Monday, 29 August 2016

Aditi Bulletin Issue 6

Note from Managing Editor

The current issue focuses on Working in a Consortium. Several organisations have found it fruitful to work in a consortium to address an issue. It is also the belief of some donors that the results provided from consortium partners are largely more complete. The networking and interchange of knowledge in a consortium has increased and grown to be useful. Today consortium partners seek to not only share knowledge with each other, but also, have started customising the need to suit the goals. As always I would like to thank the wonderful members of the Editorial team who came up with doable ideas which has helped in making this issue a dream come true. Thanks to all the contributors who kept to the deadline.

Managing Editor, Aditi


Ajoy Dutta,
Research Fellow, ODI - RAPID, UK

Most issues these days tend to not lend themselves to study within individual disciplines or policy areas. Nor do they confine themselves to national boundaries. Take medical ‘tourism’ in India among Pakistani nationals, for instance. As Rabia Manzoor and Vaqar Ahmed point out, understanding the opportunities, constraints and impacts of this requires expertise in areas such as health policy, trade policy, private sector development, foreign affairs, border security issues, finance and banking policy among others. Moreover, this requires knowledge and action among people and organisations from both India and Pakistan, as well as from regional or supranational bodies located elsewhere.

However, discussions shouldn’t be limited to scientists and other experts. Government organisations, despite their flaws, are usually seen as the central agent for bringing about progress and development. In addition, non-governmental organisations, community groups and associations which are often self-organised and are perhaps working more coherently and quickly towards better cross-border healthcare access than government authorities (given their stronger understanding of the local context and their likely greater ownership over any solutions) will have a significant contribution to make to any research and/or engagement around the findings and efforts to improve the situation.

Hence, a range of stakeholders, including researchers (from a range of policy areas), policymakers (from different institutions) and civil society and practitioner groups need to come together – combining relevant concepts, approaches, knowledge and experiences to address the issue. However, this is not easy to do. It relies on trust and a willingness to work together, especially when things get difficult. In addition, working across national boundaries is far from straightforward. People in different countries may think and act in ways that differ from each other and can create power asymmetries which can put pressure on relationships. Individuals and organisations will have their own motivations – for instance, to publish in top peer-reviewed academic journals and to secure promotion/tenure.

Researchers who might be taking a lead may not be comfortable with engaging with other stakeholders or feel that their role is purely to observe and undertake cutting-edge research (and not ‘participate’, which might be seen as compromising their neutrality, or simply not have the time). Or they may see engagement narrowly as an opportunity to educate, teach or inform stakeholders about their work rather than a form of joint exploration of the multiple dimensions of the issue. Others may not have, for instance, the facilitation and/or management skills to effectively engage with stakeholders and it is often unclear where/how researchers can acquire support or training in these areas. The absence of a legal status and a secretariat for a collaborative group also results in one of the ‘members’ stepping up to channel funding to others, often creating tension among them. The depth of commitment and strength of personal relationships thus needed for successful collaborative working is often underestimated and sufficient resources to do this (time, energy, financial) and good leadership are also necessary. The articles in this edition explore some of these challenges in more detail and what various groups have done to overcome them.


by Mohd. Sahil Ali, Research Scientist, CSTEP

by Rabia Manzoor, Research Associate, SDPI, Pakistan and Dr. Vaqar Ahmed Deputy Executive Director, SDPI, Pakistan

by Aditi SinhaSenior Associate Manager, SHAKTI Sustainable Energy Foundation 

by Leandro Echt, Member of Politics & Ideas and On Think Tanks

Consortium Models

I came across this interesting and a simple article which clearly defines and explains some key points to consider while forming/working in a consortium. The image below gives an overview of the important factors. For more details you can read the full article

By: Dr. Annapoorna Ravichander, Head, Communication and Policy EngagementCSTEP


Adriana ArellanoResearch Director, Grupo FARO

K. S. Murali, Ph.D., IDRC

Subrat Das, Executive Director, CBGA


Concept - Dr. Jai Asundi, Principal Research Scientist, CSTEP

Illustration - Sandeep Khasnavis, Graphic Designer, CSTEP

Interesting Readings

This article briefly lists the various advantages and disadvantages of working in a consortium and also provides plausible questions for consortium partners. 

