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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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Think tanks and communications

When thinking about communications, we advise think tanks to introduce their ideas into the public agenda and keep them there for as long as possible, maximising their chances of being present whenever a window of opportunity opens. This requires organisations to use communication channels and tools in synergy. To explain how do this effectively (and efficiently) we borrowed a concept from music and created the series "Communications as an Orchestra." The first part of this new communications series focuses on developing a communications strategy, bringing together opinions and advice from experts in the think tank communications field. The articles offer different views and approaches on how to communicate research, the different research outputs, and how communications are evolving.
  1. 1

    A permanent revolution in think tank communications

    Communications is not just about content. It’s about relationships. It’s about values. It’s about timing. The digital think tank Those of us who work in think tank communications have been slightly obsessed over the last few years with going “digital first”. Mike Connery’s... Read full article
  2. 2

    Communications for policymaking organisations: an interview with Anya Pearson, Sophie Hall, and Tom Hampson from Soapbox

    Soapbox is a policy communications agency based in London. Founded in 2008, their experience spans projects including publication design, branding, animation and film, and research and strategy for over 150 clients. Their team is composed of designers, filmmakers, developers, communications... Read full article
  3. 3

    Think tanks, communication, and impact

    Francesc Quintana has developed a model to monitor the impact of think tanks: A Tracking Outcome System, understood as part of the internal self-learning process by which a Think Tank defines its mission and goals, internal organisation, resources provision and allocation, communication plan and action plan. In this post he outlines the model and describes how it may be put into practice. Read full article
  4. 4

    Setting up a communications team for a Think Tank: The case of CSTEP

    When I joined the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP) as the Head of the Communication and Policy Engagement (CPE) team, I had a fairly limited idea of what my role would entail. However, since the organisation was still young and focused on research activities, building a... Read full article
  5. 5

    Rethinking how research is communicated: two cases from Cameroon

    This post was written by Sandrine Ebakisse, a knowledge manager by profession. She carried out this analysis with a research grant from the Communications Division of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). In it she reflects on the strategies of two policy research organisations working in Cameroon's forestry sector. Read full article
  6. 6

    Communicating results – the Managing Think Tanks Series

    In this blog we have put much importance on communicating research, findings and results as a part of the policy influencing (and research making) process. It does not do much good when, even when having high quality research, you cannot make said work reach your intended audience. This... Read full article
  7. 7

    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
The second part of this series focuses on strategic tools for think tank communications, including audience mapping, digital tools, design, writing better copy, video, animation, data vis, events and the media. The series concludes with advice on how to assess your research communications impact.
  1. 8

    Selecting different ways to reach audiences: a strategically ongoing effort

    In this third post in the series on audience segmentation and development Vanesa Weyrauch offers some practical advice on which communication tools may work best for some of the main think tank audiences. Read full article
  2. 9

    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
  3. 10

    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
  4. 11

    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
  5. 12

    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
  6. 13

    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
  7. 14

    Websites are like dinosaurs, only they’re alive!

    I recently saw a presentation by Vox Media director Lauren Rabaino that started like this: Lauren’s argument went something like this: Our audience is on social media networks. They talk about the topics that interest them. If we want them to listen to us, we have to create brands... Read full article
  8. 15

    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
  9. 16

    It is all about content… but looks kind of matter

    At one point or another in their career, most graphic designers have experienced the pressure of having to do a “quick design.” This ask might have come from a manager, a client or an in-house copyeditor. Design is often the last piece of the puzzle. This isn’t necessarily wrong, but what... Read full article
  10. 17

    Producing the OTT 2016 annual report

    A few years ago I worked for a small design studio in Perú where we edited and designed over 20 annual reports for a range of institutions, including government agencies. One thing I learned from this experience: there can never be, and will never be, enough planning. At the start of the... Read full article
  11. 18

    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. 19

    Six things to know about making an effective fundraising video

    Having worked with and advised many think tanks and non-profits on how to most effectively use video to achieve their organizational goals, I’m often asked about using video for fundraising purposes. It’s no secret that moving images are a powerful way to spark emotions that can lead viewers... Read full article
  13. 20

    Animations: A how-to guide for think tanks

    Are animations something you’ve wanted to try in your organisation for a while, but have been unsure how to approach? No two projects are ever the same, but working as an animation producer at Soapbox, a busy design studio in London, has given me insights that I wanted to write up as a... Read full article
  14. 21

    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
  15. 22

    How to produce a public event

    Public events are an excellent communication and convening tool for think tanks but few use them to their full potential. This post outlines some advice on how to produce an event for impact. It argues that events can be cheap and entertaining -for speakers and audiences alike- but they have to be produced more carefully. Read full article
  16. 23

    Public events where policy arguments take center stage: Batalla de Ideas

    New forms of public policy debate can be entertaining, inclusive and enlightening. Think tanks ought to consider different ways of encouraging a wider and deeper discussion between experts and the public. Batalla de Ideas in Peru, offers some lessons. Read full article
  17. 24

    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. 25

    How on earth do you measure the impact of your events?

    Caroline Cassidy writes about a novel approach to measuring the impact of public events. The post provides practical advice on how to design and use M&E tools for events. She argues that since not all events have the same objectives, not all events should be evaluated using the same indicators. Read full article
  19. 26

    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