Reflections on Being a Part of International Collaborative Project

27 September 2014
SERIES Articles and Opinions

The first meeting in Lima was truly beneficial in terms of taking substantial steps in getting acquainted, forming the groups, and brainstorming on the ideas for possible future collaborative projects. Moreover, getting to know the way the host organisation IEP is organised and functions was very informative and educational. After the meeting in Lima the On Think Tanks Exchange participantsorganised themselves into two groups, based on the interests they had. Both of the teams focused on the organisational development issues – one on the performance self-assessment and the other on communications.

It is worthy to mention that after the brainstorming sessions, many ideas on possible collaborative projects  emerged in Lima, especially those proposed by Leandro regarding the think tank funding models, or Petra’s idea on the fiscal illusions/perceptions of taxpayers in various countries project.

These ideas could be used for future collaborative projects that I am sure the members of the exchange groups shall embark on.

After the first meeting, once we got home, we were not particularly sure about the final decision on the number of topics, teams and participants. Some group members had to discuss the possible topics with their respective organisations, and the idea of participating in more than one team also emerged. However, due to the time and financial constraints only one topic was picked by each participant.  Ultimately, only two groups were formed.

I, myself became a part of the performance assessment team together with Adriana Arellano from Grupo FARO, Leandro Echt from CIPPEC, Renata Dalaqua from CEBRI and Petra Reszkető from Budapest Institute. Final formation of the two collaborative project groups took approximately a month and finished by the end of April.

After the final decisions were made we started working on the concept note for the collaborative project. The process went quite smoothly, we have created a Dropbox folder and uploaded a template of the proposal provided by the On Think Tanks Exchange team, so that everyone could make their contributions. In parallel we started a desk research on the literature available on the topic. After a number of e-mail interactions, discussions on the methodology and the implementation plan of the project, our team came up with the draft concept note and met the set deadline of May 7th.

Later on, The Exchange organized a webinar were we presented and shared our concepts on the project and also listened to the other group that presented their own proposal. The webinar was useful, since we received critical questions and recommendations on how to proceed in improving and rethinking our approaches in the proposal.

Once we had the draft concept note, we started to consider the idea of a face to face meeting to work on the project proposal and refine and improve the concept prepared. The initial idea was to organise a meeting in June, however due to the difficulties to find the most appropriate time to meet everyone’s schedule and the uncertainly about the meeting place, we  decided to skip the face to face meeting at that point and use it during the project implementation phase. It would have been a better idea to set the meeting dates in advance and have a clearer agenda of the programme beforehand, in such a case the face to face meeting would have taken place. In a month’s time everyone’s schedule was quite busy for squeezing in the meeting, moreover it was Summer, that has also contributed due to the vacations, etc.

To overcome the challenges of virtual communication, we tried to fill the gaps through several webinars, we created a google drive document, thus enabling the participants to make the changes concurrently. I frankly believe that a face to face meeting would have saved us much time and would have been very helpful on making quicker decisions on the key issues regarding the project. We have not taken a single decision without receiving a confirmation e-mail from each of the participant, which is very nice in terms of inclusion and for the sake of collaboration, however sometimes requires several days.

I would highlight the importance of the external independent reviews conducted during the project. Three independent reviewers went through each project proposal and presented their views and questions regarding the project. Some of the comments, especially those concerning the objectives and methodology were quite comprehensive and altering one of the approaches presented in the proposal would imply rewriting the whole thing. Therefore, at the initial stage it was advised to present our views on what we agreed on what we didn’t agree on and what we thought was important and worthy to think about. Firstly, we summed up the comments, once again created a google drive document and passed the link around the group. Later on a document on our perceptions regarding the received comments was prepared and we have decided to make the necessary changes to the proposal during the meeting in Jakarta; since the virtual meetings have become tiring and long. The document was commented several times by 5 people and uniting these comments and coming to a consensus would have taken too much time. Thus, at this stage of the proposal we were already ready to do the face to face meeting; will really benefit from this meeting in Jakarta.

I would say that this project has really made me rethink the collaboration process. This was the very first instance that I have worked on a project involving more than one partner country. Moreover, the project was especially beneficial since I had a chance to get acquainted with colleagues from different parts of the world, from  countries that I didn’t know much about. The project  is a truly learning experience, where one has a chance to learn about the countries, organisations and people involved.

To sum up, the experience of collaboration varies depending on the people you are collaborating with. I found this group very comfortable to work with, very organised, and responsible. We really take all the decisions as a team. In parallel to working on the proposal, we have been discussing other possible means of future collaboration, future collaborative project ideas. The Think Tanks that I have partnered with, especially the Latin American, ones are far more developed in terms of organisational procedures and internal policies than my own, therefore this was a great opportunity for me to share experience and this exchange initiative has really turned into a learning process for me.