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On Think Tanks was founded in mid 2010. It has evolved from a blog into a global platform dedicated to study and support policy research and policy research centres, or think tanks. The members of the On Think Tanks Team and its Advisory Board are spread out across 6 continents!

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  1. 1

    Everything I needed to know about online content I learned from making mixtapes

    I was never particularly good at making mixtapes—my teenage musical tastes were too uncultured, my town too small to support more than your standard country/classic rock/top–40 radio stations, and my working-class parents too poor to support much of a music-buying habit. (For you... Read full article
  2. 2

    Making research accessible to inform better policy decisions

    We can’t expect policymakers to just know what policies are best for a given context – to make better decisions, they need evidence. This is why local data and research are so important, as they can inform policies to be more effective, and to better respond to on-the-ground realities.... Read full article
  3. 3

    Reflections on the accessibility of research knowledge for policymaking in Peru

    A common problem in the research to policy nexus is that research often “stays on the shelves” and does not have an impact outside of academia. Policymaking needs to be nurtured from research, thus responding better to the reality of the context it influences.  As part of a study... Read full article
  4. 4

    Facing complex contexts? Five strategies for impact

    Think tanks can influence policy in a great number of ways. There is not a single approach – and there are certainly no full-proof strategies. I was recently asked to present a few of these strategies to an audience of think tank's directors from the Western Balkans. They, their teams and... Read full article
  5. 5

    Four questions to assess your research communications impact

      Research can have an impact. But only if we get our research to the right people, at the right time, and in a way they can relate to.  Considering how vital communications is to development impact then, when it comes to monitoring and evaluating our work, are we doing enough to understand... Read full article
  6. 6

    Editing in a think tank: a challenge and a way out

    Editing involves performing checks and corrections of various aspects of a document, ranging from grammar and spelling, construction, typography, readability, factual accuracy, etc., to taking a more detailed approach by restructuring content for a coherent logical flow. In other words, editing... Read full article
  7. 7

    Five ways to be successful in long-form: Examples to inspire think tanks and research organisations

    For us comms types, the world of digital long-form publishing feels like a veritable playground. The PDF dims in comparison to parallax scrolling, looped background videos and interactive maps. But publishing successfully in digital long-form means choosing a topic that truly suits the... Read full article
  8. 8

    Understanding policy problems and their implications in your research decisions

    In our previous articles we have covered different aspects of the design, validation and development of a research agenda. One may have broad topics and focus areas in your agenda to guide the organisation in the middle and long term, but within this agenda, how can one choose a specific... Read full article
  9. 9

    Drafting and validating your research agenda

    In the second article of this series we put forward seven principles for policy relevant research identified in existing literature and through practice. In this article we focus on the second principle: a policy relevant research agenda should be internally and externally validated. Once... Read full article
  10. 10

    Beyond the artifact: rethinking the research output

    Many interventions to increase research impact have received a lot of attention recently, including: Liberating research from PDFs; Changing the writing style from one that is targeted solely at researchers to other audiences; Using a variety of techniques to make a research output more... Read full article
  11. 11

    The role of narrative change in influencing policy

    ‘Narrative change’ seems to be a catch-phrase at present. A number of foundations – including the Open Society Foundations - have engaged in narrative change work and a number of donors have funded narrative change projects. Hardly a conversation or meeting happens without the term... Read full article
  12. 12

    Linking research and policy: thinktankers as boundary workers

    We discussed the concept of a boundary worker in a series of posts about the often used supply-and-demand of research model for supporting research uptake. At the time, the Knowledge Sector Initiative in Indonesia had structured itself along those lines: supply of research (focusing on think... Read full article
  13. 13

    What does it mean to be influential? The Institute for Fiscal Studies

    Last year, Semana Económica, a Peruvian magazine, asked me to write a short article on what it meant to be an influential think tank -as part of a series of opinion pieces on their most recent power survey. This is not as straight forward as one might think. Being influential isn't a... Read full article
  14. 14

    Do not dumb down you audience –or rather, how should think tanks affect policy chance?

