Reporting on progress: what we planned and what we did

26 May 2014
SERIES About The On Think Tanks Exchange

As promised we will try to report all we do via this blog. We have been quiet for the last few weeks but that is because we have been busy with planning. This is the first of a few posts to publish the first report we sent TTI and TTF. It is a slightly edited version mainly to make it slightly more interesting to read.

Also, included in the future posts (although not in the original report, because that came later) are posts on the projects that the participants have chosen. There are some surprises there.

This first post deals with what was planned and what has been done. The following one will address what may be some ‘immediate’ impacts and possible future steps:

The project challenge

The project was borne out of a marriage of interests and approaches between the Think Tank Initiative, the Think Tank Fund and On Think Tanks. At its core, The Exchange seeks to learn how think tanks collaborate, especially across regions: what factors drive collaborations, what factors hinder their development, what are their positive and negative effects, and how they may be best supported in the future.

To achieve this, The Exchange has brought together 10 researchers from 9 countries. Over a period of about 2 years, these participants will work on:

  • At least one collaborative project with one other (or more) fellow participants;
  • An action learning project focused on collaboration that involves all participants;
  • A series of online/virtual webinars, online discussions, or other collaborations involving all participants or groups of them; and
  • At least 4 face to face meetings to support and encourage stronger personal links between the participants.

Since it is a pilot, The Exchange has been designed to be open to changes in its original design. These changes will be tracked and analysed over the course of the project in order to learn which aspects of the original plans did and did not work.

Project implementation and management

The Exchange has been implemented according to plan. Four distinct phases can be identified in these reporting period:

1) Set up and identification of the participants: The first phase during this period focused on setting up The Exchange’s website, developing a process to find and identify the candidates, reviewing their applications, and choosing the final group of 10.

The original plan was to include 8 participants would be included in The Exchange. The Knowledge Sector Initiative (KSI) in Indonesia joined The Exchange in late 2013 and agreed to fund the participation of two Indonesian researchers.

Thirty eight valid applications were received before the November 30th deadline. We decided not to consider applications from individuals with no affiliation to a think tank, or from organisations that were clearly not think tanks. We were, however, more flexible when it came to university research departments.

We received applications from several regions but there was a clear focus on three: Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe, and the Former Soviet Union. The final tally:

  • 12 from Latin America
  • 19 from Central and Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Republic
  • 3 from Africa
  • 3 from South East Asia
  • 1 from the Middle East

After reviewing the applications in late 2013, the Steering Committee chose 10 candidates to join The Exchange. The 10 participants included thinktankers from Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Georgia, Hungary, Indonesia, Peru, Slovakia, and Ukraine.

2) Planning the first Meeting: Between January and March 2014, the focus was on organising the first face-to-face event. It was decided that the first meeting would be organised in Lima, Peru, to be hosted by IEP. This decision was heavily influenced by the fact that I am now based in Lima and was therefore able to support IEP in the design and organisation of the meeting.

In preparation for the first meeting, The Exchange organised an online meet-up to bring together all the participants, representatives from the Think Tank Initiative and the Think Tank Fund, and The Exchange team. The hour-long virtual introduction worked well. Only the participant from Ukraine, Nadia, was unable to join due to a scheduling problem.

An email group was set up using Google Groups: [email protected] (you need to be signed up to it to participate, so please do not try emailing). This group allows the participants to email each other as well as the organisers. It also allowed the organisers to coordinate logistics for the meeting with the participants.

A local Peruvian firm was contracted to manage all travel arrangements for the 9 participants (plus Stephen Yeo) who were traveling from abroad. Condor Travel is the leading travel agency in Peru and was chosen after reviewing a proposal from second Peruvian firm. They arranged the flights, airport transfers, and the hotel for the participants and provided further support in organising a city tour for the group during the Meeting.

I met several times with Francesca Uccelli as well as other staff from IEP to plan the event and other activities. The proposed schedule underwent several changes as a consequence of these discussions.

