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  • Writer's pictureClara Richards

The Topic Guide on Politics and Ideas: Research Agenda and Production

Research agenda and production

In this section:

Key factors influencing think tanks and policy research organizations in setting their research agenda

A research agenda sets out an organization’s proposed areas of study, its priorities and direction, and defines its boundaries. A research agenda can be formulated at a number of levels – organizational, programmatic, project, individual, and more widely across a sector or region. While the extent to which research agendas are in fact articulated and/or followed vary, all organizations working at the research-policy interface must deal with issues relating to their independence and autonomy, policy relevance, and quality of research. In particular issues relating to independence are of paramount importance, with much of the literature addressing the degree to which research agendas are ‘owned’ by organizations in the face of complex relationships with funders, whether these are national governments, international donors, or the private sector.

The literature indicates that the definition of a research agenda is subject to two broad sets of factors: (i) internal, including an organization’s mission and origins, funding model, particular researchers’ interest and experience, and organization’s values, beliefs, and ideology; and (ii) external, including the historical, political and cultural context in which the organization operates, windows of opportunity, relations with other stakeholders, and the dynamics or characteristic of research demand. The literature consistently emphasises the inter-related factors of organizational origin and funding model in considering how independent a research agenda (and therefore the research produced) is.

Context and external influences

There is a general consensus in the literature regarding the importance of contextual factors in influencing research agendas. National and regional history, political and cultural environment, and sudden windows of opportunity have great influence in the origins, characteristics and research of think tanks. Studies have highlighted the importance of historical, political, socioeconomic and cultural influences (Kimenyi and Datta, 2011) (Data, Jones and Mendizabal, 2010) (Botto, 2011), the role of donors and international discourses (Data, Jones and Mendizabal, 2010) (Braml, 2006) (Broadbent, 2012) (Ordoñez, 2012), national polices and the role of the state (Ali, Hill, Kennedy and IJsselmuiden, 2006) (Lardone and Roggero, 2011), and the private sector (Straface and Echt, 2011). Finally, others highlight a trend towards partisan politics (McGann, 2005), and an increasingly competitive environment which affects the way in which research organizations label themselves (Braml, 2006), both of which reflect upon the decisions made regarding the research agenda.

Funding models and research autonomy

Sources of funding appear to be the most important factor in the formation of a research agenda, or at least perceived to be. Funding from donors, private sector actors, and the government have all been seen as a threat not only to the objectivity of research outputs, but the questions being asked by researchers, and the way research is being framed.  Addressing the relationship between sources of fund and independence is a key step for understanding restrictions and autonomy when defining a research agenda. The literature poses a number of questions, including

  1. how research organizations can diversify their sources of funding;

  2. how to deal with cooptation when working with state actors (Okechukwu, 2008);

to what extent funding and donor practices (especially international organisms?) shape national research agendas (Bay, Perla, and Snyder, 2008); and

  1. the impact of following donor demands on relations with national government (Straface and Echt, 2011).

Commentators have also explored different funding models as a way of mitigating against criticisms of partisanship, including ‘virtual’ and ‘pop-up’ think tanks, shared reserves, and emergency funds (London School of Economics) (Mendizabal, 2012).

Internal characteristics defining the research agenda

Internal characteristics are also influential in defining research agendas. Internal factors are those that reflect the identity, management, goals and activities of the organization, and are under the direct control of the think tank (Braun, Chudnovsky, Ducoté, and Weyrauch, 2010) (Struyk, 2006) and shape those issues on which the organization will work. Some studies highlight the weight of the characteristics of research management (selection of research topics, research process and research characteristics) (Braun, Chudnovsky, Ducoté, and Weyrauch, 2010), while others analyze the role of ideology and party allegiance (Elliot, 2005). The literature also suggests that it is possible to introduce organizational processes in order to balance autonomy and heteronomy in defining a research agenda (Straface and Echt, 2012).

