crisis is based on our four core pillars of work: generating knowledge, learning, convening, and sharing content and resources.

In the short-term, we are starting to convene spaces to share responses to the shock and immediate ways to adapt to things like working online, exchanging ideas to help each other cope with the challenges we are facing.

In the medium-term, as think tanks start to look to what the future holds, we will need a clearer picture of what the sector is facing as a whole. We hope that our think tank survey and research will help provide information to inform think tank planning.

In the long-term, the worst thing we can do is to forget the lessons learned. If lessons, efforts, successes and failures are not properly recorded and disseminated, we risk facing the next crisis blind, again. Our work to collect, convene and share experiences and learning will help think tanks to face the current crises and emerge more prepared for future ones.

Here we provide an overview of our response plan – including how you can contribute and benefit. We welcome further ideas.

Generating knowledge

1. Survey

We will run a survey with think tanks at least three times between 2020-2021 to assess:

  • How COVID-19 is affecting think tanks across the world.
  • How they are responding during the crisis and recovery phase.
  • The main challenges they are facing now.
  • How are these challenged affecting different individuals, groups and organisations.
  • How will they respond as they seek to recover and gain greater preparedness
  • The challenges they foresee in the mid- to long-term.
  • What support they will most need.

2. Experiences

We are commissioning articles from the OTT global community on:

  • How the crisis has affected think tanks, and what actions they’ve taken to address this
  • How think tanks are contributing to policy debate and public information about the crisis, with an attempt to reflect on what is working and why.
  • Critical reflection on the effects that COVID-19 may have on think tanks and evidence-informed policymaking more broadly, now and in the future.

Authors writing about how the crisis has affected them may consider:

  • How your boards have responded and supported you.
  • How you have addressed financial difficulties e.g. reaching out to funders or renegotiating contracts.
  • How you are handling the management of your office while staff have to stay home.
  • Have you reviewed your communications strategy?
  • Have you had to lay off staff?
  • Ideas on productivity and maintaining a healthy work-life balance during lockdown.
  • How you are promoting physical and mental health of staff.
  • How you are maintaining connectivity
  • Ideas on think tank leadership during a crisis.

Read our first articles on the subject:

Read the COVID-19 series.

3. Research

In the medium- to long-term, we will develop a responsive research agenda to explore think tanks and their role in crises. Questions we will ask include:

  • How did think tanks respond and how did the crisis affect them in the short, medium and long-term? What internal and external factors explain their various responses and outcomes?
  • Are there any business models that have fared worst or better than others? What explains their outcomes?
  • What has been the overall effect on think tanks, their staff, and policy research communities and how could negative effects be avoided in the future?
  • How did funders respond to think tanks’ needs and what were these responses based on? What effects did they have on think tanks’ own responses and their sustainability?
  • How can funders work to foster and cultivate more resiliency in their grantees?
  • How did different governments respond to the crisis? What was the role of evidence and research in their response?

Sharing learning and resources

4. Webinars

We’ve made our full library of online courses and webinars available to all.

Our online webinars are a platform to share learning among think tanks, funders and other policy actors on a range of topics from think tank governance to communicating research.

The 2020 webinar series will cover two main themes:

  • COVID-19 and think tank responses
  • Technology and think tanks

We also want to direct thinktankers to other relevant events. We invite organisers to upload them here. We will be happy to share them.

5. Convening

The OTT annual conference 2020 had to be postponed. While we were disappointed not to see our colleagues in person, it was an opportunity to trial our first online mini-conference.

At the event, we convened a session on going digital in times of COVID-19, hosted by DGAP. It was a space for thinktankers to reflect on the challenges and opportunities presented by the crisis, as well as practical solutions, tools and strategies for dealing with them.

We will aim to convene similar online mini-conferences on a regular basis during 2020 to create a reliable space for the global think tank community to connect to.

As the crisis moves through its different stages, we will continue to explore the best online spaces to convene and facilitate conversations among think tanks.

6. Resources

We will share useful resources for think tanks during this time, including:

  • Information and advice on using digital tools and addressing think tanks pressing challenges
  • Contacts and connections with key service providers, such as our partners and communication experts Soapbox or pro-bono lawyers at PILnet or networks and initiatives bringing think tanks together, such as Southern Voice
  • Our Jobsboard to help think tanks find key staff, and to support thinktankers find new employment.

Most importantly, we will use our channels to share the content generated by this initiative to support the global think tank community and to continue to raise the voices and visibility of think tanks with their stakeholders.

We seek to work with others in this effort. Such as our partner Southern Voice who is embarking on a similar initiative to support their members to advise governments on their response to the crisis.

Request for support

OTT would like to request support from organisations wishing to partner with us to:

  • Help disseminate the survey and call for articles
  • Write articles or papers on the key questions outlined in this concept note – or others of relevance
  • Host or participate in webinars
  • Fund or help fund our COVID -19 initiative

Contact: Enrique Mendizabal [email protected]