    How should think tanks influence policy? In a manner that strengthens other institutions and does not weaken them. Read full article
  15. 15

    Using digital communications to connect at a human level for maximum impact

    In this post, Florencia Durón, from Mexican think tank CIEP, offers sounds advice on how to introduce a human touch to a think tank's digital communications strategy. Her advice is based on CIEP's experience -and the have numbers to back it up. Read full article
  16. 16

    Insights into the relationship between think tanks and policymakers

    CSTEP, in India, has published the 4th edition of their Aditi Bulletin. Aditi deals with a number of interesting issues related to think tanks from the perspective of the South Asian region. It also offers an interesting effort from a research centre in a developing country to study think tanks and their environment -something that On Think Tanks has always advocated for. Read full article
  17. 17

    Thinking strategically to ‘Catch’ the Media’s Attention

    Arushi Sen writes about CSTEP's experience working with the media in India. She argues that the media is a political and economic player and that a think tank's strategy towards it must take this into account. Read full article
  18. 18

    Visualising data: both a science and an art

    Data visualisation is both an art and a science. What's more, it requires many different skills to get right, and prioritising just one or two of these skills over the others is disingenuous at best. What we need to be talking about is building a comprehensive set of skills – whether they lie in one person or across teams – including research, technology, design and communication. Read full article
  19. 19

    Bill Dugan of the World Resources Institute

    Bill Dugan is WRI’s Visual Communications Manager at the World Resources Institute, USA, and also the winner of the second round of the On Think Tanks Data Visualisation competition. We discussed their inspiration and experience creating the winning piece. Visualising the Past, Present and Future of Carbon Emissions, an interactive visualisation by Bill Dugan is an innovative concept that had big impact. We spoke to Bill about his team’s inspiration for the graphic and his advice for anyone else looking to use interactive visuals to tell a story. Read full article
  20. 20

    The On Think Tanks interview: Eric Barrett of JumpStart Georgia

    Don’t limit HER possibilities, a static visualization by Eric Barrett at JumpStart Georgia, won round the judges with its original use of photography and creative manner of telling the story about STEM education for girls in Georgia. We wanted to unpack Eric’s motivation for the graphic, the origins behind its unusual style and some of the challenges they faced during the process. Read full article
  21. 21

    An initiative model for a plural think tank: a space of policy ideas

    What can plural think tanks do when faced with a highly political and ideologically charged issues? They cannot fully commit to a single policy option when some of their own researchers are fiercely against it. This kind of internal opposition can even kill great ideas. This blog post puts forward a new approach for plural think tanks. It argues that it is possible to be the source of a solution even if this solution has been developed elsewhere. Creating the space for debate is a function that needs to be given more attention to. Read full article
  22. 22

    Audience Development: Can we have a meeting to discuss the dissemination of my research report?

    Clair Grant-Salmon, at IIED, writes about audience development, what it is and what it can do for a think tank. It highlights that rather than focusing on frameworks and tools to make decisions, centres need conversations between people to make the best possible decision. Read full article
  23. 23

    The challenge of communicating with different actors: is segmentation a good investment for think tanks?

    Vanesa Weyrauch writes about segmenting audiences: if think tanks audiences are different should think tanks not have different communication approaches for each one of them? She reports on a study conducted with ASIES, in Guatemala, and provides some conceptual and practical advice. Read full article
  24. 24

    Wonkcomms teams and skill sets: what does the future hold?

    After setting the scene on the future of think tank communications in our first event this April, the last three WonkComms events have considered the ‘why’, ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘where’ of think tank communications. This event turned its attention to ‘who’ – the... Read full article
  25. 25

    Data visualisation: A pen and cantaloupe may be enough

    The other week I had the good fortune of participating in an excellent meeting in Prague hosted by the Open Society Foundations: Policy Research, Technology and Advocacy Event @ the Hub. The event was designed to bring experts together from across Central and Eastern European think tanks to... Read full article
  26. 26

    Taking think tank communications to the next level: Determining what goes where (Part 1)

     A “commsversation” between Jeff Knezovich, Melissa Julian and the communications team at ECDPM. Unless a think tank is comprised of only one person, it’s unlikely (and perhaps unwise) that each person in a team has exactly the same skill set. In a similar way, various parts of a... Read full article
  27. 27

    Taking think tank communications to the next level: Becoming fit for purpose (Part 3)

    A “commsversation” between Jeff Knezovich, Melissa Julian and the communications team at ECDPM.  In conducting a strategic review of communication activities, it’s important to understand what materials one has to work with, and what one’s niche is as compared to similar... Read full article
  28. 28

    Think tanks and their key audiences: what do they have to say?

