Think Tank Initiative 2012 Exchange: How a digital strategy can enhance think tank management, research and communications

19 October 2012

These videos are part of the June 19th Workshop A of the Think Tank Initiative Exchange. This workshop was about digital strategy plays a role in think tank management, research and communications.

The workshop began with an introduction from the moderator, Peter K.A. da Costa, an Africa – based consultant for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. 

The introduction is quite short, briefly pointing out that the main point of discussion will be digital strategy that fits institutional context and needs, and when and how think tanks should take advantage of digital tools. Peter then goes on to introduce each speaker.

Next was Enrique Mendizabal of Mendizabal Ltd and author of this blog

First Enrique asks the audience, what is digital? After the audience gives their definitions, he then invites Nick Scott to provide a definition: usually in modern usage, the important thing is that the delivery happens electronically. Digital is a connection rather than information stored in a hard disk. It is also not always about communication – this depends on the nature of each organisation.

The situation in which think tanks operate is changing and they have to do something about it. Enrique invites the audience to think about how the world is changing in terms of how information is accessed, or how teams or fundraising is managed. Does this mean that organisations must reaccommodate themselves to these changes? There can be two scenarios:

  1. A huge disruption that happens right away in this digital scenario, and the change is so big that think tanks need to reconsider how they work. Ideas must be shared rather than owned.
  2. The world is changing but not yet – this is the case for many developing countries. People are getting used to trying these new technologies but it is not a massive phenomenon. The question then is, can these think tanks evolve in time to be successful in this new world, and what will it take?

It is also not always about communication – this depends on the nature of each organisation.

Nick Scott of the Overseas Development Institute and another of our contributors

Nick goes over digital strategy as a whole for organisations. First he points out that the main challenges that affect think tanks is the shifting of natural territories, the ways content is changing, how social media has moved the web from a static one way communication format to interaction and connection, and how nowadays it is hard to define what media is. There are also particular challenges about digital technology for think tanks. For example, how can think tanks keep up with constantly changing technology, and how can they measure the success of communication? Additionally, think tanks must figure out how to simplify complex messages to web language, which is much simpler.

There are three approaches to these challenges. Think tanks must be heard to be found, that is, use tools such as email, blogs and social media to reach their audiences instead of waiting for audiences to reach them. They thus must update their content and messaging, as well as the digital tools they use.

Finally, Vaqar Ahmed of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute

Vaqar described how his institution’s process on looking for tools that would generate traffic for their website led them to a rather ignored concept: the web TV  Web TV has been around for seventeen years, and yet organisations like think tanks had not been paying much attention to it. According to Vaqar, its potential was acknowledged when they considered that people who visited their think tank web site had little time to register or read or give full feedback to their publications. However, people were posting comments on their web tv videos, and had the full capacity of giving a peer review. Consequently, project leaders were told to always attach a video to any sort of publication, in order to accelerate the peer review process.

Vaqar mentions three steps in this process: first, internal production must be facilitated. Then web TV output has to be sincronized with institutional projects, directed at development partners. Finally, networking with target audience, using web TV to increase web site traffic. Web TV importance also lies in the fact that it takes discourse to another level: it presents the think tank view, the opponents’ view and third party judgement.