A few months ago I asked several researchers and practitioners to put together a series of think pieces relating to their own experience in working with and supporting think tanks. The motivation for this request was the opportunity to inform the evaluation of a couple of pilots that AusAid had implemented in Indonesia and that were intended to inform their much larger Knowledge Sector Initiative.
From the beginning, we agreed that this kind of advice ought be provided in public so that others may benefit from it, too. Therefore, beginning next week and over the next couple of weeks I will be publishing the think pieces as well as a synthesis (in parts). They include:
- Goran Buldioski: Lessons from the Think Tank Fund in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union on core and institutional support for organisational development.
- Hans Gutbrod: Lessons from Eastern Europe on the need for reliable data and the opportunity this presents for think tanks.
- Ajoy Datta: Lessons from a long term organisational development project in Vietnam.
- Stephen Yeo: Economic policy research institutes in Sub-Saharan Africa and the challenge to develop local policy research capacity.
- A Policy Analyst working in the Select Committee Office in the UK Parliament: A discussion of the challenges faced by a public think tank working with and across all political parties in the UK.
But if anyone would like to add their views to this discussion I invite you to send your own (in the same format, please) and contribute to our understanding of how to support think tanks in developing countries.
[Additional content added]
- A post by Julie LaFrance, Senior Program Specialist of the Think Tank Initiative, and Valerie Traore, Executive Director of NIYEL, has been added to the series: Lessons from TTI’s Policy Engagement and Communications program in Francophone West Africa.
As a preview I would like to point your attention to the following key points:
The think pieces offer interesting insights into the question of context. Yes, it matters, but why, how, and what does this mean for interventions to develop the research, policy analysis, and policymaking capacity of developing countries?
The think pieces identify at least six key aspects of the context that should appear high in any assessment and monitoring effort:
- Culture: It is not hard to say that there are ‘cultural factors’ that should be taken into account. But to really understand them it is sometimes necessary to experience them.
- Politics: It is not possible to avoid politics. This is particularly true for researchers within the civil service who need to do their best to remain ‘political party neutral’. To be neutral they need to be specially aware of politics and certainly be as politically savvy as any politician.
- The labour market: A critical determinant of the success of any intervention is the availability of skilled researchers, managers and communicators. The labour market of experts should be included in any intervention -it cannot remain as an external factor.
- Information: Next to human resources the availability of data is crucial.
- Donor/grantee interests: Grantees and donors have their own interests and these are not always the same. Assuming that both want the same outcome would be naive.
- Donor–grantee relationships: Being honest, objective, and critical about the relationship emerges as a key lesson. And this involves being honest, objective, and critical about the culture and politics of all those involved.
I hope you find these are interesting as I have.
An additional disclaimer:
The views expressed in these publications are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Commonwealth of Australia. The Commonwealth of Australia accepts no responsibility for any Loss, damage or injury resulting from reliance on any of the information or views contained in this publication.