The role of state funding and research policy

Research organizations engaged in policy research interact with national (and subnational/local?) governments in varying degrees and for a number of purposes. This can take the form of partnership in implementing or planning a project, being directly or indirectly funded to undertake research in specific areas or for a specific purpose, or informally collaborating in research and policy processes. Due to these wide-ranging links, governments can have a specific interest in an organization’s research agenda, sometimes framed by a policy on research priorities across sectors (National Health Institute, 2007). The literature poses a number of critical questions in regard to the role of the government in defining research agendas and policy at national level, including whether it is possible to gear policy towards how researched produced is used (Cáceres and Mendoza, 2009), and whether close relationships between producers of policy research and governmental actors inhibits the former’s willingness and ability to criticise the latter (Okechukwu, 2008).

Transnational and colonized thinking?

In developing countries, clear national policies on research are often lacking.  This means that it is left to researchers to define their own research agenda in the absence of a national level framework. Although there are a variety of ways organizations can and do this (Bhattacharya, 2012), in many cases international organizations fill this ‘vacuum’ by funding research and encouraging organizations to frame their agendas in accordance with international demands, including the use of seemingly ‘western’ narratives. International donors encourage this by offering research training programs (Cáceres and Mendoza, 2009) as well as technical support alongside research grants.

There are concerns that an organization wishing to access funds must ‘internalize’ particular perspectives, concepts, and ideas, leading to a homogenization of research products coming from developing countries and the development of ‘colonized’ thinking. For many researchers, finding an authentic ‘voice’ in policy discussions led by the international community is a key concern, and recently the question of the participation ‘southern’ organizations in setting the global development agenda has been raised (Ordoñez, 2012).


Context and external influences

Braml, J., (2006) ‘U.S. and German Think Tanks in Comparative Perspective, German Policy Studies’, Volume Three, Number 2, pp. 222-267.

What causes think tanks’ different organizational and strategic patterns and how does it influence their behavior? Two main hypotheses are tested to answer these questions based on Braml’s studies of German and U.S think tanks. Firstly, despite a clear trend of internationalization, think tanks remain nested in their institutional, legal, funding, labor, media, intellectual, and increasingly competitive think tank environment(s) and employ different and changing strategies to cope with and impact their changing marketplace(s) of ideas and resources. Secondly, different types of think tanks are settled in their distinct niches in the marketplace(s) of ideas and resources. The author identifies different environmental factors influencing the “opportunity structures” of think tanks both at the domestic and the regional/global levels, and some intermediary variables, which in their specific combination have a distinct impact on think tanks’ growth, organizational and strategic behavior, and thus, the role(s) they can play.

Datta, A., Jones, N. and Mendizabal, E. (2010) ‘Think Tanks and the Rise of the Knowledge. Economy Their Linkages with National Politics and External Donors’. In Garcé,  A.  and Uña, G.,‘Think Tanks and Public Policies in Latin America’, Fundación Siena and CIPPEC.

The aim of this chapter is to explore a number of hypotheses that explain the development of think tanks in different regional and national contexts in the developing world, including their research agendas. For this purpose the authors use the RAPID framework to understand the role of think tanks. The framework identifies four broad interlinked areas: (1) context (including politics and institutions); (2) evidence (research quality, researcher credibility and the framing of messages); (3) links (between researcher and policy maker communities either formal or informal, the role of intermediaries, networks and campaigning strategies); and (4) external influences (including the role of donors, international discourses, global political or economic shocks; but also socioeconomic and cultural influences). The report is organized geographically, beginning with Latin America, followed by Central and Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Northeast Asia. Finally, authors share main lessons for donor and for think tanks.

Broadbent, E., (2012) ‘Research-based evidence in African policy debates. Case study 3: The contemporary debate on genetically modified organisms in Zambia’.  London: EBPDN/Mwananchi

What is the role of the ‘policy influence narratives’ in shaping scientific debates? This case study considers contemporary discussions surrounding Zambia’s acceptance of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The characteristic of the debate is that evidence on respective sides, supporters and opponents of GMOs; it is thought to be selective; and is used with the intention of supporting a position formed prior to any review of existing evidence. The debate lends itself to the selection and dismissal of evidence on the grounds that it is either invalid or not part of the relevant ‘discourse’. While – and probably because – this national debate showcases a great use of evidence, there is considerable scope to suggest that evidence selection is based on economic interests. However, the author concludes that this is not unsurprising, or illogical, but rather in keeping with an emphasis within international circles on communication, persuasion and evidence based policy, which lends itself to the partisan use of evidence in order to achieve maximum ‘impact’.

