Thursday, September 4, 2014

Should Think Tanks Stop Drafting Briefing Papers?

Justin Kosslyn, Lead Product Manager at Google Ideas, and Robert Muggah, Research Director at Brazil-based IgarapĂ© Institute, just wrote a piece titled "What's Next for Foreign Policy Think Tanks?" suggesting that think tanks need to "upgrade" their products for today's competitive information environment in order to stay relevant.  Here is more:

...There are ways that foreign policy think tanks can spread quality ideas and potentially drive real positive change. They could do worse than following the old aphorism to "show, don't tell." Instead of drafting briefing papers describing policy proposals in the abstract, think tanks can consider building software and data visualizations that demonstrate how these same policies might operate in practice. This is not as hard as it sounds -- there are some tried and tested steps worth considering.

First, engineers should be purposefully integrated into the DNA of think tanks. From the moment they arrive, these experts -- who are not part of the IT department -- should be invited to take part in decision-making meetings and to join research trips. Technology is relevant to every topic; integrate them into every area of the think tank instead of building artificial walls between them and the rest of the organization.

Second, think tank managers might consider taking a crash course in software development. This could begin with some recommended reading, especially classics like The Soul of a New Machine and Crossing the Chasm. They might also consider building out a small technical team of full-time software engineers, as the New America Foundation has done. But they should resist the temptation to outsource contractors who are not invested in the mission of the think tank.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post titled "Does Anyone Actually Read Think Tank Reports?"  And here is another Think Tank Watch post titled "Should Think Tank Reports be Shorter?"