The final schedule allowed more time for informal interaction between the participants – reflecting the style in which Peruvian researchers wished to welcome their peers.

Finally, in preparation to the Meeting the participants were asked to produce a brief paper on barriers to collaboration to be discussed in Lima

3) First Meeting: The first Meeting took place in Lima between the 25th and the 28th March.  A report of the event has been produced and can be found here: and:

During the Meeting the participants shared their papers on collaboration. These are being published on from late April.

4) Follow up from first Meeting and plans for the future: The Meeting delivered more than expected when the project was being designed. The participants were able to identify a number of topics to work on and to develop a sense of who would work on what and with whom. As a consequence, the effort after the Meeting has focused on supporting the participants to get together and clarify the issues they wish to work on and the teams that will tackle each issue.

Once the teams have been formed, the organisers will help each team to organise smaller meetings either in Latin America, Europe, or Indonesia to help them produce the final proposals.

Vanesa Weyrauch has also submitted a proposal, based on her conversations with the participants in Lima, to provide ongoing support to The Exchange via webinars (for instance she helped arrange the online meeting on 12th May to present the draft concept notes), online discussions, and online trainings. She will work alongside the collaborative project teams to support their work.

Changes to the plans

There were a number of changes made during the implementation of The Exchange’s plans that are worth noting here:

  1. No African or South Asian think tanks: We had originally expected think tanks from Africa and South Asia to participate. Unfortunately, we did not receive sufficiently good applications from Africa and none from South Asia. The funders and organisers decided not to bend the rules and to work with the think tanks that had submitted applications. The reasons why think tanks from Africa and South Asia didn’t apply will be explored in the action learning project and on blog posts on The Exchange website.
  2. Inclusion of Indonesian researchers: The inclusion of 2 Indonesian researchers was mentioned above. Their involvement was deemed valuable because it introduced a new region to the existing mix of Latin American and European researchers. In addition, KSI is also an important initiative in the field of think tanks. Their involvement increases the chances that lessons may be learned shared across three of the most important initiatives supporting think tanks in the developing world.
  3. Teams set up sooner than planned: Originally, we had expected that the teams would come together during the second event in June. However, the participants were able to ‘jump a few steps’ in the process.
  4. Lower than expected interest in collaborating on policy issues: Originally, we had expected that some collaborations would focus on policy issues and some on organisational development ones. In the event, all collaborations appear to focus on organisational development issues: communications, internal performance, and fundraising.
  5. Multilateral collaborations instead of bilateral collaborations: When the programme was designed, it was expected that there could be up to 5 collaborations (5 pairs). After the Lima event, however, the participants have arranged themselves in 2 main groups.
  6. Second event: It was decided that instead of a second multilateral event several smaller events would be organised. In practice, once the teams have been set up, the organisers will help their members get together to work on their proposals. This is was decided after considering that a second event would have to take place quite soon after the first one and that it was hard to find the time for all participants to come together for a week between late May and the middle of June.

Project outputs and dissemination

The Exchange has produced:

  • A blog:
  • A series on barriers to collaboration: 10 blog posts (by the participants -in the process of being published) plus synthesis blog posts will be published by the end of May/beginning of June the schedule responds to the need to maintain a publication rhythm in for the blog). These are based on a series of papers developed by the participants in preparation for the event in Lima
  • A first meeting in Lima between 25th-28th March 2014. The event was hosted by IEP. Participants included: Enrique Mendizabal, Stephen Yeo and Vanesa Weyrauch for the organisers, all 10 participants, Goran Buldioski representing the Think Tank Fund, and Maria Urbina (representing the Think Tank Initiative), who participated in the last day of The Exchange.
  • IEP organised an event with Nadia Dobryanska, Irine Gurili and Goran Buldioski on the situation in Ukraine. The event itself constituted an example of think tank collaboration.

The next post will look at the future of The Exchange: recommendations as well as updates on the collaborative projects.