McGann, J., (2005) ‘Think Tanks and Policy Advice in The U.S’. Thank Tanks and Civil Societies Program Foreign Policy Research Institute. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania.

After presenting a classification of US think tanks, the study identifies a number of external changes that have presented the think tank community with new challenges and opportunities that influence the ability of these organizations to effectively operate. Two changes are important in terms of definition of a research agenda. Firstly, funding changes that lead to short term, project specific and results driven grants; that increased policy orientation and focus on current issues and legislative agendas; generated a lack of long run, and general institutional support tends to distort the mission and research agenda of many think tanks; limited the depth of analysis and innovation within think tanks; and increased the influence of donors on research design and outcomes. Secondly, an increase in partisan politics; that has forced some think tanks to conduct more focused research and analysis and to be increasingly cautious of how and when to disseminate ideas; and increased pressure to politically align/difficulty to remain nonpartisan.

Ali, N.; Hill C.; Kennedy, A. and IJsselmuiden C. (2006) ‘What Factors Influence National Health Research Agendas in Low and Middle Income Countries?’. Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED).

Reflecting on case studies in Cameroon, Cuba, The Gambia, Laos, Nicaragua, and the Philippines, the authors argue that health research in many developing countries faces two major challenges: a) a lack of clarity on national health research priorities; and b) the undue influence of international health research programmes, that fail to take account of these health research needs. Consequently, health research in developing countries is often not aligned with health research priorities in these countries. The authors reflect on how countries, international donors and programmes can take action in setting strategies for developing national health research agendas that address priority health needs.

Botto, M. (2011) ‘Think tanks in Latin America: comparative radiography of a new political actor’, in Correa Aste, N. and Mendizabal, N., Vínculos entre conocimiento y política. El rol de la investigación en el debate público en América Latina. CIES, ODI, UP and EBPDN.

(In Spanish)

The author has carried out a comparative study in nine Latin American countries to determine the existence of particular characteristics of think tanks in the region. In relation to the definition of research agendas, the study argues that the mark of origin strongly determines and influences the academic production in terms of agenda, motivations and strategies. However, think tanks’ life stories and performances demonstrate a learning process in which, facilitated by the passage of time, think tanks will expand and diversify their agendas, rather than specialize in one subject. The expansion and diversification of this agenda appears as the result of exogenous factors rather than endogenous to the institution, such as a combination of international funding trends and requirements of the regional political context.

Kimenyi, M.  S. and Datta, A. (2011) ‘Think tanks in sub-Saharan Africa: How the political landscape has influenced their origins’. London: Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

Rather than starting with the think-tank as the central unit of analysis, the authors first focus on the political environment and identify how this has influenced the character of think-tanks. Drawing on an exploratory review of the literature, they try to capture the broad political context across sub-Saharan Africa over the past five decades and assess what impact, if any, this has had on the origin and development of think-tanks. The authors uncovered two key factors shaping the context and its evolution: 1) the concentration of power across nation states and 2) the role of external influences.

Funding models and research autonomy

Okechukwu, I. (2008) ‘Payment and independence: does a client relationship with government inhibit ‘think-tank’ criticism?’, Occasional Paper No 15. Johannesburg: South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), 

The study explores how policy research institutions will be challenged to retain their objectivity on public policy issues regardless of their source of funds. Drawing upon Nigeria’s experience under military government, this paper analyzes the relationship between privately and publicly funded think-tanks and government, and the extent to which that relationship may change commensurate with the extent of government funding. It investigates the extent of the real or notional independence of think-tanks. The author concludes that a transactional approach is necessary to understand the relationship between government and think-tanks, which in turn calls for analysis that is informed by a particular history and which examines the experiences of think-tanks in a specific country.

Bay, K., Perla, C. and Snyder, R. (2008) ‘Who sets the intellectual agenda? Foreign funding and social science in Peru’.  Providence: Brown University.

