26/11/2012 — Goran Buldioski on Think Tanks
Recently I have been asked to briefly describe my ideal concept for capacity building to think tanks. Many donors have entered this difficult territory, many reaching only a limited success. Think Tank Fund that I lead has neither been involved in a full-fledged capacity building program for think tanks / policy research, nor does it plan to do it in near future. Yet, the thought of thinking and designing an overall capacity building program is intellectually stimulating and operationally challenging, so I dare to lay bare some of the foundations that such undertaking I believe should be built on.
Shortly, below I describe the underpinning rationale for such a capacity building effort (could be carried out at a national or regional level), the modes of intervention (instruments), the levels of complexity this effort should address / be ran at, and finally I provide a non-exhaustive list of topical areas most capacity building activities for think tanks could include. The first part is most developed, the three other hopefully will serve as food for thought for successive blog posts.
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28/08/2012 — Goran Buldioski on Research & Resources, Think Tanks
[This blog post originally appeared @ onthinktanks.org as part of an ongoing study on communicating complex ideas. This post has been written by Goran Buldioski, Director of the Think Tank Fund, and Sonja Stojanovic, Director of the Belgrade Centre for Security Studies.Our irst post can be found here: Civilian control of the state security sector (with special focus on military)]
Capacity building can be both an opportunity for building a network and a vehicle for validating research results. Can it also be designed to help a long-term influence? In this blog we share some of the preliminary findings of our exploration into how the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) used trainings for the latter.
Capacity building is the very first thing to come to mind when someone from a think tank mentions training activities. Many think tanks in Central and Eastern Europe as well as around the world have prospered thanks to their excellent training programmes. Cohorts of researchers, civil servants, decision makers, journalists, NGO professionals and many others have honed in their analytical skills, sharpened their understanding of the policy processes or improved their policy expertise on a given subject thanks to various programmes organised by think tanks.
The second thing to come to mind is the building of networks of contacts. To any given think tank, the trainees become an ever-increasing network of contacts: entry points to various public and private institutions, avenues to increase their publicity, potential partners and allies, future consumers of the analysis offered by the think tanks, and a budding constituency as a whole. BCSP has turned these contacts into a powerful tool for communication. Their mailing list has increased due to their training activities leading BCSP to expand their distribution channels.
However, using training activities as a key vehicle for research uptake is surprisingly not as common as might be expected. To be fair, many think tanks expose their trainees to the analysis they have produced in the past, and use their reports and projects as case studies throughout the training to explain an idea or illustrate a point. Yet, most of these activities are aimed at capacity building and are not consciously designed and structured as a means for research uptake.
The practice of the Belgrade Center for Security Policy (BCSP) of using training courses as a key (central) tool for communication of policy research is therefore worth noting. BCSP has consciously designed a series of training courses addressing the democratic control of the armed forces as the best vehicle to secure the uptake of their research finding by the military elite. The seminars came in different formats: from half a day awareness raising discussions at the military barracks to a year-long accredited MA course in International Security organised in partnership with the Faculty of Political Science. Some seminars were organised only for military officials and civilians employed in the Ministry of Defence, although the majority targeted a more diverse groups composed of young politicians, representatives of civil society, media, and different government agencies.
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20/07/2012 — Goran Buldioski on Research & Resources, Think Tanks
This blog is part of an ongoing study on communicating complex ideas edited by Enrique Mendizabal and originally appeared on his blog. This post has been written in cooperation with the team includes other members of the Belgrade Centre for Security Studies.]
There are no easy policy changes. Yet, some are more difficult to influence than others. The civil oversight of the military is one of the essential tenets of democracy and perhaps one of the most complex issues in setting up democratic governance anywhere. The Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) has been engaged in the civil oversight of the Serbian security sector since it was founded 15 years ago with unmatched success by any other local or regional independent organisation. The research that a small team of BCSP and I will conduct this summer will:
- Look into the research uptake in an ever changing political context; explore how the policy context has changed alongside BSCP communication attempts;
- Reflect on the changes BCSP made in their communication approach throughout the last six years; specifically how they have used their educational activities to increase the traction of their advice in the decision-making circles;
- Explore the reasons that led them to hire a full-time communication specialist, and how this has changed the communication of research findings; and
- Collect lessons learned for BCSP and other researchers on how to improve the research uptake on such a sensitive policy issue.
