Changes to our plans and recommendations for 2015: responding to the needs of the participants

9 February 2015
SERIES About The On Think Tanks Exchange

The last post on progress so far described the work done. This post focuses on the changes that were made to the plans over the last period, the risks we have had to deal with, and how we’ve addressed them

Development and changes to the plans

The exploratory nature of The Exchange meant that we had not made specific (and set in stone) plans for this second period. There were new unexpected developments, however:

  • A gender imbalance: Already, we observed a gender imbalance among the participants: there are 8 women and 2 men. Interestingly, the communications groups is made up of women only, while the new business models group involves the only two men in The Exchange. It may be a mistake to attempt to provide an explanation for this at this stage. It would appear that this makeup is entirely by chance: the communications group originally included a male participant, Bambang; Hari, his replacement joined forces with Leandro who happened to be the only other participant with the interest and time to focus on a new project.
  • Demand to host the events/and demand for more events: At the last meeting three participants expressed an interest to host the next event, planned for April 2014. Simultaneously, there was demand for at least two more global meetings.
  • Opportunities to support other collaborative efforts: The meeting in Jakarta offered the opportunity to support the beginnings of an exchange between Indonesian and Latin American think tanks. We could consider that, as The Exchange becomes a more stable and recognisable platform, other such efforts could be supported. This may be an additional positive externality of the programme.

Risks and opportunities

Once again, while some aspects of the plans were changed during the implementation to address possible risks, others have emerged:

  • Further disruption from changes in participants: As the report was being completed there was a real possibility that Leandro Echt would no longer maintain a relationship with CIPPEC. This could have a significant effect on The Exchange. We felt that we faced three options that, described below, illustrate the hard choices that think tanks have to make during their own collaborations. A balance had to be struck between the interests of the programme and those of individual participants.
    1. Follow the think tank by replacing Leandro with another researcher from CIPPEC. This would have been hard to manage. First, the PSATT team was already established and would not have liked the idea of having a new member. Also, the new project, on business models, was highly dependent on Leandro’s knowledge and interest. We may not have be able to establish a working relationship with Hari and may have had to drop IRE from The Exchange.
    2. Follow the researcher by keeping Leandro involved as an independent researcher or while he finds a new host. There was interest from ILAIPP and other think tanks to provide an institutional home for the business model project. The PSATT project could have been managed in a similar way with another willing think tank in Argentina or in Latin America.
    3. Dropping both and considering the possibility of Hari joining the PSATT team. Hari spent some time with the PSATT team in Indonesia and got along well with the team. PSATT’s focus is close to that of the business model project so there could have been a coincidence of interests.
  • A possible drop in interest as The Exchange comes close to the end:  An important assumption of The Exchange is that this experience will provide participating think tanks with possible partnerships for future collaborative projects. As the next year progresses, they may feel that, without a clear ‘next step’ in sight, their participation in the final phases of the project is no longer important. To address this we should begin to consider possible future scenarios for after The Exchange comes to an end. We suggest some ideas below.
  • Pressure of their “day to day” work makes it difficult for some of the team members to carry out their work for the project: This is an important risk, and one which is difficult to mitigate. The multilateral nature of two of the projects means that a difficulty with one of the team members is unlikely to derail the project as a whole. It does however, remain a risk for the bilateral project on business models. The only response likely to be effective is to maintain close contact with each of the participants so that an early warning of difficulties is available, and discussions with the researcher or the head of their institution can take place sooner rather than later.
  • Participants lack the expertise to complete their project in a satisfactory manner: This is also a risk, though not as serious as the preceding one. Again, the multilateral nature of two of the projects increases the likelihood that suitable expertise can be made available. It should also be noted that one of the projects (PSATT) already has plans to engage an outside expert as a mentor, which would help address this problem. The CSCS project might also adopt the same approach were it to run into difficulties, and the organisers would assist them in identifying the appropriate expertise. 


