One of the objectives of the On Think Tanks Exchange (The Exchange) is to understand why policy research institutes do or do not collaborate, and what determines the success of the collaborations that do take place. There are two activities, both aimed at answering two key questions, that have been built into the programme:
- “For real” collaborations between think tanks, either on substantive policy issues or some aspect of the organizational performance of think tanks.
- An action learning project in which the participants in the real collaborations reflect on their experiences of collaboration, its benefits and costs, and what seems to influence the success of these collaborations.
We could, of course, all get together at the end of the project and try to answer question 2, but we thought it would be more interesting to engage with the question before, during, as well as after the real collaborative projects.
So for the first exchange in March, in Lima, we have asked the participants to prepare short (no more than 3 to 5 page) descriptions of their organizations’ experiences in collaborating with other think tanks, and what they think were the benefits and costs of these collaborations. If there have been no collaborations, then their paper will probably be more brief, but could still usefully focus on trying to understand why there were no such collaborations.
We will then use these short descriptions to kick-start a more critical discussion on barriers to collaboration.
In order to help them get started, we thought it might be useful to provide the participants with a few possible factors that might affect whether collaborations take place and whether they are successful. We hope to refine this list of questions during the course of the project, but we need to start somewhere. So here is a (laundry) list of factors that might matter:
- The “flavour” of the think tank – is it oriented toward academic research, research synthesis, policy influence or policy advocacy?
- The nature of the collaboration – is it about ends or means, i.e. about a policy issue or about some aspect of organizational design of think tanks (e.g. benchmarking performance).
- The depth of the collaboration – does it involve knowledge sharing, cooperation or collaboration (see page 23 of the attached article by Blau).
- The technology available for collaboration, both hardware (video conferencing) and software (shared discussion spaces, document stores etc.)
- The “institutional” culture of the think tank itself, as well as the local (national) culture with respect to openness to other institutions, competition versus cooperation etc., the degree of interaction with users of the think tanks outputs, etc., the degree of cooperation and collaboration between different individuals and groups within the think tank.
- The organization characteristics of the think tank, its size, hierarchical versus flat structure, etc., the incentives facing the staff of the think tank in terms of professional and financial rewards.
- Logistical challenges –e.g. difficulties related to travel or finding organisations to collaborate with.
That is a lot to think about, but in order to lighten the burden, we included some articles on e-collaboration within, between, and without institutions, on the tension between collaboration and ownership and that affects learning, and why it is sometimes a bad idea to collaborate. (The last thing we want to do is discourage them from collaborating, but understanding the circumstances in which collaboration does not work may help us in thinking about when it can be beneficial.)
Finally, if you have literature that you would like to share with the group –or wish to write down a few ideas (maybe a review of a paper) please go ahead and share them on this post. We can publish them on exchange.onthinktanks.org. The blog is awaiting your contributions.