Does dependence on foreign funding lead to foreign control? This paper contributes to the study of the globalization of the social sciences by analyzing new bibliometric and survey data on Peru. The results of the analysis show that social science research in Peru is heavily dependent on foreign funding. Still, there is little evidence that this dependence results in external control over the intellectual agenda. A surprising multiplicity of diverse institutions fund research in Peru, and this pluralism gives scholars autonomy even in the face of strong resource constraints. Although resource constraints do not lead to foreign control, they are associated with conditions that have potentially harmful consequences for the quality of research. Five conditions are explored: multiple institutional affiliations, hyper productivity, forced interdisciplinarity, parochialism, and a weak national community of scholars. The author conclude that because of the formidable barriers to increasing domestic support for research, dependence on foreign funding is the most feasible option for social scientists in developing countries.

Mendizabal, E. (2012) ‘Shared reserves and emergency funds: a new way of thinking about core funding’. Onthinktanks blogpost, April 6th 2012.

All think tanks want core funding. And all funders want to avoid making their grantees dependent on them and them only. In the meantime, think tanks struggle to create, by the most imaginative means possible, a cushion for hard times (and this is particularly relevant in middle income countries); while donors, even the most progressive ones, introduce layers and layers of reporting conditions to ensure that their funds are never misused. The consequence is that many think tanks are simply unable to build their reserves, and are forced to make safe but uninteresting strategic choices and unable to bid for large programs that may demand initial investments, and are therefore left at the mercy of northern or bigger think tanks or consultancy firms who can and then relegate think tanks to working on case studies or text-boxes. Based on this situation, the author makes two proposals for donors to consider: a shared reserves fund and an emergency-bridging fund.

Internal characteristics defining the research agenda

Braun, M., Chudnovsky, M., Ducoté, N. y Weyrauch, V. (2010) ‘Far away from Thinktankland: Policy Research Institutes in Developing Countries. In Garcé, Adolfo  and Uña, Gerardo. Think Tanks and Public Policies in Latin America. Buenos Aires: Fundación Siena and CIPPEC.

Access online (English version)

Access online (Spanish version)

This study identifies the main factors that help policy research institutions influence policy making through the use of research. While focused in think tanks’ policy influence, the study addresses the impact of some interesting variables related to this topic guide: the characteristics of research management (selection of research topics, research process and research characteristics), the link between funding and a long term research agenda, and the existence of political demand of research. A key factor in influencing policy is whether research management reflects a balance between continuity and adaptation because – while maintaining focus on their topics of specialization – think tanks also need to respond to the changing political and social environment to maintain their relevance and weight in the political and public arenas.

Elliot, W. with Hicks, S. and Finsel, C. (2005) ‘Think tank typologies: which typology best fits with the mission and core values of NCAI Policy Research Center? A report prepared for the NCAI Policy Research Center’. Washington D.C: NCAI Policy Research Center.

Based on McGann and Weaver (2000) and Albeson (2002) typologies of think tanks, the paper seeks to provide recommendations as to models and characteristics that would be most useful to consider in establishing and implementing the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) Policy Research Center. In so doing, authors address the characteristics the agenda setting and the research in different types of think tanks: ranging from ‘driven by ideas’, to ‘by ideology’, ‘by party allegiance’, or ‘government contractor needs’. And they also analyze the relationship between those research characteristics and the think tanks’ funding and ideology.

Struyk, R. (2006) ‘Renewing the work program: creating innovation’. In Managing think tanks: Practical guidance for maturing organizations. OSI/LGI and The Urban Institute.

Think tanks, like other organizations, need to renew their agendas for at least three reasons. First, they may have to shift the direction of their research in order to ensure that their work remains relevant to their nation’s evolving policy agenda. Second, staff retention and morale can depend on key members having the chance to change the focus of their research and policy analysis. Third, in order to raise funds, organizations must offer to work on subjects for which there is a demand for new information and analysis—they must follow the market. This chapter addresses the task of fostering, developing, and assessing innovations at think tanks. And analysis how the characteristics of think tanks’ work are related to their ‘clients’: national government agencies, local governments, donors, and businesses.