This policy brief titled “Working as a Consortium – Benefits and Challenges” provides insights from the Enhanced Livelihoods in the Mandera Triangle Programme. It “draws on findings from a self‐assessment and external evaluation of a consortium established by six international nongovernmental organizations”. The brief mainly focuses on the “six lenses” of Consortia in Development Work. These include factors related to consortium, its structure, attitude, the need to understand and embrace diversity, and how to represent complementary and competent consortia. Other aspects like effective communication, stages of growth of a consortium and the importance of time have also been summarised. It also advises NGOs and donors in this context. 

This short research report answers questions relating to partnership formations, aspects of accountability, the structure and process involved in management, etc. It also provides an interesting Q&A series regarding future partnerships along with certain key questions in case of a future development scenario.

The link opens to an interesting article which provides “10 recommendations for policy research consortia” which aim to help think tanks to work together.

Compiled by: Deeksha Rao, Intern, CSTEP and Dr. Annapoorna Ravichander, Head, Communication and Policy Engagement, CSTEP 

Article - Sahil Ali

Collaborations with other Think Tanks - India GHG Platform 

Mohd. Sahil Ali
Research Scientist, CSTEP
CSTEP is always keen to follow a collaborative research agenda. We find partnerships with other institutions in our domains enriching and full of learning. Some of the notable examples of our collaborative work have been the Green Growth Strategy for Karnataka, where CSTEP worked with prestigious academic, consulting and research institutions from India and abroad, and the India Energy Security Scenarios 2047, which is the first time leading Indian energy think tanks joined under the leadership of the then Planning Commission to build an Energy-Emissions calculator.

More recently, we have been involved with the India GHG Platform, which is a civil society initiative to improve the state of knowledge on India’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by providing independent, bottom-up and transparent estimations and analyses. Other members of the Platform include CEEW, ICLEI South Asia, WRI (Reviewers) and Vasudha Foundation (Secretariat). The Platform is supported by Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation. In the first phase of the project, which culminated with the formal website launch and workshop on 14 July 2016, the partners have analysed time series of India’s GHG emission inventory between 2007 and 2012 (inclusive).

CSTEP estimated emissions from the Energy (production and use) sector, except thermal energy use in industries. Given the nature of energy data available to the general public, we were in frequent contact with partners to disaggregate and clean the data, and develop robust estimation methodologies in case of missing data. These exchanges expose researchers to fresh methods and perspectives, and help them feed off each other’s expertise and experience. The coordinating role of the Secretariat also becomes important to ensure timelines and standardisation of products.

The exercise attempted in the first phase was complex and ridden with challenges. These were overcome through collective ownership and the willingness to go the extra mile. The Reviewers also played an important part in quality control and timely feedback. Most importantly, the communication teams from all partner institutions joined forces to design and disseminate engagement and publicity material that provided the Platform much visibility.

Article - Rabia Manzoor

Desired Reforms in Health Services Trade between India and Pakistan

Rabia Manzoor
Research Associate, SDPI, Pakistan

Dr. Vaqar Ahmed
Deputy Executive Director, SDPI, Pakistan

Medical tourism is now commonly pursued by patients seeking high-quality treatment abroad at relatively economical expense (Connell 2011). The quantum and value of medical tourism has grown recently because of high cost of health, long waiting lists (even in advanced economies), ease of transfer of fee and low travel costs (Ibid: 2005). Documented and anecdotal evidence shows that patients from Pakistan are travelling to India for better health facilities particularly for liver and kidney transplant, cardiology and infertility treatment. Potential benefits of health trade across borders are well documented, but there are also constraints in improving and regulating the bilateral health trade between India and Pakistan.

Existing evidence concerning the health services trade between India and Pakistan clearly presents challenges and opportunities for expanding trade in health services. However, there are also significant obstacles that could be resolved. Therefore, there is a need of short-term bilateral agreements and key reforms for the promotion of trade in health services between India and Pakistan.

According to our recent study, one of the core obstacles in advancing health trade under mode (2), “consumption of health services”, with India is the rigid visa regime faced by the patients, accompanying persons and personnel from Pakistan. Lack of inadequate information to access healthcare facilities across India is yet another problem. Medical patients in Pakistan also face difficulties when fulfilling payment requirements for seeking medical treatment in India. Since Pakistani currency cannot be exchanged or used for accessing medical treatment in India, patients travelling to India have to carry up to the maximum limit allowed under Pakistan foreign exchange rules (i.e., USD 5000). This mode of transaction restricts patients’ choice and creates dependency on third parties and informal channels of transactions.

