Principles of effective collaboration between think tanks: a theory

28 September 2014
SERIES About The On Think Tanks Exchange

It is worth sharing some of the principles that are behind the design of The Exchange. The initiative was first conceived as a series of separate collaborations that would take place over a year. We felt that this presented a series of challenges. Based on our experience working with think tanks and networks, we sought out a ‘theory’ for effective collaboration.

We call it a ‘theory’ because we want to test it. The Exchange’s participants will be involved in a collaborative action learning project to critically study the barriers for collaboration between think tanks in a region and across regions.

We consider the following theory of how meaningful exchanges and collaboration can develop as the basis of The Exchange:

  • Balance: Successful and meaningful exchanges and collaboration require that all parties collaborate as equals – as true partners.

Before meaningful exchanges and collaboration can take place the following conditions need to be satisfied:

  • Familiarity: of individuals and then of their organisations
  • Understanding: of the context in which the organisations and the individuals work
  • Knowledge: of each other’s objectives and motivations and of each other’s competencies and skills
  • Trust: of each other’s objectives and motivations and of each other’s competencies and skills

The following interventions or activities can help satisfy these conditions:

  • Practice: Successful exchanges and collaboration require practice and reflection and this can be achieved by:
    • Collaborative pilots: in which participants work with each other in a safe environment
    • Facilitated learning: in which participants have the opportunity and are supported to learn from mistakes and successes in a safe environment
    • Personal and group development: in which the participants are able to observe and reflect on their own progress, as well as that of the group, “pilot after pilot” – or in this case exchange event after exchange event.

Interestingly, we have left out tools: emails, websites, Twitter, etc. We think they are very useful (and will use many tools during the implementation of this effort) but we also think that they are no more than tools. Their use should support and not drive what we do. Their usefulness, therefore, will be one of the concerns of the action learning study.