Learning Together: Self-Assessments for Think Tanks

[Editors’ note: The paper was produced as part of The On Think Tanks Exchange. with the support from The Think Tank Fund and the Think Tank Initiative.]

Performance is affected by multidimensional elements, starting with governance and reaching all the way to human resources, financial sustainability, impact and uptake. This study involves an in-depth literature review to list and map all organisational performance fields. In addition to the literature review, the same self assessment tools used by international donor organisations were employed. The most relevant ones were the Rubric Tool for Assessment (prepared with the support of USAID), and an organisational assessment tool prepared by the Think Tank Fund.

To narrow down the topic and concentrate on a specific number of fields to be examined in depth, all the possible aspects affecting organisational performance were listed and evaluated against four criteria developed by the authors:

  • Comparability of fields with other think tanks;
  • Usefulness of a field for organisations;
  • Sustainability to ensure replicability and building into institutional processes; and
  • Capacity constraints of the project.

After evaluating the fields determining organisational performance and finding common interests, the authors selected four fields to base their assessments on:

  1. Knowledge management describes the extent to which an organisation applies and incorporates the experience and knowledge of its members and partners through processes, systems and protocols for capturing, storing, and sharing knowledge, experiences, technical expertise, and best practices. This field was analysed in terms of infrastructure (technology, structure, culture) and processes (acquisition, conversion, application, protection).
  2. Quality control describes the mechanisms and tools organisations use to assure the quality of their products, with a special focus on publications and presentations.
  3. Strategic direction is defined as an explicit definition of the goals an organisation wants to achieve in the long term, and how it intends to achieve these. Two aspects of this field were analysed: organisational vision and/or mission and the existence of an strategic plan.
  4. Organisational Boards are described as external bodies not participating in the day-to-day activities of the think tank, but having a significant role in the affairs of the organisation. The field looked at the following: are there any Boards in the organisation? Are they capable of providing adequate guidance to the organisation? Emphasis was put on three aspects: descriptive analysis of the Board(s), thelegal roles and the actual operation of the Board(s), and their effectiveness as perceived by an organisation.

This study was funded by The On Think Tanks Exchange, the Think Tank Initiative and the Think Tank Fund.