ChallengingPosted: January 27, 2012
One challenge I’ve had a few times is whether this project is actually a think tank or something else. I guess sometimes this just reflects some people’s doubts that it’ll actually happen. After all, raising money is difficult, especially at the moment. We don’t have a wealthy donor behind us (yet). Personally, as new think tank’s founder, I’m a researcher not an entrepreneur, and we’re not claiming to have the ‘next big idea’ – or if we are, it’s in how policy and research work is done rather than just promoting a fixed political or philosophical position.
But at other times it’s a more thought-provoking question (it could simultaneously be both pessimistic and profound I suppose). For example, is what we’re developing actually a method instead? Why call it a ‘think tank’ – which inevitably positions what we’re doing as potential competition to the rest of thinktankland – when we could present it as just another way of doing policy and research? Wouldn’t this allow us to sell the approach to other think tanks or to partner with them on projects? We could even develop new think tank as a ‘white label’ product, for example as a web platform or a process that other think tanks could incorporate into their projects (‘powered by new think tank’ etc).
We’re always open to ideas (we hope), and the mission here is to improve policy and research work by involving frontline practitioners and service users, so anything that helps to achieve this is worth considering. But personally I’m also doubtful that thinktankland would buy the purchase/partner approach (at least not yet) – first because think tanks are highly reluctant to buy or sub-contract from anyone else (given their typically hand-to-mouth finances), and second because I’m not sure that the approach we’re developing can be seen as anything other than a challenge to the traditional way that think tanks work – indeed to what a think tank is in the 21st century (something I’ll return to in later posts).
That’s not to say that, alongside critiquing how traditional think tanks operate, we don’t also have to establish how our approach would be better. But it’s just to recognise that, whatever we might say, no-one really likes to be challenged.