Straface, F. and Echt, L. (2011) ‘Navigate politics with long term objectives’. Buenos Aires: CIPPEC.

(In Spanish)

How think tanks produce research as part of the policy making process? The authors argue that think tanks research agenda is the result of a game of different actors, a game in which think tanks manage a set of resources to offer, but at the same they have to deal with actors who have their own demands. This paper highlights a number of questions, including how the development of the party system influences research agendas, to what extent should think tanks respect international cooperation demands, and how to create equilibrium between heteronomy and autonomy. The authors suggest that think tanks should navigate political conjuncture with long term objectives that allow setting issues in the agenda. And share some organizational decisions and processes that could help think tanks to balance autonomy and heteronomy when defining a research agenda.

Research policies and public funds

National Health Institute (2007) ‘Health research priorities in Peru: an analysis of the process’. Lima: National Health Institute

(In Spanish).

The document offers an example of a developing country state setting the research agenda. The Peruvian States sets the priorities and policies for health research agenda, including analysis and recommendations for health research policies. During the process, the State has exchanged ideas with other actors (researchers, NGOs, research centers, universities, policy makers, hospitals, international organizations), and looked into other national and international experiences to learn from them. The document includes an analysis of the stakeholders involved in health research and health policies; capacity of researchers; and capacities for using research findings. Finally, it addresses how priorities in health discipline can be translated to priorities in health research.

Lardone, M. and Roggero, M. (2011) ‘The role of the State in the funding for research policy in Latin America’, in Correa Aste, N. and Mendizabal, N., Vínculos entre conocimiento y política: El rol de la investigación en el debate público en América Latina. CIES, ODI, UP and EBPDN.

(In Spanish)

Think tanks in Latin America are mostly dependent on private and foreign funding, while governments don’t have a policy toward funding them and the social sciences sector as a whole.  This is the conclusion that authors came to while exploring the role of the government in public policy research funding in Latin America. They found that governments in the region have a narrow view of research promotion so that regular public funding is mainly directed to “hard sciences”, leaving a marginal share of funding for the social sciences. The authors identified two clear research funding mechanisms: programmatic financing on a stable, systematic and structural basis that works along a long-term, permanent policy on research as a tool for development of a country and which has a fixed allocation in the national budget through ministries, public agencies or universities; and non-programmatic financing that works in an unstable and non-systematic way, funding researchers on a project-to-project basis. The authors concluded that programmatic financing tends to favour research done in universities, well-established entities with fixed budgets, and “hard scientific” research.

Transnational and colonized thinking

Cáceres, C. and Mendoza, W. (2009) ‘Globalized Research and “National Science”: The Case of Peru’. American Journal of Public Health. Vol. 99, No. 10, pp. 1792-1798.

The study focuses on the role of the State and researchers in a context of research globalization in Peru, but also in the whole southern community. In particular, the author addresses the role of international research training programs. Potential issues associated with clinical trials conducted in the global south by organizations from the global north include co-option, lack of protection, and insufficient consideration of the risks incurred by research participants and inadequate discussions about the benefits of the interventions under study in the event they are proven efficacious. These issues stem from imbalances between rich and poor countries regarding sources of funding and research governance; the level of development of regulatory frameworks, among others. The author share some ideas regarding what the State and national academic institutions can do in trying to guarantee independence and pertinent research that can help to the development of the countries.

Ordoñez, A. (2012) ‘Should think tanks be looking into the global development agenda?’. Onthinktanks blogpost, December 3rd 2012.

By reflecting on the 2012 Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank Group (WBG), the author asks why and how southern think tanks can get involved in the discussion of the global development agendas? Once we have a new global development agenda, who is going to make those changes happen? How can global goals be intertwined in national politics and policies? She concludes that is still essential for think tanks working locally to follow the international agenda for pragmatic reasons: it can inform their research agendas and funding strategy.

What role for private sector actors & philanthropic organizations in the funding of policy-oriented research?