However, there are several ways to push for reforms that improve the health services trade between both countries. In our study, we also found certain desired regulatory and policy reforms in health services and possible entry points that can facilitate expansion of the health services trade between India and Pakistan. For example, there is a need to establish institutional linkages between the best public and private hospitals; health-sector teaching institutions can pave the way for “movement of personnel” across both countries too. Another option is to encourage the private sector to invest in health trade as well as develop formal linkages with private hospitals across both countries.

Furthermore, we should consider formalising the health trade by establishing facilitation desks across major cities. These centres could provide information on visa requirements, different available treatments and a list of hospitals in India. Financial transactions and modes of payment for medical treatment should be made flexible by designating banks in each country for handling financial transactions under medical treatment and consultation.

Finally, there is a need to develop synergies among professional associations; ministries of health, commerce, foreign affairs; and interior, PMDC, provincial departments of health and central banks on both sides.  A task force may be set up at the ministerial level to formally or informally initiate the process of crafting a health trade policy. Through these desired regulatory and policy reforms, we can facilitate expansion of the health services trade between India and Pakistan.

Article - Aditi Sinha

Communication and Consortium

Aditi Sinha
Senior Associate Manager, SHAKTI Sustainable Energy Foundation

There’s strength in numbers. This particularly holds true for the non-profit sector, which in the last two decades has seen the rise of a multitude of consortiums. Working in a consortium provides an excellent opportunity to leverage strengths and resources. It brings many advantages - complementarity, more outreach and lesser duplication of efforts.  Over the last few years, I’ve learned many things about working in a consortium. But the thing that always stands out is effective communication. How well a consortium communicates within itself and with its external stakeholders is a major determining factor in its success. Although there are dozens of lessons learned, here are five key ones:

  1. Create a unifying brand identity: A consortium is a marriage of many alliances. An important step is to create an identity that captures the ambition of the new product or project and be acceptable to all partner organisations. Some questions to consider are: Does the consortium have its own unique brand identity? Is the look and feel of the brand identity free of any bias to any of the partners? Are all the partners equally and adequately represented?
  2. Work towards a common vision and mission: Creating an aspirational vision and mission is an ideal way to solidify a partnership process. Often this is the first time that partners start to see something concrete emerge out of their months of planning.  By describing the anticipated results, partners will be able to contribute to the achievement of the goals.
  3. Focus on open dialogue: With unique visions and goals, each partner has a point to make. An open dialogue is important to encourage a shared vision and to strengthen the relationships between partners. This can help avoid conflict and reduce the risk of disagreements.
  4. Get your communication material ready: First, create a specialised team for communication related tasks –  strategic communication plans, key messages,  collaterals, delivery vehicles, target audiences, engagement, socialisation, etc. Then move forward. This goes without saying – Avoid jargon and heavy information. Above all, make sure that the information is vetted by each partner before it is released to the public.
  5. Internal communication: Communicate at regular intervals amongst yourselves. Give time for detailed discussions that can capture everyone’s opinion. Prioritise tasks and goals within partner meetings. Keep everyone updated about developments in a timely manner. Sometimes it’s useful to have a lead organisation that acts as a coordinator within the consortium.

Article - Enrique

Some Lessons in Collaboration: the On Think Tanks Exchange Experience

Enrique Mendizabal
Founder of On Think Tanks


The first phase of the On Think Tanks Exchange (OTTE) came to an end in September 2015. In this post, we share some of the lessons we have learned on collaborative work across think tanks –and regions.

The OTTE was a programme managed by the OTT between 2013 and 2015 to foster new relationships between think tanks in three different “regions,” Latin America, Europe, and Indonesia.

Ten “thinktankers” came together with the intention of working on collaborative projects focused on either organisational development (OD) or policy issues. The programme’s promoters (On Think Tanks, the Think Tank Initiative, and the Think Tanks Fund) expected that five bilateral teams would be set up to focus mostly on policy issues – a natural choice for think tanks. Instead, participants came together around two large groups and focused their attention on organisational development challenges.

The On Think Tanks Exchange

It is worth sharing some of the principles that were behind the design of The Exchange. The initiative was first conceived as a series of separate collaborations that would take place over a year. We felt that this presented a series of  challenges. Based on our experience working with think tanks and networks, we sought out a “theory of change” for effective collaboration.

