I joined in The Exchange very late. My organisation, the Institute for Research and Empowerment, assigned me to replace my fellow researcher, Bambang Hudayana. For one and another reason, he could not continue his participation in the program.
My intention of joining the program goes beyond following my organization’s assignment, however. In fact, by participating in The Exchange, I expect to acquire experiences in conducting collaborative research with international think tanks. Producing knowledge for influencing policies and shaping practices needs innovation and breakthrough, and too often, learning from abroad is inevitable. Hence the Exchange is undoubtedly beneficial since its participants can learn from each other in terms of experiences and expertise.
I received so much friendship as well as opportunity for learning despite my late participation. During the workshop in Jakarta, I had the opportunity to work in collaboration with Leandro Echt from CIPPEC-Argentina. Enrique Mendizabal and Stephen Yeo provided open and constructive discussions that welcoming of ideas for the new project. The processes involved back and forth discussion and writing. Throughout the week, in this entirely positive atmosphere, we finally came up with a concept note. Moreover, consulting the draft concept note with the other teams is beneficial because Leandro and I could get comments and insights from the other participants.
The project is a comparative stud on think tanks business models: it compares the way that think tanks in Indonesia and Argentina mobilize, manage and spend their financial resources. While waiting for our concept note to be reviewed, Leandro and I have begun to work on the literature review to explore the concepts and practices of business models. Our initial findings show that as “a discipline”, think tank business model is far from established. We have to refer to issues of nonprofit and business scholarship. Therefore, formulating a framework derived from different fields is challenging. We will have to plan a series of Skype calls to discuss this so that we can have a firm framework for the project.
The issues that we will have to take into account relates to both the topic and nature of collaboration. Think tank business models are a sometimes sensitive issue. We might find difficulties in accessing the required data. Think tanks may feel that this information is a part of their competitive advantage vis à vis other think tanks and that sharing it with us may be synonymous with letting their competitors scrutinize the key to their success. In contrast, some think tanks may be reluctant to share information about their business models because they may considere them part of their “dirty laundry”. To anticipate this issue, we have decided to study think tanks within our existing networks. In Indonesia, I will study the think tanks of KSI network which whom I and my organisation have a close relationship.
The process of collaboration is no less challenging. Skype and other platforms of communication technology are undoubtedly squeezing geographical barriers. Nevertheless, time differences, as have been mentioned by other fellows of The Exchange are still an issue. I would say that the fact that we can get over this is a sure sign of our commitment to this project. In my opinion, we need to be efficient in our interactions. If we can work efficiently through emailing, direct calls will only be needed to clarify some critical points of the project.
Despite what we might call barriers or difficulties, for me, participating in The Exchange and working on this business model project is exiting. I myself have been working in think tanks for about 6 years yet it had never crossed my mind how fundamental business models are for think tanks sustainability. Only when think tanks have sound business models can they be politically influential in public policy issues.