How a digital strategy can enhance think tank management, research and communication

21 June 2012

Peter da Costa chaired the session on how digital strategies can enhance think tank management, research and communication:

An important consideration for Southern think tanks in figuring out whether and how to develop and implement a digital strategy is the audience they want to reach, the policy community actors they want to influence. Given that the TTI cohort seeks to exert influence in national spaces, how many Southern policy makers in Africa and South Asia are active Twitterers? The corollary to the statement that “policy makers do not read documents” may well be that “policy makers do not Tweet”. In such cases, it may be a time-consuming and futile exercise to develop a digital strategy hinged on social media. It might be more fruitful to target mobile phones of Ministers with creative SMS campaigns, or physically doorstep key decision makers outside Parliament.

That said, Southern think tanks need funding. They also form part of multi-country research consortia, whether South-South or South-North. As such, some of the social media tools discussed in today’s session can definitely help them showcase their work to audiences outside their immediate national settings. Going digital can also reduce the transaction cost and maximize the benefits of working on trans-national research initiatives. If there’s one thing that can be said for the digital sphere, it’s that it can and does transcend national borders.

The workshop began by considering what ‘digital’ means. There were many different interpretations around electronic information including the memorable ‘anything you’re forbidden for using on take off from a plane’. For the session, I used the  definition proposed in a recent blog on digital strategy for think tanks. My presentation considered the role of digital strategy is facing the potential effects of the digital revolution on think tanks, which I outlined in two scenarios: both meaning major change for think tanks, but one envisioning a revolutionary change that dramatically and immediately changes the nature of think tank research and work and the second an evolution that sees gradual change.

During the clinic for this session, participants were supportive of the idea that the ways in which think tanks operate today faced significant pressures for change. Their challenge (and opportunity) is to find how to allow their own younger researchers to incorporate these new practices (being public, collaborating with others, etc.) that digital tools offer.

It was clear that, even in countries with poor internet connection, there was a great deal that could be done on internal information services, digitalising the organisation’s past publications, and preparing for better web speeds.

Nick Scott’s presentation drew on a series of recent blogs which outlined three areas of response to digital disruption of traditional communications:

His presentation can be found here: Digital communications for think tanks – TTIX 2012.

Finally, Vaqar Ahmed of SDPI Pakistan presented their fantastic approach to use web TV to conduct peer review and communicate reach to niche audiences. The presentation is worth checking out:

On his clinic, Vaqar said:

The audience was of the view that this tool could be very helpful in promoting a culture of branding within think tanks. The think tank’s own web TV unlike the cable will not have commercial pressures and can provide platform for young researchers to flag their research output and get some comments posted on it – which in fact will be at a faster pace if compared with the traditional peer-review system.

Institutionalising web TV, while economical in terms of personnel costs related to those behind or front of camera, will also require a dedicated web team to manage the website and generate traffic. The web TV channel is only one amongst wide range of innovative advocacy tools and therefore its use should be integrated with other social media tools available.