We called it a “theory” because we wanted to test it over the course of the programme. For this purpose, the Exchange’s participants would be involved in a collaborative action learning project to critically study the barriers for collaboration between think tanks in a region and across regions.

We considered the following theory of how meaningful exchanges and collaboration can develop as the basis of The Exchange:
  • Balance: Successful and meaningful exchanges and collaboration require that all parties collaborate as equals – as true partners.
Before meaningful exchanges and collaboration can take place, the following conditions need to be satisfied:
  • Familiarity: of individuals and then of their organisations
  • Understanding: of the context in which the organisations and the individuals work
  • Knowledge: of each other’s objectives and motivations and of each other’s competencies and skills
  • Trust: of each other’s objectives and motivations and of each other’s competencies and skills.
We expected, therefore, that the following interventions or activities could help satisfy these conditions:
  • Practice: Successful exchanges and collaboration require practice and reflection and this can be achieved by:
    • Collaborative pilots: in which participants work with each other in a safe environment
    • Facilitated learning: in which participants have the opportunity and are supported to learn from mistakes and successes in a safe environment
    • Personal and group development: in which the participants are able to observe and reflect on their own progress, as well as that of the group, “pilot after pilot” – or, in this case, exchange event after exchange event.
Interestingly, in our design, we left out tools: emails, websites, Twitter, etc. We thought they are very useful (and used many tools during the implementation of the OTTE), but we also thought that they are no more than tools. Their use should support and not drive what we do. 

What to bond over?
  • It has been easier for participants to “bond” over OD issues, and all the teams formed around such projects. This is probably because, as the participants themselves suggested, their interests in policy issues were too diverse to begin with. It might have been better to focus the call for applications on one or two substantive policy themes in order to improve the chances of teams forming around projects on policy issues instead of OD issues.
  • OD issues did, however, prove to be a very useful subject to bond over. The participants themselves recognised this: since they were all drawn from the “research” side of the think tanks, the projects gave them an opportunity to examine their home institutions from a different perspective. This can not only make a useful contribution to their current work, but also provide them with a valuable perspective as they move into more senior positions in their think tanks.
  • The “stress” of putting together a proposal to work with someone they did not know well in an area where they were not specialists helped with the “bonding” process. However, the process could benefit from more structure and guidance from the facilitators.
  • Matchmaking is a process and it needs to be given the space to happen more organically and allow for progress to be based on learning. Two or more phases could be employed so that learning is built into the process.
Changes, Changes, Changes
  • Changes in staff and organisations are inevitable in a two-year project, particularly when the participants are young researchers rather than senior staff (which was the case for most of them). They are more likely to move from one organisation to another. This turnover must be built into the design so that it does not disrupt the relations between the programme and the think tanks or between the participants themselves.

People, People, People…
  • Participants’ personalities as well as cultural differences and ways of working had a significant impact on the projects implemented through the collaboration. These need to be “flushed out” early on during the matchmaking stage but, equally, they need to be carefully addressed throughout the project: it is unrealistic to expect the participants to deal with such issues on their own.
  • “Multilateral” (as opposed to bilateral) teams found it easier to manage these unexpected changes and personalities, but faced greater transaction costs involved in developing trust and launching the projects. Although this seems counterintuitive, partnerships may be better forged in larger rather than smaller groups. 
  • Larger teams made it possible to **distribute some of the risk in taking on a project on a topic in which no one was a specialist, and this may have encouraged the participants to form such “multilateral” teams.
Organisational Linkages
  • The participants were relatively mid-level to junior staff within their organisations, and more researchers than managers. This has many advantages over the longer run, but if the aim is to engage the institutions more deeply by involving their leaders, this is likely to prove difficult for small projects like the ones supported by The Exchange – even if these are focused on OD. Leaders, however, need other “excuses”’ to get involved in the collaboration.
  • A reasonably long period of time is needed to “build trust,” but two years may be too long from the point of view of staff turnover. This is also a lengthy commitment for a researcher. It may be possible to build trust among the participants more quickly (e.g., within a one-year project or less) by building in more frequent and intensive engagement during the initial stages.
  • Administrative and logistical support for the teams was limited to the meetings but was of great help. Support for partnerships should include this type of input and extend it to more intensive mentoring or coaching processes.