Context and related research questions
In the early 2000s, not so long ago, the civil oversight over the military and other state security agencies was a topic off limits to NGOs and other independent actors outside the administration and the political elite in Serbia (and in the Balkans in general). In the last 12 years, with a lot of help of international organisations, the international community and local think tanks such as BCSP, the topic has reached the public domain. While there are a number of policy options available to countries reeling out of an armed conflict or moving away from an authoritarian rule, each of those are easier designed than implemented. To start with, the very idea of civilian control over the military is mostly contested than embraced by the local powerful, military, and political elites. Under such circumstance,s further exacerbated by fierce power struggles between outgoing and incoming elites, independent actors such as think tanks have to tread very carefully. The chapter will look in the way the researchers have pushed the idea of civilian control into the public domain and the interest, resistance, support and concerns they have faced in this process.
BCSP, throughout their engagement, touched upon some of the most politically (and ideologically) sensitive questions in Serbia: e.g. its role in the many regional conflicts in the past 20 years and potential accession into NATO. On the other hand, it has also dealt with more technical issues related to the design and implementation of reforms in the security sector (by-laws, ‘small reform initiatives’) that have improved its performance. We will look at how researchers have reconciled these two in communicating the center’s research findings.
Capturing the specificity of BCSP approaches
In the Serbian context, the image of academic quality of research may take priority to the clarity of the message. BCSP aspiration to earn respect by the academic community has affected the type of analytical products they have drafted as well as the choice of audience and the manner(s) of interaction. Looking at the dialogue between the academic research and BCSP work with practitioners in the field would be our particular interest. Additionally, external evaluators have emphasised the role of educational work in reaching out to different audiences to not only place BCSP research findings on their radars, but also as a better way of communicating complex ideas. We will explore the contribution of education activities to research uptake.
We will also look at who has been tasked with the research uptake and how these responsibilities have shifted from being solely on the shoulders of BCSP researchers to now being shared by a specialist staff (full-time communication expert) and the researchers. Exploring and comparing the practices of securing research uptake under these two regimes should yield some more valuable lessons to be learned.
The design comprises of two key research methods. First, we will carry out qualitative and quantitative analysis of BCSP research products, events and educational activities. In doing so, we will create a single timeline with three dimensions: BCSP research products, events and educational activities. This timeline will be then juxtaposed with the timeline of key events in the sector. While finding correlation between BCSP approaches and the changes is the sector is not our immediate goal, we will try to identify trends and patterns of research uptake as well as approaches by BSCP researchers. Second, we will conduct some 25-30 in-depth semi-structured interviews with two key audiences: a) researchers and other BCSP insiders, and b) policy makers. With the former we will aim to deepen our understanding of the BCSP approaches, while from the latter we would aim to extract the impact and the real research uptake achieved by BCSP.
We look forward to enriching ourselves and the field in this process. Please comment here
20/06/2012 — Goran Buldioski on Think Tanks
Earlier today, I talked at a donor – think tank panel, part of the Exchange organized by the Think Tank Initiative in Cape Town, South Africa. The panel was organized in a form of a talk show and focused on determining success for think tanks. While I tried to voice as many ‘sound bites’ as possible in front of 150 think tankers from 50 think tanks from Africa, Latin America and Asia, my preparatory notes could be of greater use. For all those interested in think tanks, they enlist several examples that constitute success by think tanks in Central and Eastern Europe, then explores the relationship between donors and think tanks and muses on the links between global and local agendas for think tanks.
