Who would be interested in being part?

by Enrique Mendizabal

My first thought had been students: young bright minds in undergraduate or postgraduate courses who are motivated and interested in working in policy but are not keen to join ‘old-school’ academic or consultancy research centres. When I was at uni we only had four choices: the government, traditional and established think tanks, NGOs, and international agencies. In each case we had to ‘join’ an established institution: with its rules and baggage.

Never have these rules and baggage been more relevant: long studies, unimaginative communications, exaggerated hierarchies, etc.

But, back then, setting up a new initiative was out of the question. The start-up costs would have been too high. Today, on the other hand, they can be almost zero.

Build the foundations while you study

Prospective members of the digital hub could ‘join’ while studying. They could combine the writing of their dissertation with blogging about the subject matter. Each paper they read could become a post and each chapter could evolve into a background note or a policy brief. Every once in a while they could venture an opinion (increasingly expert).

Not only would they be able to share their work and ideas but they could also use the blog as a research tool; the comments they receive could help them in their research. Setting up a Twitter account could help a great deal too: In praise of Twitter: 5 ways in which it can help think tanks (filter, announce, search, network and argue).

By the time they are done with their dissertation and ready to join the labour market they will be well known in their field and will have a public body of knowledge to leverage in forming a new initiative. At the very least, if they choose to join an established think tank, the blog and their visibility will be good for them.

Don’t do it alone

When I first thought about the Digital Think Tank Hub I had teams in mind. Small groups of people interested in an issue coming together to develop the think tank. So students (as well as researchers and practitioners interested in joining the hub) should look for others interested in the same issues as they are.

Take an issue like transport: a team of three could tackle rural, urban, and international transport; or infrastructure, public service concessions, and financing.

Here is some very good advice from Hans Gutbrod on think tank start-ups.