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The Think Tank Initiative´s Global Exchange: an opportunity to foster peer (and non-peer!) learning

By 12 February 2015

Politics & Ideas has been invited to participate in the upcoming Think Tank Initiative´s Global Exchange that will bring together up to 200 think tanks, donors, and other research-to-policy stakeholders to explore perspectives on the theme of “Research Quality: Approaches, Outreach and Impact.” These individuals will come together to discuss what research quality means for think tank impact, both in theory and in practice.

Even though we have had the chance to work with diverse think tanks from Latin America, Asia and Africa, this was mainly through virtual interaction in the past year (for example, at our online courses). Therefore for us, this invitation represents a unique opportunity to learn from leading Southern think tanks and other experts as well, not only by accessing to their experience and achievements as many will be shared in panels, but also from what are their main concerns, questions, challenges, etc. We believe there is increasing need to enable more peer learning as well as co-construction of new and relevant knowledge by better systematizing what others have experienced, learned, proved, etc.

Hopefully panel and sessions will include live and honest conversations on what can be done in terms of crucial challenges faced by think tanks, such as how to ensure both quality and policy relevance of research, how to take advantage of policy windows such as elections, which tools and strategies are proving more fruitful to engage with policymakers and other significant stakeholders, etc. To this end, it is very important that those who share their experiences are willing to also present what failed, their unanswered questions, the problematic challenges, etc.  In a competing environment, and with the presence of funders and experts, it is not always easy to have candid conversations and exchanges on what we don´t know yet. However, there are always those willing to take the first steps, and hopefully many of us will try to walk the talk and enable authentic peer learning, instead of just publicising our successes.

Of course we all need to celebrate what worked well and in this way find energy to move on to address remaining challenges. However, current policy problems demand that we sharpen our focus and increase our capacity to facilitate the production of innovative and viable solutions through research. For this, a stronger and more strategic interaction with policymakers needs to take place. In fact, this Global Exchange will benefit from the presence of diverse decision makers as well. We need to learn from peers, but we should widen our scope and listen from those playing different roles. Out of the box thinking is more frequent when we are eager to learn about how others who have another perspective/role perceive the same issue. Or how they deal with similar challenges. Moreover, it´s probably time to move beyond the question on how can we contribute through research to policy to how we can co-define and find solutions to policy problems, acknowledging the interdependency of root causes, consequences and all of us who can affect or be affected by this.  This can take shape in many concrete and small decisions: for example, how we design a research project (are the guiding questions emerging just from our interests?), or how we communicate with others (do we spend most of the time thinking about our own messages?)

We look forward to learning from and with others and are grateful for being able to participate in this promising space of interaction, dialogue and collective thinking.

This post was originally featured on Politics & Ideas: a Southern led space that encourages researchers and practitioners in the field to speak about their own challenges and share their perspectives about how research can interact (or not) with policy making as they encounter them at the local, national and regional levels.

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