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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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Rethinking organisational development

This ongoing series of articles aims to challenge mainstream organisational development discourse by acknowledging the complex reality of everyday organisational life, and by taking the author's own experience seriously. The series is authored and edited by Ajoy Datta, director of programmes at On Think Tanks.
  1. 1

    Rethinking organisational development: an OTT series

    The global development sector has long been fixated with how (progressive) change happens and how to facilitate it, especially amongst underserved populations. Most approaches today challenge the idea of a universal blueprint or step-by-step guide to change. See for example Duncan Green’s... Read full article
  2. 2

    Organisational Development: more of an art than a science?

    Think tank managers are often thinking about how they might change or improve their organisation by bringing in the help of a consultant with expertise in Organisational Development (OD). But is this always the best solution? In this article I discuss a number of assumptions about organisational... Read full article
  3. 3

    Strategic planning: it’s just as much about the present as the future

    Over the last seven years, I’ve been involved in numerous workshops helping think tanks do strategic planning for policy engagement. But I’ve found that, after the workshop, it’s not uncommon for plans to be left on the shelf to gather dust. In short, staff go back to grappling with the... Read full article
  4. 4

    Ten lessons from facilitating strategy with think tanks and policy teams

    A lot of effort goes into developing strategic plans in think tanks and government institutions as means to bring about change. However, in a previous post, I argued that once developed it’s not uncommon for plans to be left on the shelf to gather dust. I went on to say that if organisations... Read full article
  5. 5

    Lacking in ‘capacity’? Why workshopping isn’t always the (whole) answer!

    In the Summer of 2005, I can remember watching a report during the evening news on the state run national broadcaster in Zambia on the implementation of the first round of Global Fund funding which aimed to ‘develop capacities’ in the fight against HIV&AIDS. Scene after scene of... Read full article
  6. 6

    Supporting think tanks series: Developing capacities in complex environments -experiences from Vietnam

    Background This think piece focuses on lessons from the implementation of a relatively large (USD500,000) project funded by an international development organisation between 2009 and 2011, to provide capacity development services to the Vietnamese Academy of Social Science (VASS). VASS is a... Read full article
  7. 7

    Taking complexity seriously: helping officials to use evidence more skilfully in the Zimbabwean government

    Evidence can be used as a resource by government officials (both ministers and civil servants) in an environment which is usually characterized by debate, competition and persuasion, says Paul Cairney, Professor of Politics and Public Policy, University of Stirling, in the Politics of... Read full article
  8. 8

    Learning to live with one another: lessons from an interdisciplinary research project

    The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), has a budget of £1.5bn over five years and aims to (amongst other things) promote interdisciplinary research. However, as Felicity Callard and Des Fitzgerald say, although everyone wants to do interdisciplinary research, no one quite knows how.... Read full article
  9. 9

    Getting better at influencing policy is a social process: lessons from work with an international agency

    More and more organisations are putting an increasing emphasis on influencing policy (and not just delivering services). Staff working for these organisations are now expected to acquire new skills and abilities to make this a reality. At the same time policy influencing appears to have been... Read full article
  10. 10

    Helping emerging think tank managers to improve their practice with the OTT-TTI Fellowship

    Together with colleagues at OTT, I’m coordinating the 2018/19 Fellowship. This year it’s being run in partnership with the Think Tank Initiative. The Fellowship is for emerging think tank managers and young leaders. Just Google ‘leadership course’ and you’ll find a plethora of... Read full article
  11. 11

    Letting the light in: how think tanks can be more nourishing places to work

     Work is love made visible Kahlil Gibran Many thinktankers will find their work hugely satisfying. And equally, think tanks can be hugely fulfilling places to work as individuals get to grow their skills, be curious, gain recognition and be part of a close-knit community. However, think... Read full article
  12. 12

    In charge but not in control: Lessons from leading teams in a networked world

    In the last couple of years, I’ve been fortunate enough to lead teams to deliver complex assignments. The teams I’ve managed have ranged between five and ten people in size, some of whom I had not worked with before. Working in the international development sector has meant that most... Read full article
  13. 13

    Racism in think tanks — how and why it manifests and what we might do to address it

    The Overseas Development Institute published a piece on racism in the international development sector and how to address it. However, there was very little on how racism manifests in the sector in practical terms. In this article, I’m going to fill that gap and suggest what we might do to... Read full article
  14. 14

    What do people really mean when they talk about organisational culture?

    Culture is an intangible and abstract concept. Nonetheless, people have tried to develop tools to measure, assess and try to change organisational culture as if it were tangible and concrete. The danger of treating organisational culture in this way is that it reduces the tremendous complexity... Read full article
  15. 15

    Are you a troublemaker?

    When employees in an organisation experience difficulty, one tends to individualise the case and see those individuals as difficult and/or troublesome. But drawing on the systems-psychodynamics approach pioneered by the Tavistock Institute and this article by Anton Obholzer and Vega Zagier... Read full article
  16. 16

    What shapes the authority and power of leaders and their followers?

    Drawing on open systems theory and unconscious group processes, I’d like to highlight four factors that shape the authority and power of leaders and followers as they take up their role in an organisation. They are: The primary task; Boundaries and their regulation; Group dynamics;... Read full article
  17. 17

    The merits and drawbacks of working in a networked organisation

    Until recently, I was an associate with On Think Tanks (OTT); like many other associates, I was neither a sole trader operating in a free market, nor a salaried employee working in a conventional hierarchical organisation, but somewhere in the middle. Moreover, OTT, whose founder and director is... Read full article
  18. 18

    Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s organisational effectiveness …

    US foundations give away billions of dollars a year to improve human development around the world. Most of the money goes to organisations, which in turn make efforts to bring about change among key populations. For that money to be spent well, organisations need to be well organised and... Read full article
  19. 19

    How are funders supporting development organisations to be more effective?

    In my last post, I described what an organisation is and how it might be made more effective, drawing on three schools of thought. In this post, I describe what funders are doing to improve organisational effectiveness (among their grantees), drawing on a recent OTT paper. Many organisations... Read full article
  20. 20

    How and how well do organisations learn?

    There’s a lot of emphasis on being a learning organisation nowadays. But how and how well do organisations learn in practice? Based on my experience of consulting to funding organisations in Europe and North America, I draw insights on 1) how staff understand learning and what opportunities... Read full article