During the third day of The Exchange in Jakarta we visited SMERU for a meeting between the members of The Exchange, the Knowledge Sector Initiative and Orazio Bellettini, representing ILAIPP, a Latin American network of think tanks. As in Lima, the event provided an opportunity for the participants to learn more about local think tanks as well as about the manner in which they organise events. They had the chance to learn more about one of the funders of The Exchange: KSI.
Orazio Bellettini’s presentation led to a discussion about the challenges and opportunities for collaboration between regions. You can watch to Orazio below:
Although the focus of Orazio’s presentation had been on collaboration between Latin America and Indonesia, every one participated in the discussion.
A number of key ‘lessons’ can be mentioned.
There are several ‘topics’ of collaboration that could be considered:
- The business of think tanks
- A particular policy issue
- Influencing international politics and spaces
Maybe, the first one (focusing on the study or development of the business of think tanks) is easier for think tanks to ‘get to know each other’. It is also the one option that is likely to lead to quick tangible benefits for those involved.
There is a strong reservation against washing one’s dirty laundry in public. Collaboration with think tanks in other regions or countries could make this easier.
Sharing, however, can help think tanks to think about what they do and what they are good at –even if they did not know it themselves.
Collaborations are a good opportunity to try new approaches, methods and tools in a ‘safe mode’. Successful tests could then be replicated in the participating organisations.
Trust is hard to develop but it has to come before collaboration is attempted. It takes time and patience and it is useful if the process is facilitated/supported.
Building trust is hard when there are language and cultural barriers. Participants must be willing to step out of their comfort zones if they are to build strong and sustainable relationships with the peers in other think tanks. They must also recognise that the process itself is likely to help them develop their own personal competencies and skills. They may even get to learn a new language.
The relationships that think tanks build with think tanks in new regions or countries represent a window into new networks and communities of think tanks and experts. Through these trusted relationships, researchers and think tanks can access new knowledge, experts, new partners, policy spaces, and even funding. This can be useful when they look for new staff and even leaders: their pool of potential human resources will be expanded.
The participants provided a number of ideas for action that could be taken up by The Exchange and others. Some focused on ‘modes of collaboration’ and others on ‘topics of collaboration’.
The modes include:
- Collaborative Projects
- Focused on building trust like the On Think Tanks Exchange; flexible, supported and facilitated
- Longer term and larger collaborations between think tanks that already know each other on specific research and/or capacity development projects.
- Collaboration to inform or influence international spaces and organisations.
- Sharing of knowledge, tools, experiences and capacity
- Exchange of staff, study visits, internship programmes with specific outputs and objectives.
Topics of collaboration include:
- Organisational issues; the list is long and I have organised it starting with what The Exchange can already provide:
- Business models and funding models and sustainability (The Exchange has a project focused on this)
- Organisational performance (The Exchange has a project focused on this)
- Communications advocacy and policy engagement (The Exchange has a project focused on this)
- Governance and management
- Digital tools for management
- Human resources
- Core competencies for researchers
- Modern research methods
- Quality assurance
- Network development and criteria
- Policy issues; the list is, of course, would need to be explored more carefully to ensure that it is representative of the regions and think tanks represented.