Article - Leandro

 Think tanks working together: some factors to keep in mind

Leandro Echt
Member of Politics & Ideas and On Think Tanks


It is very common in the development sector to see different organisations gathering to conduct projects or implement other activities. Reasons are many: from the need to combine different expertise, to the objective of increasing their potential to influence policy, or access big grants that would not be accessible by single organisations.

Think tanks are not strangers to these partnerships, alliances, and consortia. How many times do think tanks want to work on a certain issue, but do not have the required expertise among their current staff? How often do think tanks need to establish alliances to increase the possibilities of promoting a real change in policy? Which think tank has not sought a partner to apply for important funds?

While working together can come with many benefits, it is not always an easy task. Each organisation has its own interests, motivations, “hidden” goals, culture, other responsibilities to fulfil, etc.; in addition, there might be differences between their capacities.

So before embarking on a collaborative project, it is important to consider some factors that can determine whether or not the collaboration would work, what could be the main challenges through the process, and think about strategies to mitigate them.

These factors affecting collaboration between think tanks can be internal and external.

External Factors

Context (political, social, and economic). National context has a direct impact on think tanks’ work, and it also affects collaboration. Structural factors such as academic freedom could foster or prevent collaboration with other research organisations. Moreover, circumstantial factors also shape the opportunities for collaboration. For instance, social or military crises have a direct impact on the organisations’ work and might make collaboration difficult at least until things are partially solved. On the other hand, elections are an interesting milestone for think tanks to gather and try to influence the debate with their policy recommendations. 

“Paraguay Debate” (Paraguay), “Agenda Presidencial 2011-2015” (Argentina), “Centrando el debate electoral” (Peru) are examples of collaborative actions within the civil society, led by think tanks, aimed at influencing presidential electoral debates and strengthening the programmatic features of the debate. Networks are not easy to manage and they require patience and strategic leaderships: think tanks can play that role if they can convince others of their value of their research and management capacity.

Polarised societies or scenarios also create room for think tanks to get together. Plural alliances or associations combine different ideas from diverse organisations, and within them, from different persons with particular approaches to specific policy issues. Plural networks can encourage equilibrium among polarised positions or, at least, are mechanisms to avoid one-way thoughts.

Availability of funds. Collaboration is sometimes challenged by the fact that the resources available for think tanks or research are usually scarce. Moreover, international calls for proposals usually do not encourage collaboration between organisations. Indeed, the gradual withdrawal of donors from Latin America during the past years is one of the reasons that led 12 think tanks to gather and create the Iniciativa Latinoamericana de Investigación para las Políticas Públicas (ILAIPP; **the English translation is Latin American Research Initiative for Public Policies). In this case, working together is not only a decision about the focus of the think tanks, but also a sustainability strategy.

Official regulations (legal, administrative, taxes). Countries’ rules regarding donations or contracts with foreign partners can challenge collaborations to the point that working with others becomes increasingly bureaucratic at the administrative level. Many think tanks try to sort out these challenges by opening new offices in countries with more favourable and flexible administrative environment for NGOs. 

Policy problem in question. This factor is partially external, but also involves internal decisions from think tanks. Indeed, think tanks can decide to work on different types of policy problems, and can form different types of partnerships. For instance, moderately unstructured problems, in which there is a general confidence about the technical aspect of the problem, but no agreement on the values involved in the problem, might favour alliances with a small number of stakeholders that share common values. On the same lines, if working on a highly structured problem, alliances with other stakeholders might be less necessary if a think tank already has access to policymakers, and so the think tank seems to work more individually.

Internal Factors

Organisational culture. Culture might refer to a broad set of features: openness to other institutions, competition versus cooperation, the degree of cooperation and collaboration between different individuals and groups within the think tank, etc. This culture (at the individual, team and organisational levels of any institution) creates the daily context for practice, thus enabling or hindering collaboration with others. Organisational and individual motivations, interests, values, and openness to collaboration should be considered before partnering with peer organisations. 

Top-level support. As it happens with every effort in the development sector, its success is affected by the extent to which it is supported by the leaders in the organisations. Involving top-level support in collaborative projects can promote more commitment from different stakeholders, which can also be established as a formal contractual commitment that could be claimed by any of the parties.  

