‘Strengthening Research Quality for Policy Engagement in Africa’ was the theme of the roundtable jointly organized by the Think Tank Initiative (TTI), the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC)and the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF)held in Nairobi, Kenya, on 19-20May and was followed by a conference on ‘University and Think Tank Relationship: Finding Synergies’ on 21-22 May.The roundtablewas to bring together think tanks and other stakeholders to identify core needs for capacity development to improve research quality. The conference aimed at sharing the research findings from Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia on the relationships between think tanks and universities. Over 100 participants from think tanks, universities, development partners and policy making bodies attended the events.
The roundtable showed that policy and academic research are completely different and have diverse target audiences; however, both require rigorous and evidence based analysis in order to be taken-up and/orhave impact on policy directions. Participants, in sharing their ideas and experiences on how to strengthen research quality for policy engagement, identified the somerequisite capacities that includeunderstanding the policy process; building relationships among stakeholders - academics, think tanks and policymakers; recruiting and retaining quality staff; packaging research for communication to different audiences; clearly communicating to policymakers to achieve real solutions and benefits; and mobilizing long term funding.The main recommendations were to look for innovative sources of funding from the private sector, for example, and collaborative works among think tanks, civil society organizations and academia for quality research and thereafter policy impact.
The conference, focused on case studies and experience sharing. Discussions revealed that there is some relationship between think tanks and universities, but the collaborationis weak, depends on country context and tends to be informal. Partnership between the two entities is mainly explained by the requirement to fulfill mutual needs. Universities and think tanks have complementary roles and have grounds for collaboration and to develop ameaningful and win-win partnership, capacities need be strengthened in key areas of leadership,research,resource mobilization and networking starting on an informal basis.
The participants also committed to contribute and continue the dialogueon policy changes based on nine (9) key areas, namely sustainable strategies for funding; promotion of result-based management for policy impact; capacity building for strategic planning; regional and supra-regional network for policy impact; relative role of think tanks; theory of change for the relationship between think tanks and universities; methodology for the evaluation of public policies; policy research journal; and typology of policy research.
ACBF has been supporting the creation and the capacity needs for think tanks since 1991 and has helped create 35 thinks tanks and today still supports 19. A recent evaluation conducted in 2013 by the ACBF, states that think tanks in Africa remain a catalyzing element in the development of sound economic policy and economic development in Africa. ACBF will continue to fund these important institutions as the evaluation shows that ACBF remains a key player in the development of human and institutional capacity for policy analysis, including being a catalyzing agent of all actors to play critical roles in influencing policy reforms related to poverty reduction. Another important element is how activities of policy think tanks activities can be translated to development outcomes by strategically using the products and services to varying national or regional contexts.