    Last month, On Think Tanks organised two communication for think tanks events in Peru. The first one was with GRADE on the future of think tank communications. The second one was organised by IEP and took an interesting approach. We went straight to some of think tanks' key audiences and asked... Read full article
  29. 29

    The future of think tank communications in Peru

    On Monday 12th August, On Think Tanks and GRADE, a think tank based in Lima, held the first conference on the future of think tank communications in Latin America. The panelists were Enrique Mendizabal, of On Think Tanks; Paula Pino, a communicator at GRADE; Hans Rothgiesser, head online... Read full article
  30. 30

    It’s not me, it’s you (understanding the roles of wonk and comms in digital content creation)

    Jonathan Tanner of WonkComms has blogged about its event on research in the digital age. The event explored if there was greater convergence between the worlds of research and communication. There has always been tension between researchers and communicators. The tension between researchers... Read full article
  31. 31

    WonkComms: the future of think tank communications

    Last week I attended an event organised by the Social Market Foundation and hosted by ODI on the future of think tank communications. If you are interested (and you should) you can find the presentations from Richard Darlington(IPPR), Nick Scott (ODI) and John Prideaux (The Economist) here... Read full article
  32. 32

    Promoting density: a few good examples from Britain, the US, and Australia

    A few months ago I wrote about an alternative to the demand, supply and intermediary model: the density model. Crucial to this approach is the development of spaces (virtual or otherwise) in which a lot of high quality information and knowledge is produced and shared. It is in the constant and... Read full article
  33. 33

    The power of the ‘package’ in communicating forestry research

    Packages are powerful. I’m talking about multimedia packages – a variety of digital media content brought together online and used to communicate a particular story. At the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), our multimedia packages have been used to inform... Read full article
  34. 34

    Social media and policy change: good practice from Indonesia

    Social media has changed the way research reaches audiences by making its dissemination easier and quicker to interact with. Has it has the same impact on advocacy? The case of a social media campaign to promote the reform of criminal law in Indonesia, published on Inside Indonesia as part of... Read full article
  35. 35

    Journalism as research

    A problem that emerges every time we take a look at the relationship between the media and research is that researchers can be wary of journalists, as the latter often oversimplifies research because they do not have any sort of investigative or scientific training. Journalists also tend to stay... Read full article
  36. 36

    Communication as Organisation: Implications for Policy Research

    In this post we hope to briefly introduce new ways of thinking about communication and working with it to understand human behavior, social change and policy reform. In particular, the studies on peoples’ self-destructive organisation – as expressed in mass poisoning by pesticides,... Read full article
  37. 37

    Mónica Galilea, CADEP’s former Director of Communications

    The creation of a Communications Unit showed that, besides being a support for the diffusion of content, it could contribute to the task of attracting future projects. Continuing with CIPPEC’s efforts to learn from and share experiences and processes of peer organizations through Bridging... Read full article
  38. 38

    Supporting think tanks to develop their communication capacities: organisations not projects

    Over the last 6 months or so I have been working with four Latin American think tanks helping them to develop or strengthen their organisational communication strategies. The approach taken is based on a review of several recent experiences about which Martine Zeuthen and I wrote back in... Read full article
  39. 39

    Paradox of Hoaxes: How Errors Persist, Even When Corrected

    Here is an interesting challenge that think tanks face on a regular basis -a challenge often created by other think tanks and linked to the fact that think tanks CAN get it wrong. In Paradox of Hoaxes: How Errors Persist, Even When Corrected, Samuel Arbesman argues that: Despite our... Read full article
  40. 40

    The Dilemmas of Budget Advocacy via the Media

    In the Indonesian context, it is no easy task to encourage transparent and publicly accountable expenditure of State budgets directed squarely, as the Constitution requires, at the promotion of public welfare. This has certainly been the experience of the National Secretariat of the Indonesian... Read full article
  41. 41

    ODI’s award-winning online strategy explained

    The ODI digital strategy, which I first outlined in a series of blogs for, was awarded Online Strategy of the Year 2012 at the prestigious Digital Communications Awards, held in Berlin on Friday. ODI beat off competition from over 100 multinational corporations and... Read full article
  42. 42

    The peculiar use of training activities as vehicles for policy research uptake in Serbia

    Capacity building can be both an opportunity for building a network and a vehicle for validating research results. Can it also be designed to help a long-term influence? In this blog we share some of the preliminary findings of our exploration into how the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy... Read full article
  43. 43

    Laura Zommer, Director of Communications at CIPPEC (Part 3 of 3)

    There can’t be effective research without communication Leandro Echt: What is the value of evaluating policy impact from a communications point of view? LZ: The value is quite high. At the same time, it’s also a weak point that many think tanks have. Since we do not have all the... Read full article
  44. 44

    Laura Zommer, Director of Communications at CIPPEC (Part 2 of 3)