Moderator: Peter Evans: Department for International Development (DFID)
Goran Buldioski: Think Tank Fund of the Open Society Foundations
Stefan Dercon : Department for International Development (DFID)
Louis Kasekende: Bank of Uganda
Jean Mensa: Institute of Economic Affairs – Ghana (IEA-Ghana)
Shekhar Shah: National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER)
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19/02/2012 — Goran Buldioski on Research & Resources, Think Tanks
I have been absent from these pages for a long time now . The preparation of the Balkan Peer Exchange for think tanks and advocacy organizations in Belgrade that starts on Tuesday next week has been one of the main reasons for my silence. Now, i could proudly say that with more than 70 participants, 10 different donors, 10 speakers from other regions, the exchange is ready to ‘rock’n'roll’ .
As a taster I provide you some of the questions we will ask to Ivan Krastev in his key-note address.
The current economic crisis has exposed the deep gaps in the political governance of the European Union and the surrounding countries that belong to the continent. The general population has lost trust in the liberal elites to govern their countries and the European Union. This has prompted an upsurge in populist politics and a rise in extremist parties, and has undermined expertise-based politics (despite some expert governments such as in Italy). Under such circumstances, it is not only the political and policy arenas that are changed, but the entire perception about the role of think tanks and civil society organizations. In the Western Balkans, the value of these organizations has already been questioned for quite some time. In a time when the EU accession agenda is waning and economic stagnation will certainly linger for a while, few societies have a vision on how to move forward. Talking to Ivan Krastev, we hope to learn more about where think tanks and advocacy organizations are positioned in their societies, what they are doing and what they should be doing?
Q1: Europe has changed and is changing as we speak. What are the key changes in ‘old Europe’ that have affected governance ( both political and economic) within EU and beyond its borders?
Q2: How this change has affected / will affect the think tanks / analysts in the EU?
Q3: And, how the changes affect Western Balkans? Where do they place policy analysis and think tanks and NGOs as one of the key ‘independent’ aspirants to influence the policy processes?
Q4: What is the biggest opportunity ( every crisis brings opportunities J) and what is the biggest threat for civil society (specifically advocacy organizations and think tanks) in the Western Balkans?
All of you not there follow the web-streaming on the specially dedicated Facebook page.
More questions, tweet them here: https://twitter.com/#!/BalkanPeerXc or simply comment below
Tomorrow, more about the other debates to follow at the event
06/01/2012 — Goran Buldioski on CEE policy processes, Think Tanks
Happy New Year to you all!
I use this opportunity to announce an event that Think Tank Fund will co-organize in belgrade February
Think Tank Fund together with the Human Rights Governance Grants Program and Foundation for Open Society Serbia from the Open Society Foundations, European Fund for the Balkans, Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund and the National Endowment for Democracy is organizing:
Balkan Peer Exchange
Enhancing Analysis and Research-Based Advocacy in an Era of Open Data
February 21-23, 2012
This event aspires to bring a representative group of think tanks and advocacy organizations as well as donors to address these issues and open new avenues for future cooperation. Its organizers do not have any pre-conceived ideas to float and impose at the event. It is not our goal to spearhead establishment of any networks, regional platforms or anything similar. Likewise, while we expect participants to suggest new ideas and forge new partnerships throughout the event, the organizers do not consider the event as a direct laboratory for designing new projects that they would later underwrite.
The overall objective of the Peer Exchange is to provide a space for representatives of 50 think tanks and advocacy organizations (with established track records in policy relevant research) and a dozen of donors active in the region and offer them a space for peer-to-peer exchange of practices, positive and negative lessons learned and brainstorming on new innovative ideas.
- Sharing opinions / analysis on relevant topics such as EU integration, governmental transparency and accountability, economic policy, social and integration policies
- Exchanging relevant experiences and good practices on topics specifically linked to these types of organizations (access to information, fiscal transparency and abuse of state resources, political system and transparency of government decisions, quality standards for policy-relevant research)
- Presenting and promoting good practices of policy research designs / monitoring and advocacy
- Providing participants with general awareness, knowledge of basic tools and language to formulate and communicate their ideas on how to use data / analysis for effective communication and impactful advocacy to be able to search and identify tools and partners for their implementation.
