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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

    Setting up a think tank: lessons from Timor-Leste (Part 1: context matters)

    In 2017, the Asia Foundation asked On Think Tanks to assess the prospects for establishing a Public Policy Institute (PPI) in Timor-Leste. Such an Institute would build on work carried out by the Policy Leaders Group (PLG), an informal group of reform-minded individuals, supported by the... Read full article
  2. 2

    Setting up a think tank: lessons from Timor-Leste (Part 2: alternative institutional structures)

    The first article in this series highlighted some aspects of the local context that were important in designing a new think tank for Timor-Leste. The balance between “in house” and “external” expertise seemed particularly important for Timor-Leste, but the strengths and weaknesses of... Read full article
  3. 3

    Setting up a think tank: lessons from Timor-Leste (Part 3: what is the best model?)

    It depends … on the local context. That’s where we started our work (and this article): with the research, evidence and policy environment in Timor-Leste. In the Timorese context, our conclusion, based on wider international experience and our understanding of the local context was that... Read full article
  4. 4

    Why think tanks?

    The RSA's mission is “to enrich society through ideas and action”. This mission is based on the belief that all humans have “creative capacities that, when understood and supported, can be mobilised to deliver a 21st century enlightenment”. Much of RSA’s work is focused logically on... Read full article
  5. 5

    MineduLAB: Innovation for the improvement of educational policy

    Despite its short existence, MineduLAB has convened prestigious policy makers and academics nationally and internationally, and involved the Ministry of Education's implementing areas, in an innovation initiative from within the public sector. With 10 innovations in the portfolio, MineduLAB... Read full article
  6. 6

    Think Tanks and Tax Status: A note on the 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 Tax Categories

    In order to understand the activities of US non-governmental organizations, it is helpful to take a look at the US tax code. The tax status of a non-governmental organization helps to define its character. This is because this status defines legal parameters and creates public... Read full article
  7. 7

    Setting up a think tank: step by step

    Over the years we have been asked for advice on setting up a new think tank by wannabe leaders and supporters. This post outlines some steps (or considerations) based on the advice we have offered and what appear to be critical concerns for new think tanks. This is not an exhaustive list and it is clearly biased towards a particular type of policy oriented political think tank -one that we think is missing in most developing countries. Still, we hope it provides useful food for thought. Read full article
  8. 8

    Think tank business models: Are think tanks a distinctive organisation type?

    This second post on business models continues the exploration of the conceptual terrain, this time by developing a series of points about the ‘type’ of organisation that a think tank represents along a spectrum of organisations. Read full article
  9. 9

    Think tank business models: The business of academia and politics

    In the first of two blog postings, I broadly map out the chief operational urgencies that think tanks/policy research institutes encounter in their efforts to shape political and policy discourses using informed analysis. Since this series is largely an exploration of a set of key... Read full article
  10. 10

    How does a think tank policy come about? Lessons from China

    In China think tanks are experiencing something of a Golden Age (at least if we consider the number of think tanks founded in the last few years and the support from the Party and the Government for their development). Unlike most other parts of the world, China has a think tank... Read full article
  11. 11

    Think Tanks in China: A Golden Age?

    According to many Chinese scholars at an event co-orgnised by the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA) and the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University in Beijing, think tanks in China are enjoying of a Golden Age. Since President Xi Jinxing called, in... Read full article
  12. 12

    What makes a great city for think tanks?

