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:
- Universalia Institutional and Organizational Assesment Model (IOA Model)
- A Causal Model of Organizational Performance & Change (Burke & Litwin Model)
- The Seven-S Model
- The Marvin Weisbord Six-Box Model (Weisbord’s Model)
- Open Systems Model
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.
Trying to arrive to a slim-down version, TTF performance indicators are clustered to cover three different aspects of the work of our grantees (this is an adaptation of a general evaluation framework developed by Raymond Stryuk (We consulted his publication Think Tank Mentoring and other articles on this subject).
- Quality of analytical products
- Communication strategy (overall organizational and specific product strategy)
- Mission, Strategic planning, governance and management structures (and this is pretty much in line of the tools shared by Reflect&Learn)
I am aware that most of the think tanks in Central and Eastern Europe operate as hybrids between analytical outlets, NGOs and consultancies. The areas we just underscored are insufficient to cover all different activities think tanks undertake. For example, almost all think tanks convene various seminars and conferences that serve as forum for discussion and/or policy agenda setting. Many think tanks design and conduct training courses on policy analysis and writing policy papers for governmental official and NGOs alike. Likewise, some act as depositories of information resulting from their own ongoing continuous monitoring activities. Others undertake consultancy projects in order to sustain their operation or engage in development projects directly. By limiting the areas of our monitoring and evaluation we hope to pay attention to the three core functions that are essential to each and every think tank regardless of the other activities they undertake.
1. Quality of analytical products
Regardless what else they do, analytical products are bread and butter of all think tanks. Think tanks produce many different analytical products ranging from in-depth studies, to full-fledge policy reports, shorter policy briefs, opinion pieces and articles in printed and electronic media. Some centers also publish regular periodical journals. Many produce regular information bulletins, newsletters and similar publications aimed at spreading policy-relevant information, informing, raising awareness and educating broader audiences.
The larger the production, the bigger the need for introducing a system for quality control of written production. For us as donors, this is one of the indicators of how serious is the organization about their products and their overall organizational development. The quality control is a part of research & development inside the organization. So, the first key issue is to initiate this process regardless of the choice of quality control: outside or inside the organization, peer-reviews or expert view, team work/debates and review, focus groups discussing draft reports or combination of all of these. Less developed and small think tanks could benefit from outsider’s review (since the pool inside the organizations) and we as donors encourage them to build in the outsider’s quality control in the price of their policy products.
2. Communication strategy
All think tanks communicate its policy products to policy makers, specific expert audience, stakeholders and the public at large. The communication patters and strategies depend on the political culture, the nature of the think tanks and the type of policy product / work being promoted. While I am aware that there is no on-size-fit-all communication strategy, we are interested to learn about the approaches our grantees employ in communicating their research. Similarly, aware that advocacy very often builds on effective communication but is a different undertaking, often there is a need to distinguish both.
The key markers for the level of organizational development are. Do think tanks
a) have an overall communication strategy or specific strategies for each analytical product;
b) identify specific target audiences for their product and incorporate communication plans into their study design;
c) use conventional media, new media or both;
d) have specialized personnel to take care of communication and advocacy efforts.
3. Mission, Strategic planning, governance and management structures
Think tankers are often great visionaries when it comes to looking at the future development of their countries. The practice of the Think Tank Fund reveals that very few of those are equally visionary when their own institutional development is in question. In this part, TTF performance indicators follow some of the more generic models outlined by Enrique:
a) If the think tank in question resorts to the same visionary ideas when it comes to the development of their own organizations? Do they have specific strategic plans? How have they arrived to those plans? Is there a regular planning cycle within the organization and to what end?
b) Think tanks along government watchdog organizations are first critics of the poor governance structure, (lack of) accountability and transparency in their countries to which they readily offer alternatives. Do they employ the same rigor when it comes to their own governance structures and transparency? Do they have an Executive or Programmatic Board, or both? What are their functions and how the think tank secures proper oversight?
c) Is the think tank’s dedication to producing relevant policy analysis matched with an effective organizational structure and adequate management practices? Does the center submit itself to a Is there an external audit part of the regular practice? Does the think tank consider itself sustainable? By what means have they achieved sustainability and what is at the core of its fundraising strategy?
While literature is full on advices and models under Point 3 the advices and Handbooks on point 1 and 2are few and apart. Feel free to use these pages to share some of your favorites