We hope you will find this event interesting and useful to your organization and apply to participate. Also, feel free to further post this information on your web-site or share it with all of your contacts you would find interested in participating at this event.
Detailed information on the event and on-line application form is available here www.balkanfund.org/balkanpeerexchange.
The deadline for applications is 12 pm on January 16, 2012. The event will take place in Belgrade, Serbia in February 21-23, 2012.
16/11/2011 — Goran Buldioski on Think Tanks
While think tanks have been engaged in myriad of topics throughout Central and Eastern Europe, there are a few where their engagement has been exception rather than a regular happenstance. Drug policy is one of these topics. In a recent conversation with Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, director of Open Society Foundations Global Drugs Policy Program, we looked at ways how to raise the interest of think tanks to engage in this subject from perspective of a mainstream actor/analyst. To this end, she has written the following blog post about her latest very positive experience working with Institute for Policy Affairs in Poland.
…In 2000, Poland introduced a law that penalized the possession of any quantity of illicit substances. Ten years later, the Institute of Public Affairs, a leading Polish think tank and an OSF grantee, published ‘ Drug Policy in Poland – time for a change’ a report evaluating the financial costs of this law.
The report found that the implementation of the law cost over EUR 20 million per year, with possession offences rocketing from 2,815 in 2001 to 30,548 in 2008. Yet the majority of prosecutors, probation officers, police officers and judges interviewed for the study felt that enforcing the bill did not help reduce drug use or counter-act trafficking. Among the report’s key recommendations is to decriminalize the possession of illicit drugs, and redirect the huge resources spent on law enforcement to treatment and harm reduction programs.
Ahead of a parliamentary debate in 2011, the report served as a powerful reference point for groups calling for the liberalization of Poland’s tough drug laws, and was frequently referred to in the national media. The debate ended with an amendment to Poland’s drug policy in May 2011, which aims to draw a greater distinction between drug user and drug dealer. At that time the situation was as follows:
Ahead of a visit from Barack Obama, Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski has signed an amendment to his country’s drug law. The newly amended law, approved on Wednesday, May 25, is a small step forward in liberalizing Poland’s drug policy. It aims to draw a greater distinction between drug user and drug dealer. For example, public prosecutors will now have the option of not bringing people to court on possession charges under three circumstances: if the quantity is small, if it is a first-time drug offense, or if the person has a drug dependency.
This change is largely thanks to ongoing advocacy by Polish and international civil society groups. The next steps will be to ensure that prosecutors are aware of these exceptions and that they are used, as experience from other countries shows that amendments often go unnoticed. Also, on the basis of the Czech Republic’s experience, threshold quantities of illicit drugs should be drawn up with the aim of focusing a public debate on decriminalization.
Read more on the changes to Poland’s drug law and the civil society organizations behind it. (Taken from blog entry Poland steps toward more liberal drug policyby Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, director of OSF Global Drugs Program
This example from Poland shows the crucial role that a think tank can play in social change by providing clear economic and sociological data. However, for such a study to have greater impact, it is important to place the data within a regional context that will have more meaning to policymakers and the public worldwide. This could, for example, involve producing a set of cost-benefits analyses of national drug polices similar to that conducted by the Institute for Public Affairs.
I encourage all interested think tanks that face similar challenges in their own countries in to get in touch with my colleagues at the Global Drug Policy Program.
06/10/2011 — Goran Buldioski on Research & Resources, Think Tanks
Tomorrow, I am invited to speak at a luncheon with some twenty policy fellows of the Open Society Foundations-Armenia and Counterpart International in Yerevan.
