The Think Tank Initiative (TTI) was a remarkably ambitious and long-term effort managed by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and funded by six well-known donors. It ran over a period of ten years (2008-2019) and provided support for 43 think tanks in 20 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, with a total budget of more than USD 180 million. The overall goal was to strengthen independent policy research institutions in developing countries “to ensure that research results inform and influence national and regional policy debates”.
The external evaluation of Phase Two of the Think Tank Initiative (2014-2019), undertaken by NIRAS, found that core grant support yielded significant results through flexibility and space for think tanks to develop strategies and put them into action. This was reinforced by continuous accompaniment and advice from Regional Program Officers and, to a lesser extent, through supplementary capacity development inputs.
The linchpin of organisational strengthening was investments in human resources. This enhanced the research quality and reputations of the think tanks, as well as their ability to maintain an independent and respected role in the policy discourse. The Think Tank Initiative helped grantees to focus more on communications and better position themselves for policy influence. However, due to the volatile political context often facing think tanks and the reduced availability of core support from funders think tanks need to find new ways to engage and new entry points through which they can use evidence to inform policy.
Building on the Think Tank Initiative’s (TTI) experience with evaluation and monitoring to date, an evaluation has been commissioned which will be carried out simultaneously with Phase Two of the program over the next four years. The evaluation will track progress and contribute useful findings and suggestions to the overall program and its individual grantees. In addition to supporting ongoing learning within TTI, in 2019 the evaluation will provide its independent assessment of the program’s performance and results. The terms of reference for the evaluation state:
“This evaluation will provide independent, periodic, timely and actionable feedback to allow for the adaptive management of TTI, as well as providing rigorously documented and validated learning about the program. Interim findings and evaluation outputs are meant to be positioned in such a way as to feed into organizational learning activities linked to key TTI events and decision moments. The Consultant will use diverse evaluation and learning tools including real-time feedback from rapid learning cycles, and long range evaluation studies for both accountability and high level learning.
The overall aim of the evaluation is to investigate the relationship between provision of TTI support and strengthening of think tanks, as well as the relationship between strong think tanks and changes in social and economic policy.
The key objectives of the evaluation are to:
- Measure / Describe Change: in terms of outcomes and impact of the Think Tank Initiative where evidence exists.
- Assess Implementation: process tracking will generate insights and findings that are practical and useful for the ongoing development of the Think Tank Initiative.
- Generate Learning: as a source of public learning, to be shared with a wide range of policy research organizations and interested stakeholders, on strategies for building and managing successful and sustainable think tanks.”