    What makes a city attract think tanks and encourage their formation? Is being close to centres of government a necessary condition? Bangalore, in India, offers an excellent case to study the factors that encourage think tank formation and development. Read full article
  13. 13

    How to break through the glass ceiling: supporting a new generation of think tanks and thinktankers

    In this post, part of a series based on interviews and visits in Kenya, I share two possible ways for international funders to support the emergence of new thinktankers and think tanks in developing countries. Read full article
  14. 14

    Gilles Yabi from West Africa Citizen Think Tank

    Gilles Yabi, founder of West Africa Citizen Think Talk, talks about his personal and professional motivations for setting up this new think tank. The interview also discusses the main problems that countries from Francophone Africa face in formulating effective public policy, and the role think tanks can play in this process. Read full article
  15. 15

    Unravelling the business models of think tanks in Latin America and Indonesia

    The business model is an essential part of think tanks sustainability. In this post Ashari Cahyo Edi and Leandro Echt, outline a research project aimed at understanding what are the key aspects that characterise effective business models in think tanks in Indonesia and Latin America. Read full article
  16. 16

    New offices for CGD: food for thought

    You may or may not be surprised, based on how much you follow this blog, by my choice of a quote from Lawrence MacDonald's post on CGD's move: While we will increase our floor space by half, to 33,000 sq. ft., we won’t be much bigger in terms of the number of offices (about 30) or open-space... Read full article
  17. 17

    For-profit think tanks and implications for funders

    Last week I visited a few think tanks in Hungary and Slovakia. The Think Tank Fund hosted a few think tankers from around the world for a meeting and took Ben Davies from AusAID's KSI and myself to visit a few of their grantees. The visits and the conversations with the think tanks have... Read full article
  18. 18

    Calls for new national think tanks in Africa: one or many?

    In the last few months there have been a few calls for the formation of new national think tanks in Africa: In Ghana: Professor Stephen Adei, former Rector of the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), has called for the creation of a patriotic, committed national... Read full article
  19. 19

    Educate the public: a forgotten function for think tanks?

    Donors and think tanks in the developing world are busy trying to find ways to measure their contribution to policy changes. Some are even going as far as claiming a direct role in the well-being changes observed in the populations targeted that by the policies they helped to inform. But a... Read full article
  20. 20

    From non-renewable resources to unlimited knowledge

    Developing countries often have more natural resources than they know what to do with. The resources course is still a popular subject for books and essays in the development industry. Decades of work on the subject and still very little has been done to avoid it. Here is a solution: Make the... Read full article
  21. 21

    A Zambian think tank start-up: a possible model

    This is the second in a series of blog posts on Zambia that I plan to write about this week. Think tank start-ups follow a number of different paths. Zambia offers a couple of interesting examples of how to and not to do it. First is the more common path of the traditionally academic and... Read full article
  22. 22

    Zambia is the place to be for new ideas on think tanks

    This week I want to write about think tanks in Zambia where very interesting new developments are taking place. This first post introduces a new and promising think tank and explains its origins in a bold donor and an enlightened political leadership. A new think tank In February I returned to... Read full article
  23. 23

    Advice to Think Tank Startup: do not do it alone

    Recently I was in touch with a former colleague who is setting up a think tank after successful service in government.  He said that the idea behind his new think tank was “to do public policy analysis and research and to provide expertise and advice to the Government as well as to reach... Read full article
  24. 24

    Digital think tanks

    I have been asked to present and facilitate a session on digital think tanks at the Think Tank Initiative's global exchange in Cape Town next week. Nick Scott, Peter da Costa and Vaqar Ahmed will be co-facilitating. We will all try to write about our session and share our experience with you... Read full article
  25. 25

    Competition on ideas? money? people? influence? names?

    The marketplace of ideas is a powerful metaphor. It promotes the illusion that is a market (with buyers, sellers, and intermediaries) and that what is being traded are ideas (that, in the case of think tanks come from research). But is this so? I've spent the last couple of weeks in The... Read full article
  26. 26

    Is religion a ‘no no’ for think tanks?

    The Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) is a very interesting think tank. It does not just talk about evidence but also about faith. Its mission statement is: To foster from a faith-inspired perspective a critical understanding of current issues. Guided by the Church's Social... Read full article
  27. 27

    Got resources? Think tank them

    The natural resources curse is well-known by now. Countries with lots of mineral (or almost any other natural resource) wealth often find themselves cruising down the roads of corruption, violence and underdevelopment. It is as if they were dismissing all the warnings on the side of the road:... Read full article