Size of the organisation.  The scale and structure of the organisation are important factors that can affect the success of collaborations. Not all think tanks have clear management and organisational processes to deal with collaborations; larger think tanks can commit more people to a certain project with different responsibilities, whereas smaller ones assign less people more responsibilities; the latter can also apply to the availability of financial resources (larger think tanks may be able to commit more funds than smaller ones). These differences among think tanks can create difficulties if the responsibilities and the real contribution of each party are not clarified at the beginning of the collaboration. 

Besides external and internal factors, there are features related to the type of collaborative initiative and the relationship between the parties that should also be considered: 

Trust. Confidence between organisations may have to do with the history of the relationship between the parties (whether or not they have worked together in the past, and what were the results of that experience), the reputation of the parties, or the organisational cultures. Trust is very important, especially when collaboration implies sharing contacts, information regarding donors, or know-how. Building together guidelines for procedures and operations might be a good investment before starting a collaborative project.  

Objective of collaboration and mission/vision of the partners. Collaboration may have many different objectives: undertaking research, influencing policy, learning from each other or together, among others. Let’s focus on collaborative influence campaigns. In these cases, barriers to collaboration are related to the organisations’ influence strategies. Typically, advocacy organisations are radical in their actions, and do not consider potential relational costs with policy agencies. On the contrary, policy research organisations, which usually seek to build more collaborative links with the political system, are not willing to challenge their reputation in an advocacy campaign. 

Term and size of the collaboration. Long-term collaborations are favourable to build trust between parties. However, they can become very transactional both in terms of decision-making and administrative and budgetary issues. On another note, whether the collaboration is taking place between two organisations or a consortium of think tanks will affect the process. For instance, global consortia usually imply complex governance structures. Regular virtual meetings and the need to validate almost each decision with the whole consortium make this kind of projects very costly at the transactional level.

To sum up, collaboration among think tanks is desirable, but they entail many challenges, which come from external and internal factors. Taking into account these factors when planning collaborative projects will help organisations understand the potential success of the relationship or identify key challenges of it.

Interview - Adriana Arellano

Adriana Arellano
Research Director, Grupo FARO

Q: From your experience of doing research and participating in discussions on the subject of the relationship between Think Tanks and Universities, could you share with us what you see as the main differences between Think Tanks and Universities?

According to findings from the research project “Más Saber América Latina: potenciando el vínculo entre think tanks y universidades”, in which I participated, there are several differences between think tanks and universities, some of which include:

  • Different focus: universities are focused on producing new research, in a wide array of disciplines, with theoretical emphasis; think tanks seek to generate policy-applied research or connect existing evidence to policy applications.
  • Different quality measures: universities measure research quality in terms of number of research products published in indexed journals, with peer reviews as the control mechanism. Think tanks measure research quality in terms of research’s potential for policy influence, where the control mechanism is the social accountability of the knowledge generated by the organisation.
  • Different areas of work: universities, especially in Latin America, have focused their activities in the professionalisation of students, and rare cases to research activities. Think tanks are focused in producing policy-applied research, influencing policy and in some cases also conduct capacity building activities. 
  • Different internal organisation: universities’ internal organisation responds mostly to disciplinary specialisation and is more bureaucratic and permanent than that of think tanks; meanwhile, think tanks are organised under multidisciplinary, flexible schemes, with teams formed to respond to topics and functions required by projects. 
  • Different human resources realities: universities have human resources that are, for the most part, dedicated exclusively to university work (teaching and researching, in the cases that the university has a research focus); personnel in think tanks are usually dedicated to various projects (sometimes in various organisations) and frequently perform temporary work, which produces high rotation among think tanks’ staff.
  • Different allies and connections: universities are used to focusing their attention on the private sector and the labour market. Meanwhile, think tanks pay attention to the media, civil society organisations and the political-bureaucratic arena; moreover, think tanks have closer relationships with these sectors than universities and are savvier on political-strategic communications to promote policy influence.
  • Different power sources: universities’ power resides on the monopoly of the provision of professional degrees and titles. Think tanks’ power resides on their capacity to influence policy and mobilise civil society groups.
  • Different modes of knowledge production: universities’ model of knowledge production is closer to mode (1) of knowledge production, which is more hierarchical, disciplinary and targets the interests of the scientific community. Think tanks’ model of knowledge production is closer to mode (2) of knowledge production, which is more horizontal, inter or trans-disciplinary, produced in networks, and with focus on the context of its application.  
  • Different sources of funding: universities are often funded by public funds and increasingly by the demand of professionalisation in the market of students. Think tanks are funded by international donors, private funding and occasionally by public funds.