Many of these individual researchers – some academic and others eyeing more pragmatic policy research – are toying with the idea to create a think tank. Below, you will find a selection of the questions I prepared for our discussion. The first batch refers to the dilemmas individual researchers might have (and their potential collaborative engagement in think tanks), that a very snap overview of challenges think tanks face in central and Eastern Europe and specific section for newcomers. All suggestions for additional questions / aspects are welcome. Please use the comment section here.
Sample of questions to be tackled during the luncheon
Questions on the minds of individual researchers
- How to balance academic research with policy analysis? – Individual juncture on choosing a career path or ill-made decision based on few facts and plenty of assumptions
- The pros and cons of going ‘solo’ or joining a specialized research organization ( think tank)
- Third alternative: Could other types of organizations add value to research and be ‘unusual allies’ to individual researchers?
Current challenges of existing think tanks
- Quality of current policy research usually fails to match the demand for solutions. The reasons for this situation range from inappropriate research design and methodology to poor writing skills, from choosing effective formats for their policy analysis to neglecting proper communication strategies. Why it is easier for think tanks to be ‘recycle bins’ than ‘idea generators’?
- Human capital is the biggest asset of each and every think tank. In securing reliable and high-quality researchers, think tanks compete with much more powerful competitors i.e. governments, state agencies, private companies, banks and consulting companies. As a small part of civil society, despite being present in the public life, think tanks are not the first choice to fresh graduates who are interested in embarking on research/policy careers. Likewise, for people working in the think tanks, notwithstanding that monetary remuneration is important, it is crucial to have opportunities to grow professionally and further develop their skills, to learn new things and meet other colleagues across the continent and beyond. Why think tankers do not starve, but few of them are there to earn ‘big money’?
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05/10/2011 — Goran Buldioski on Research & Resources, Think Tanks
On September 14th, Enrique shared an interesting link on his blog
Below you can find his post and my addition.
Many think tanks face the need to undertake organisational assessments -much better than an evaluation. This site offers very useful advice into how to go about it: Reflect & Learn | Learning together about Organizational Assessment.
The purpose of Reflect & Learn (R&L) is to help organizations improve their performance by using Organizational Assessment (OA). Organizational assessment (OA) is a tool that supports an organization in its quest to learn more about itself. The process of reflection in OA is based on providing an organizational diagnosis that allows organizational stakeholders to learn from experiences and results, in order to facilitate decision-making and foster more strategic vision, more effective programs, stronger governance, etc. Organizational assessment can be part of a process of change and capacity building.
It offers a series of self-assessment tools as well as detail on key frameworks:
There are also some useful case studies, although they do not include think tanks.
At the Think Tank Fund, we have spent a lot of thought on the aspects of organizational development. While we have consulted the general tools ( many referenced in the depository Reflext&Learn), we thought there is a need for specialized, more tailored approach. Given the breadth of our support, both thematically and geographically, measuring the impact of our grants on the overall development of our grantees is far from being easy. Moreover, a comprehensive evaluation might run the risk of becoming too costly to both: the donor and the grantee.
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12/09/2011 — Goran Buldioski on Research & Resources, Think Tanks
A lot has been said on think tanks trying to introduce e-media into their work, to modernize their production and accept the standards of the digital world. A lot have been trying and the web is full of impressive and less successful examples.
In the sea of coverage of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 a special multimedia coverage by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace caught my attention.
The topic, as we know it is huge. There are so many tenets to cover: the attacks themselves, their aftermath including the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ‘change of world order’, war against terror and many more.
CEIP offered an excellent appetizer to all those interested in their analysis by providing a string of 11 short videos ( 1 to 3 minutes each). The design is also impressive because the embedded videos are coupled with CEIP report written for the occasion of the first anniversary. In one page we really get the gist of their opinion now and their opinion 9 years ago. And as any good appetizer, this one offers the visitor / reader a choice:
- to stay at the level of basic opinion of CEIP experts (for those readers who prefer tapas are or on diet
- or make another click and ‘indulge in the main course’ by reading the full report and CEIP previous analysis on the respective subjects.