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As the year goes by…our After Action Review

2014 has been a very fruitful year for Politics&Ideas. We have conducted some new and interesting capacity building projects, we were able to test new ideas, and we have participated in very engaging conversations on the topics that inspire us.

We are also very appreciative of the support from the Think Tank Fund, INASP and the Think Tank Initiative. We have enjoyed and are enjoying the projects that they have commissioned us or decided to support. All of them are funders with whom we can learn together and they come up with suggestions that improve our work.

What have we done well?

  • We have been able to identify passionate and committed professionals such as Dena Lomofsky from Southern Hemisphere in South Africa, Kristie Evenson, a research practitioner in Croatia and Anne Lan Candelaria from De Manila University in Philippines.
  • We have offered two successful online courses on key topics for the link between research and policy: one on how to monitor, evaluate and learn about policy influence and one on funding models for think tanks. Participants have expressed their satisfaction with these and have shared how they have learned and applied new knowledge within their organisations.
  • We have identified the need to work more and better with policymakers. We are currently developing an online course to enhance their capacity to use research in policymaking in which we  are striving to get them engaged as early as possible. We have thus created a Content Strategy group composed by current and former policymakers who are helping us develop useful and realistic curricula for the course.
  • We have been able to effectively reach towards many experts in our field to gather their thoughts and experience on capacity building in general, as well as their reactions and thinking on topics of our interest, especially promoting Southern perspectives and voices.
  • We have invited several practitioners and researchers to contribute with insightful posts to our web site, thus fostering dialogue and knowledge sharing on a variety of issues that we believe are relevant in our field.

What can we do better?

  • Agendas are tighter and tighter: we need to think better about the timing of our interventions. We have lots to share but sometimes the pace has been too quick: we need to find ways to help others find the time and mechanisms to effectively digest what we bring into the table so that it bears fruits for everyone.
  • Social networks are a very appealing space to have more ongoing dialogue with those interested in similar topics and activities. We would like to find new and more innovative ways to communicate with those who share interests in this type of spaces.
  • Participation in online courses is not yet where we want it to be. Technology for webinars does not allow us yet to give voice to every participant and thus ensure we can have live dialogues on the topics that interest all of us. Forums on platforms are very challenging to sustain due to lack of time of most participants and the scarce real time interaction and discussion they allow. We need to be more creative and come up with devices that suit participants´ interests and availability.
  • We need to learn more from those doing similar things. Though we have tried to incorporate their experience by inviting them to share posts, by interviewing them for a specific project, etc. we are aware that there is still a lot of useful knowledge about how to do capacity building that we need to tap into and incorporate in future endeavors.
  • We want to strengthen partnerships and attract more interested individuals to join our efforts and projects so that we become a real think net integrated by a diverse and talented group of professionals who want to make a genuine contribution to this field.

What have we learned?

  • That capacity building is a very fertile soil to co-produce knowledge, and for that we are eager to deepen our commitment to horizontal exchange through online courses and similar activities where we can present ideas, discuss them with colleagues; test their application in practical exercises, etc.
  • There is large room to systematise very rich experiences from Southern institutions (such as all the valuable contributions from think tanks in Latin America, Asia and Central and Eastern Europe on funding models),
  • There is a very promising potential to co-develop knowledge products throughout capacity building activities by engaging participants to organically share what they have learned and collectively produce reflections and recommendations that can be of use for many others.
  • Several think tanks are already making good progress in terms of monitoring and evaluating policy influence but need some extra push/help to find out more strategic and organized ways of doing this so that real learning takes place and decisions can be informed by these efforts.
  • Funding challenges are very common among think tanks, yet they are not learning from each other as they could. Many are very much willing to innovate and take risks to strengthen their models: some champions in diverse funding mechanisms could help significantly those who want to start new things. There is eagerness to learn from similar experiences, there are scarce volunteers to share them yet. Specific mechanisms to enable this exchange should be developed.
  • Policymakers regard the link between research and policy in an entire different way, from a diverse starting point. We need to build new frameworks that better reflect how things really happen in the field and thus shed light into new ways of fostering more interaction between politics and ideas.

To sum up, many reasons to celebrate our achievements in 2014 but also many challenges to begin 2015 with new energy and innovative thinking! Hope others may join us too!

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