Q: What are the main differences in the type of research undertaken by Universities and the Think Tanks? Are these differences significant across the three regions of Africa, South Asia and Latin America?

A:Research undertaken by universities is generated to promote theory development, without necessarily considering its practical implications, on a diversity of disciplines and with the explicit purpose of achieving publication in an indexed journal; meanwhile, research undertaken by think tanks is produced with a practical perspective and an explicit intention of generating evidence that can inform public policies and is concentrated on public policy-related topics. 

According to the final report of the studies on think tank-university relationships conducted in parallel in Africa, South Asia and Latin America, these differences are significant across the three regions. However, it seems that the universities in all these regions are becoming interested in policy-relevant research, which could impact think tank–university collaboration in both ways: producing increased complementarity between them or promoting increased competition. 

Q: What distinct strengths and value addition do these two kinds of institutions bring to a collaboration?

A: Collaborations between think tanks and universities can profit from the perspective and know-how each type of institution brings to the table. Universities can add value through their disciplinary expertise and their wide access to specialised professionals, their availability of human capital (students and teachers), the possibility of connecting research efforts to more academic, theoretical research, and the opportunity of developing training courses around the topics researched.  On the side of think tanks, these organisations add value to a collaboration through their practical perspective, their connection to communities and local realities, their resourcefulness and ability to produce research with limited resources, their links to key actors in the public sphere (media, state, civil society organisations, citizen groups, etc.), and their knowledge and strategic capacities to promote policy influence.

Q: In the social space, what do you see as potential drivers for collaboration between Universities and Think Tanks?

A: Potential drivers of collaboration between these institutions are:
  • The existence of people in common between the institutions. This happens when universities and think tanks have flexible arrangements that allow their personnel to work both in a think tank and teach at the university at the same time. It also happens when there are spaces (policy networks, learning communities, professional associations) that promote social interaction and exchange between professionals from both types of organisations. 
  • An increased demand for public-policy applied research will certainly generate interest in both types of organisations. This can be helpful to promote collaboration when funders of these efforts value and require collaborative project proposals. 
  • The existence of policy networks that invite professionals from universities and think tanks to discuss ideas and debate policies. 

Q: What comes in the way of effective institutional collaboration between Universities and Think Tanks?

A:Effective institutional collaboration is blocked by:
  • Bureaucratic systems, especially on the side of universities
  • Competition for human and financial resources
  • Different focuses and incentives: incentives for researchers in universities are incentivised by the recognition generated by publishing in an indexed journal; meanwhile, researchers in think tanks have as incentive the recognition of the public sphere and colleagues for achieving a certain degree of policy influence.
  • Scarce demand for research: in some contexts, the public sphere does not demand or does not welcome research creating a poor environment for knowledge generation.

Q: Could you share with us an example of an effective collaboration between Universities and Think Tanks?

A: In the study “Más Saber América Latina: potenciando el vínculo entre think tanks y universidades”, an initiative in Perú, Seminario Permanente de Investigación Agraria –SEPIA stood out as an effective collaboration between Universities and Think Tanks. SEPIA is a network of researchers that originated from a series of informal seminars held in the late seventies in Peru at a time of great social and political upheaval around the issue of land and rural reality. The promoters of the initiative were interested in connecting research produced in universities, which were promoting a revolution in rural studies, to the concept of “new rurality”. 

All this in a context in which public universities were going through conflict and intense infighting between different political groups, had very traditional teaching programmes, limited research infrastructure and an inexistent culture of promoting the public debate of ideas. SEPIA constituted then a non-profit civil society that promotes research and debate around topics of rurality, environmental and agrarian issues from a plural and multidisciplinary perspective. These efforts are materialised in: (1) bi-annual seminars that gather experts (from Universities and Think Tanks) with diverse backgrounds and that take place in different parts of the country each time through the collaboration of a public university and a civil society organisation in the territory; (2) the production and publication of a book that compiles research presented at the bi-annual seminars; and (3) the involvement of young researchers through a fellowship programme that finances small research projects.
This collaboration is effective as it is has been in place for more than 30 years, continues to generate concrete products and interest in the research community (both in Universities and Think Tanks) and has created a space in which researchers from different backgrounds, disciplines and organisations get together, discuss research and policy implications of it and generate ideas for collaborations beyond this space.