Think Tank Exchange Sessions: on balancing research and advocacy, and its implications for quality research

3 October 2012

This is the fourth set of videos from the TTI Exchange sessions. This panel was about discussing how think tanks balance research with advocacy, and how this impacts the quality of research.

Subrat Das of the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability

Das stresses that advocacy is important because if think tanks want to achieve results, they must reach out to relevant stakeholders. The quality of research alone will not necessarily attract stakeholder attention. He also mentions that even if think tanks are able to influence the perspective of key stakeholders, they might not be able to influence their sense of urgency. While policy makers may agree on the importance of the problem, they might express their inability to do something about it, which poses a challenge for these organisations.

Mauricio Diaz Burdett of the Foro Social de Deuda Externa y Desarrollo de Honduras (FOSDEH)

Diaz Burdett believes that the importance of doing research is to promote reflection and the adoption of public opinion in decision making. Think tanks such as the one he belongs to, he says, are positioned in such a manner that they are more in contact with every day people, as opposed to the government, and so research serves as a vehicle for these people to bring their concerns to the public agenda. Think tanks’ relationship with the media is also important, and it’s necessary to consider what kind of formats need to be used when conveying research to radio, television, or the press.

Godber Tumushabe of the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment

Tumushabe suggests that think tanks focus on the demand side of research, mainly the government. It is the government who has to demand quality research that changes public policy. Another issue is where think tanks should draw the boundary between advocacy and activism, something which is solved by framing the purpose of the organisation. He also mentions that advocacy depends largely on context and on the partnership between policy think tanks and policy makers.

Oliver Babson of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation 

To Babson, there are different approaches to advocacy that depend on the country’s political context, on the institution itself and the channels that are used to employ said advocacy. For example, some institutions are very close to the government, largely funded by them, or they can be totally independent. Thus these institutions will have different ways of balancing advocacy and research. This also applies to the issues being researched, which will matter more for advocacy to some than to others. Institutions may also work directly or through other organisations. Ultimately, though, Babson believes that the TTIX panel prizes research over advocacy, particularly its quality.