Many recommendations for the next phase of The Exchange have emerged from the discussions with the participants themselves:

Maintain flexibility in order to foster learning: The programme has been flexible enough to accommodate a new funder and think tanks from a new region, to change its meeting plans (from one multilateral to a couple bespoke meetings in June 2014), from a desire for 5 bilateral partnerships to 2 multilateral and 1 bilateral collaborations, from a focus on both policy and organisational development issues to organisational development issues only, and to accept new participants.

This flexibility has been well received by the participants. This flexibility was necessary to manage the challenged we faced with both Indonesian organisations. It will also come in handy to address the potential challenges created by Leandro’s departure from CIPPEC. And allowed others to participate through a colleague (e.g. in the case of Petra sending Balázs instead of her to Jakarta).

Their situations, the challenges faced in having a third region (significantly different from the other two), and other small variations on the plans present opportunities for learning. Our efforts should therefore focus on not missing out on the opportunity to record and reflect on the process and what may be learned for The Exchange and future collaborative efforts.

Shorter and open meetings: The challenges of organising a workshop to encourage matchmaking could be sensed by all those involved in the first meeting in Lima. In the end, the workshop schedule, carefully planned between organisers and IEP, was changed and adapted as the days went by.

Something similar happened in Indonesia. The schedule was changed the night before after a meeting between the organisers and the hosts Article 33. We decided to move the city tour to the end of the week to avoid breaking the working week too much.

After the meeting in Lima we proposed testing approaches based on “Open Space Technology”.These allow the participants to make use of the time and space provided as they see fit, with organisers providing a framework (objectives, tools, support, monitoring, and guidance). In Jakarta, most of the sessions followed this approach.

We now suggest allowing the participants to choose the next location for the meeting and take the initiative in designing the schedule for the workshop (based on the recommendations they themselves provided).

Maintain direct channels of communication with each of the participants: As The Exchange progresses participants will face a number of internal challenges that may present risks to the programme. These issues will not be necessarily shared with the whole group. To address these issues properly we will continue to engage with the participants in a direct manner establishing more frequent contact with each participant and support them in identifying future challenges and possible solutions.

Allow the participants to decide where the next meetings should be: Although we believe that rotating the host region is a good idea, we also feel that allowing the participants to make these decisions themselves will constitute an inflection point in the degree of control that we, the organisers, have over the programme.

So far, the participants have been increasingly more proactive in the way The Exchange has developed. By taking full ownership over the organisation of the next event (with our support and within an overall budgetary framework, of course) they would have taken an important step towards much greater ownership of The Exchange.

Revisit and establish a new kind of Steering Board: With three funders and the first meeting over it is important that the Steering Board is revisited. It was useful in helping choose the participants and access new funding but was less active in reviewing the concept notes and proposals, and assessing the research proposals.

Start thinking of the future: It may be premature to suggest a new phase of The Exchange beginning September/October 2015 but we ought to give the participants a sense of what may come in the future, since some of them are already beginning to develop ideas for ‘thematic’ collaboration (i.e. on substantive policy issues and not merely on organisational design and performance). This is a conversation that could be open to the participants rather than one that should be had by the organisers and the funders only.

The future of The Exchange could include:

  • A new cohort of participants: more think tanks could be included this time around given the lessons learned and new skills gained in organising the meetings and the teams. We could also open participation to candidates interested in 2 or 3 policy issues to maximise the chances that thematic projects may develop. This is something that could have helped in matchmaking.
  • Grants to the current participants for thematic collaborations: some of the participants involved in the pilot could be given the opportunity to bid for a research grant to work on thematic collaborative projects of their choice. This would provide an incentive for collaboration beyond the end of the current round of projects. Not all participants may wish (or would need) to be involved. This component would not have to be managed by The Exchange directly but could offer new lessons that could be shared with the new cohort. In fact, The Exchange partners could seek to encourage their grantees involved to take advantage of their newly made partnerships in the various activities that they are already funding.