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This discussion paper was commissioned by the RSA in partnership with the Think Tank Initiative to explore the changing role of developing country think tanks in influencing policy in today’s ever-changing and complex world.

Growth in the number of think tanks in developing countries in recent years, and the increasing role they play in influencing policy and practice, suggests they could be an untapped resource for sustainable social change. 

In addition to getting the basics right, traditional think tanks must innovate to think systemically and act entrepreneurially in order to be a truly impactful organisation in the 21st century. They must also be open to experimentation and unafraid to employ new ways of working.  

The paper argues that think tanks must be fit for purpose in order to achieve sustainable social change in their own local context. To do so, they should act politically and exercise power and influence when necessary. Three directions for innovation which could be considered are as follows:

  • Political insights: explicitly developing the expertise and knowl­edge of local political context, for example through carrying out ‘political and power’ assessments on any given issue, and for instance developing an expertise in polling.
  • Elite convening: developing a function which not only facilitates debate and discussion between key interest groups but which looks to identify collective interests and coordinate actions across these different stakeholders to help bring about policy change. This would also entail think tanks building partnerships with specific and potentially powerful interests, such as the church, which carry more weight than themselves.
  • Campaigns and alliances: essentially this would mean engaging in more bottom-up approaches to policy influence, whereby think tanks leveraged the power of citizens and communities to press the case for reform. 

Download 'Innovation in think tanks' (PDF, 1MB)

Read the report online

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