Day 1 of the Think Tank Exchange 2015 has set the scene for a very promising exchange and refinement of ideas on how to grapple with relevant challenges shared by those interested in a more fruitful interaction between research and policy.
Personally I celebrate that its dynamic participants as well as the organisers and moderators have created room for some unusual outcomes of this type of meetings. Some assumptions have been re-visited; complexity was given a voice and a weight; divergent opinions have faced each other; gaps in our knowledge were recognized.
Although Valerie Traore from Niyel has done an incredible work to ensure time was well used and interventions stay focused, and the IDRC team with the planning committee put together a quite structured and coherent meeting, chaos and unpredictability were allowed to emerge. How can we establish benchmarks for research quality? How do policymakers and think tanks deal with the timeliness of evidence so that it can inform a decision? What are the beliefs that underpin our frameworks in terms of defining policy problems and what happens when these are radically different from the frameworks of those we desire to influence/reach? Who can help us create credible stories? How far can a simulation exercise help improve a policy decision?
Should we find answers to these and so many more questions that emerged? Are there some tensions and dilemmas we need to live with? Or should we strive to improve and test some potential solutions? How much uncertainty can we live with/do others allow us to live with?
And beneath all these questions one feels a movement towards evolution. It’s true that both think tanks and policymakers usually work as jugglers, trying to make ends meet, to simultaneously respond to the needs of very diverse stakeholders, with scarce resources for the type of problems/challenges they address. However, at certain points, from time to time, the juggling needs a break. The real strategy is behind that juggling. Sometimes it is very implicit and can be very distant from the publicly declared strategy/objectives. Sometimes it is too heavily influenced by some stakeholders and too lightly influenced by others who should be more relevant to the organization. Stopping and reflecting is a very healthy mechanism to take a candid look at what our strategy currently is, and what type of organization we are now and how this reflection mirrors (or not) our best intentions and desires. Collective discussions and insights can sharpen and polish the way we look at ourselves in this reflective moment. Others can also enlighten us with their experiences, ideas, decisions, mechanisms, etc. We can co-learn and co-build new solutions.
This type of spaces can also set the stage for innovation. When some of the above mentioned questions reach the core of our minds and hearts, we will probably decide it’s time to find some answers, even if preliminary and rough. We prioritise. We may find others who share our burning question/s and might become good partners in seeking for positive change. We can then see ourselves as innovators who –even when still juggling- are also open to test new approaches, ideas, relationships. So, is there something new about the emerging questions and ideas that can be used as a springboard to fruitful change? What do we wish to do differently when we go back home? We probably have a lot of the regular homework to attend but probably we will not forget all the questions, and attractive answers or ideas. Hopefully what is still potential here and now will be further explored and worked upon in the upcoming months/years. Fruitful initiatives like Southern Voices have blossomed in this space. Which will be the next generation of innovations?