[Editor’s note: This post has been written by Gala Díaz Langou and Carolina Aulicino, from CIPPEC. There has been a slight backlash against new websites among some international development funders -who fund most of the work of think tanks in developing countries. Think tanks themselves often prefer to publish their work through own branded and structured channels rather than set up new stand-alone sites -and this makes a lot of sense. But think tanks are changing. The idea that a think tank has to be a legally established organisation is becoming a thing of a past (or will soon start to) and the label is being used (again, as this is how the label was used in the beginning) to describe transitory (or pop-up) initiatives, often digital initiatives. CIPPEC, a think tank in Argentina, provides an excellent example of what could be labeled a “pop-up think tank” and how new websites may provide high value for money.]
Early childhood is the most important phase in emotional, physical and intellectual development. In Argentina, children are especially vulnerable in their early childhood: 25% of children under 4 years old are poor. In order to contribute to the reversion of this situation, CIPPEC has prioritised the advocacy for an integral strategy for early childhood. The project “Early Childhood in Agenda” was launched in 2014 (with prior fundraising in 2013), aimed at installing in the public debate the problem of early childhood and at promoting an integral approach from the policy system.
Why a stand-alone policy oriented website?
The project’s advocacy strategy involved different activities in three levels:
- Firstly, direct advocacy with presidential candidates and their teams (read about CIPPEC’s efforts to influence presidential elections). Throughout 2014 we held several meeting with all relevant presidential candidates and their teams, in order to highlight the importance of the issue and put forth some of CIPPEC’s proposals.
- Secondly, we formed alliances with actors involved in different aspects of the decision-making process of early childhood policies. This involved a very wide range of actors, including, for instance, the Argentine Paediatrics Association and international organisations such as UNICEF.
- Thirdly, we also aspired to put the issue in the centre of the public agenda. In order to do so, we recently launched the “Early Childhood in Agenda” website (only available in Spanish) with a press release.
The website was designed to fulfil an ever-growing need of the project: to publish and make available all the information with which we worked. This included statistics of the situation of children in Argentina (and their parents), a map of public policies and public investment of the national level, and a section with relevant documents, videos and other material (both national and international).
The website is directed, mainly, to public officers and experts that work on early childhood. The policy community on early childhood is very fragmented in Argentina, depending on the sector in which they work (health, education, care, monetary transferences, family leaves, etc.). In this context, the website’s added value is to gather in one place all the information, tools and proposals available, in a user-friendly format.
How was the website built?
Building the website required both in-house resources as well as outsourced services. CIPPEC’s in-house team was composed by five specialists of two policy areas: education and social protection. They provided the content. It also required a full-time coordinator, specialised in early childhood, to organize the team’s work, moderate the exchange of ideas about how the website should be designed, translate them into concrete actions, and supervise the production of contents.
The final result was a blueprint for the website that included four main sections: health and nutrition; leave entitlements and cash transfers, early education and childcare; and institutions. Each section would have information about the same three types of content: the main national policies, relevant statistics and national and international experiences. It would also have a set of public policies proposals on the subject, including an estimation of their cost.
Transforming this blueprint into a website was a task that had to be outsourced. CIPPEC’s team discussed the blueprint with a an organisation called Socio Público (sociopublico.com), that designed the website in permanent contact with the in-house project coordinator (for approximately USD 5.000).
To setup the website and to manage it required us to hire a full-time assistant for three months to go through a huge amount of information regarding national and international experiences, make a rigorous selection and upload them according to a predefined format (for approximately USD 1.100).
On top of these, the contents of the website regarding the public policy proposals, the mapping of national policies and estimating their investment, and the systematisation of relevant statistics was produced and uploaded by CIPPEC’s team, with the supervision of the project coordinator. It took approximately one year to produce all the contents and have them ready to launch the website -although clearly not full-time; this was part of our own work to study the topic and put forward policy proposals.
What has been its impact?
Since it was launched, on the 21st of May 2015, the website has been visited by 1,993 first-time users. It had also had a huge media repercussion: CIPPEC´s team was interviewed in main national radio programmes and the website was mentioned in 12 radios, 16 newspapers, 36 websites and one T.V programme (so far).
This huge media coverage was mainly due to the press release with which the website was launched. The press release highlighted the main social situation indicators the website presented (many of them unpublished).
Finally, policy makers of different government levels have already contacted CIPPEC’s team in order to contribute to the website with new material from their own experiences.
Why is it useful?
We find that the website was a good tool for policy influence for a number of reasons:
- Firstly, it depicts transparency in our research: all our primary sources (both data, and also more conceptual documents and international experiences) are available in the website.
- Secondly, it facilitates equal access to everyone: in large and federal countries such as Argentina, access to information is frequently an important challenge. The web and, particularly, user-friendly websites can help in this aspect.
- Thirdly, it isn’t expensive nor time-consuming. We would have systematised all the data and publications for our research anyway -with or without the website. Putting it together in the website only involved extra time dedicated to uploading the materials, and for this small marginal effort we have ended up with an enormous public good.
- And, finally, it is a very useful tool that enables the sustainability of the effort and a periodic update of the information.