    Supposedly a think tank does not produce knowledge for the pleasure of it, but to modify reality and impact on it. With this objective, not investing in communication is a contradiction Leandro Echt: What do you think are the main opportunities that think tanks currently have to transmit their... Read full article
  45. 45

    The People, The Planet, The Can: emerging lessons from policymakers’ perspective

    My journey up until now, since my last post, has been somewhat slow. Other work commitments and not being able to engage with some prospective interviewees has hampered my progress a little. That said, there have been some interesting developments since my last meeting with Enrique... Read full article
  46. 46

    Laura Zommer, Director of Communications at CIPPEC (Part 1 of 3)

    The most complicated thing about communications in a think tank is changing cultures and practices, designing and implementing processes that work and allow overcoming the dichotomy between the seriousness and importance of knowledge and its dissemination. In an effort to keep the knowledge... Read full article
  47. 47

    Public poisoning as ‘communication’ in Ecuador: Lessons from the perpetuation of harmful technology

    To consider the intricate relations between practice, communications, and policy, we will reflect on over a decade of action-research on the use and harmful consequences of highly toxic pesticides in Ecuador. Beginning in the early 1990s, research on this issue focused on potato production in... Read full article
  48. 48

    Civilian control of the military in Serbia

    There are no easy policy changes. Yet, some are more difficult to influence than others. The civil oversight of the military is one of the essential tenets of democracy and perhaps one of the most complex issues in setting up democratic governance anywhere. The Belgrade Centre for Security... Read full article
  49. 49

    The People, The Planet, The Can – The social marketing and re-branding of breastmilk

    South Africa is one of the countries with an ever-increasing infant mortality rate. In fact it is one of the few countries where this has happened. Coutsoudis, Coovadia and King cited in The Lancet that research has shown how infant mortality is on the rise because of the increase in Formula... Read full article
  50. 50

    Middle East education reform think tank project

    Ted Purinton and Amir ElSawy at the American University in Cairo have set up a blog for the project where they will keep us updated of their progress. From their introduction: This blog is a component of a project we are working on regarding the communication challenges that think tanks have... Read full article
  51. 51

    Can think tanks have the cake and eat it too? CIPPEC´s dilemmas in promoting electoral reform in Argentina

    In Argentina, we use the French ballot voting system: each political party prints, distributes and supplies its own ballots during Election Day. The system worked fairly well while there were two main parties of relatively equal in size, territorial outreach and resources. But after the 2001... Read full article
  52. 52

    Communicating complex ideas: a book in progress

    A few months ago I posted a call for proposals for a new edited book on communicating complex ideas. This is an update of the project that is not underway. Over the next few of days I'll publish the posts that the authors have written as an introduction to their chapters: From... Read full article
  53. 53

    Add salt to your communications strategy

    Think tanks and research programmes are increasingly turning to the web as a channel of communication. They are setting up blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and signing up to as many social networks as they can in the hopes of reaching hundreds or thousands of readers. But how likely is... Read full article
  54. 54

    Twitter and think tanks in the UK

    Michael Harris from New Think Tank has posted and interesting analysis on the use (or not) of twitter by think tanks in the UK. There are also some interesting comments made to the post it self that are worth having a look. His basic argument is that think tanks are missing an opportunity:... Read full article
  55. 55

    Not evidence but arguments: translating evidence into policy in Ecuador

    Orazio Bellettini and Andrea Ordonez, from Grupo FARO, have published a paper on translating evidence into policy in Ecuador drawing from two policy debates: Fighting Political Clientelism at Social Pograms; and the Yasuni ITT Initiative Proposal. The Yasuni initiative provides an... Read full article
  56. 56

    Responding to digital disruption of traditional communications: ‘reusing the wheel’

    In earlier blogs, I’ve discussed one of the biggest challenges for think tanks in using the Internet: the amount of information out there that is competing for attention. As well as being a challenge, however, this also offers an opportunity. For it is this mass of content – and the tools... Read full article
  57. 57

    How to influence difficult publics? Lessons from the Chilean media

    In any planning process, a significant proportion of the effort is dedicated towards developing influencing strategies for the most difficult publics. If you were using a tool like the Alignment, Interest and Influence Matrix (AIIM), this would be the actors in the Not Aligned but Interested... Read full article
  58. 58

    Observations: The line between science and journalism is getting blurry….again

    I should be going bed now but could not wait until tomorrow morning to post this fantastic article by Bora Zivkovic about the history of science and journalism told through the lens of the development of new media -Observations: The line between science and journalism is getting... Read full article