February 24, 2015

Opinion

The Think Tank Initiative’s Global Exchange 2015: an annotated guide

The #TTIX2015 takes place between the 18th – 20th February 2015 in Istanbul. It will bring together thinktankers from across the world and it promises to be a great opportunity to learn about their experiences and challenges. The TTI has set up a page for the event where details of the schedule and proceedings will be shared; and there you’ll have a chance to engage with the participants.

You can, of course, follow: #TTIX2015 to keep informed of the latest presentations and discussions as well as this blog post that will be updated as frequent as possible. Here are some highlights of the ‘call to arms’:

 

This is On Think Tanks’ own page for the event and will be updated as the week progresses.

If you want to share your views via On Think Tanks please do not hesitate to contact us: enrique@mendizabal.co.uk, @onthintanks or simply comment below. Send us videos, pictures, Storify stories, papers, presentations, anything you’d like us to share for you. 

Last time they all met was in Cape Town in 2012. Here are a few posts we wrote and videos we shared about that event:

The think tanks

To set the scene, the TTI has published two infographics. The first one focuses on who the think tanks involved in the initiative are.(Unfortunately, the link is now broken).

And you can find more information about each think tank on the TTI’s own website: The think tanks.

 

The Programme

The programme promises to cover a number of very interesting topics, including: research quality, collaboration, the role of think tanks in elections, etc. Below are some resources that can help you navigate the agenda. For more: go to the On Think Tanks Topic Pages.

Briefly, then:

Wednesday 18th: The focus is on research quality -although a parallel session on Thursday looks into this, too. Here are some interesting resources that could help and inspire an interesting conversation:

The first plenary session addressed the issue of research quality. A recurring topic had to do with the definition of quality. Does it have to do with relevance, interest, usefulness?

 

After a brief presentation participants were asked to pitch in. The discussion identify a number of issues that can explain research quality including: skills, resources, accessibility of data, and a health competition with checks and balances to create incentives to pay attention to quality.

 

 

There is a plenary session on what policymakers think of research:

Thinking about update got me thinking of a post that has got a few views recently: Who is responsible for think tank influence? Can think tanks claim influence?

There were many great pearls of knowledge shared by the panelists: policymakers from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Here are some that I captured:

 

This must be the best pearl of the morning:

 

There is a parallel session on impact evaluation methods which reminds of an excellent debate hosted by Duncan Green:

The parallel session on quality assurance mechanisms (on Thursday) includes a session on collaboration (see below).

In the evening there is a brief discussion on the role of think tanks in the Middle East. These resources could help:

Thursday 19th: The focus is on outreach and influence. On outreach and influence, here are some resources:

The plenary session started with a series of films showing how think tanks had influence policy. The anti-tobacco campaign by CRES in Senegal demonstrates an important point to be made: evidence is just part of the equation. As Richard Darlington put it:

 

You can watch to CRES movie:

What happens to videos? They can be a very effective way of communicating. At On Think Tanks we have written quite a bit on them. Have a look at these guides from Caroline Cassidy and others, for instance:

But a question I always ask is who watches these videos? Are they value for money communication tools? A think tank in Pakistan, SDPI has developed a possible solution for the videos produced by think tanks: develop a video channel for think tank videos.

 

On think tanks and elections (I’ll be moderating this session):

The session on elections was hard to tweet about. But you can view the presentation here:

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 12.05.33

There is a session on data visualisation:

Goran Buldioski Tweeted:

And here is Andrej Nosko’s presentation are worth thinking about:

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Richard Darlington offered some excellent #datavis advice, too:

You can read more about collaboration, the topic of another parallel session, here:

Vanesa Weyrauch facilitated this session. We heard about collaborations between think tanks, between researchers, and even between communicators. I’ll use two of Richard Darlington Tweets as a sample:

Friday 20th: Closing and a discussion on the TTI evaluation. Something on the TTI evaluation could be found here:

There is also space on Friday to discuss a number of topics -via an Open Space session. If I may, I think that there are a few issues that appear to be absent from such an important gathering (of course, I know it is not possible to cover everything) and that could be discussed in this session:

    • Transparency: Last year saw the publication of the first report of Transparify. In fact,the #TTIX2015 will coincide with the launch of its second report on the 17th February (stay tuned for its launch). On Think Tanks took on the challenge to review the TTI grantees (and others). And as Orazio Bellettini argued in a post: this is not just the latest fad -it is a fundamental issue and it is here to stay. Think tanks are not the only responsible ones, though; their donors could do a lot more, too.
    • (Domestic) Funding: This is related to Transparency, of course. Funding relates, as well, to the exit strategy of the TTI itself. This second exchange comes about 5 years after the TTI was launched. This is the second year of the second phase of the programme. When this is done, most of the think tanks involved will have been supported for 8 years. Quite a few, in fact, through a combination of TTI and past IDRC and DFID funding (two of the funders of the initiative) will have been supported for around two decades. Foreign funding of think tanks posses a number of challenges -some political, other technical, other just practical. To prosper, in the future, think tanks will have to find alternative, domestic, sources of funding. This series of posts on life after core funding by Gjergji Vurmo is one of the best things published on On Think Tanks last year.

Funding also relates to business or funding models for think tanks. Vanesa Weyrauch at Politics and Ideas has been working on this topic.

    • Future leaders: In the past, TTI events (the global exchange and smaller ones) have involved at least two participants from each think tank: the director and often the head of research. Events like these are a great opportunity to introduce young bright policy entrepreneurs to the community of think tank leaders. A few of the think tanks in the TTI network have gone through and other are facing difficult transition processes. As is often the case, think tanks (and research communities) are rather good at breeding researchers but don’t excel at breeding think tank directors: researcher-communication-manager all-rounder. This is not an easy profile to find. The #TTIX2015 would be a perfect introduction to an intensive-executive-Master in Think Tank Administration for any prospective future think tank leader. (Or they can join the School of Thinktankers.)

Who else to follow?

Besides the official site, check out the following for more information, insights, analysis and advice -on the #TTIX2015 and related issues:

About the author:

Enrique Mendizabal:  Founder, On Think Tanks

Read more from: Enrique Mendizabal

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