Around the world, strong think tanks undertake high-quality research that feeds into policy debates, enabling policymakers to make informed public policy decisions. But how do these think tanks engage in the organizational capacity building (OCB) processes that serve to continuously strengthen their institutions, and how does OCB play out in their day-to-day realities?  

[Editor’s Note: This is the first post in a series on think tanks and organizational capacity building, edited by Katy Stockton and Shannon Sutton. The book, Action Research and Organisational Capacity Building: Journeys of change in southern think tanks, that this series is based on can be accessed hereThis post was written by Shannon Sutton, Senior Program Officer with the Think Tank Initiative.]

Why OCB?

What is organizational capacity building? As Peter Taylor outlines in the book’s introduction, there are many dimensions to OCB, such as research quality, culture, governance, networks, and strategy – all of which overlap and influence each other. Think tanks need to be able to adapt and transform themselves to ever-changing contexts, and engaging in a process of exploring OCB can lead to important learning for these organizations as they work to continuously strengthen themselves.

In order to learn more about these OCB processes within think tanks, the Think Tank Initiative (TTI) undertook and oversaw an action research project from 2011-2013, using five diverse case studies.

Who participated and how?

Representatives from the following five institutions, all supported by TTI, took part in this project:

Everyone came together through a small “community of practice” to share experiences and collaborate with one another – despite the fact that they were located on four separate continents. Using webinars as well as face-to-face meetings, they participated in exchanges that allowed for critical debate, mutual reflection, and learning.

The approach to OCB was customized by each participating institution so that they could incorporate individual contextual considerations and determine what worked best for their individual organizations. While some took a holistic view of organizational capacity, others focused on specific areas of their work.

In this blog series, as well as in the book that it’s based on, these participants describe in their own words how they worked to build capacity within their organizations throughout the life of this project. They also outline their successes, challenges, and lessons learned through the OCB process. The stories they tell differ greatly from one another, and highlight the importance of shared learning experiences.

 OCB book cover

About this series

This is the first blog in a seven-part series on think tanks and OCB.

In the second post in this series, Andrea Ordóñez (previously of Grupo FARO) discusses the challenge of maintaining a rigorous research process while working towards an overall goal of shaping policies. She focuses on the importance of balancing impact and rigour with honesty in the Ecuadorian context.

In the third post in this series, Roshni Alles of CEPA shares the challenges of participatory approaches to effecting change within an organization. She outlines her Sri Lankan think tank’s unique organizational culture of decentralized decision-making, highlighting both the successes and challenges that result from this approach.

In the fourth post in this series, Asif Saeed Memon and Mome Saleem of Pakistan’s SDPI delve into the challenging national context that regularly influences their work, providing an interesting overview of the many challenges that think tanks like SDPI face in Pakistan when it comes to conducting quality research and advocating for policy change.

In the fifth post in this series, Antonia Mutoro (previously of the IPAR-Rwanda) writes about the power of a mentoring approach as the institution’s most important lesson during the OCB process. She highlights the importance of recruiting the right mentors, engaging in M&E, and creating an exit strategy for the mentor and mentee.

In the sixth post in this series, Dr. Michael Ofori-Mensah of IEA-Ghana describes his institution’s focus on strengthening research quality for the OCB project. He outlines the processes undertaken throughout the life of this action research project, including the introduction of a peer review system, and the significant results his think tank experienced.

In the seventh post in this series, Peter Taylor shares insights and lessons from his role as coordinator of the OCB Action Research project.