Historically, philanthropic organizations and the private sector have been involved in improving the quality of life for citizens, while also wielding significant influence over social and political agendas at national, regional, and global levels. The private sector also funds significant amounts of research. The reasons for doing so inevitably vary, including:

  1. to promote innovation and increase opportunities for promising researchers (e.g. philanthropic organizations such as the Gates Foundation);

  2. to shape emerging thinking on a topic;

  3. to establish legitimacy and raise the profile of the company; and

  4. to enhance their own operational efficiency.

Research organizations are often willing to accept funding from the private sector, with some deeming it less politicised that state funding. As questions regarding the independence and autonomy of research that seeks to inform policy persist and research in developing countries continues to lack funding from the government, relying instead on backing from international donors, it is not surprising that the private sector is increasingly thought to have an actual and potential role to play within the research-policy landscape (Sanborn and Portocarrero, 2003) (Ogden, 2011). As development aid increasingly looks to new funding models, the private sector is thought to provide innovative approaches to the financing of initiatives (Adelman, 2009). However, the role of the private sector is not described only in financial terms, with their overall contribution to policy discussions being realized in areas such as climate change (Sierra, 2012)

While there are significant benefits of private sector funding for research, including plugging funding gaps, generating a greater density of research on particular issues, widening the research-to-policy space, addressing issues that are not on the mainstream agenda for international donors and national governments, and creating country-relevant research (Callahan, 1999James, 2011), the role of the private sector in funding research also generates a degree of concern. Private sector funding does not preclude criticisms of partisanship, for the private sector (particularly in developing countries) often wields influence amongst policymakers due to the porous borders between the two. This creates doubt over the independence of the research they fund (Mendizabal, 2012).

The private sector is also thought to lack a sense of social responsibility, driven by a profit motive and therefore seeking to maximise economic gain rather than engage in pursuing uncomfortable truths which may threaten financial success. Further, multinational companies can use research to weaken national actors in the decision-making process, while allegedly ‘co-opting’ others (Broadbent, 2012).

In addition to this central debate, the literature also addresses the relative importance of research in the wider ‘development’ agenda of the private sector and philanthropy, which sees these actors investing heavily in social initiatives and social entrepreneurship and discusses the ways in which private sector-funded research has influenced policy agendas in developing countries (Food & Water Watch, 2012)


On private sector funding and philanthropy

Adelman, C. (2009) ‘Global philanthropy and remittances: reinventing foreign aid’, Brown Journal of World Affairs, Vol 15, Issue 2.

Contemporary private giving takes an astounding number of forms, from small NGOs working in remote villages in Africa, to state-of-the-art online charitable giving sites, to nonprofit venture philanthropy firms. The authors argue that in order to help people in sustainable ways, foreign aid must find a new business model. The new paradigm should be grounded in what William Easterly calls an “opportunistic innovation” model that looks for targets of opportunity, not rigid, long-range goals set by donor agencies.  Decentralized and more flexible, private aid responds to the enormous initiative and entrepreneurship in the large and growing civil societies of developing countries. Moreover, the paper argues that successful private philanthropic projects and public-private partnerships work because they respond to local initiatives, require co-financing as a measure of commitment, involve peer-to-peer relationships through professional associations and volunteers, and build local institutions. With a focus on local ownership, accountability, and flexibility, privately-funded programs are more likely to have lasting results.

Edwards, M. (2011) ‘The role and limitations of philanthropy’. The Bellagio Initiative paper: IDS/Resource Alliance/Rockefeller Foundation

The paper distinguishes between two philosophies of change. The first focuses on building the capabilities of others to address problems in ways that suit them best, even if this requires a long and circuitous journey over time. The second concentrates on solving a subset of the most acute or important problems in specific ways, ideally with spillover effects on the forces that influence long-term change. Both approaches are important, but they are suitable for tackling different elements of wellbeing in different ways. Too often, this debate is framed in a way that polarizes the ‘old’ as ‘dated’ and the ‘new’ as necessarily ‘more effective’, leading to impassioned but fruitless attempts to prove that one is ‘better’ than the other outside of a particular set of goals, circumstances and evaluative criteria which are themselves contested. The author argues that this is a serious mistake which displaces attention away from strategies that we should recognize that these are complementary avenues for deploying the unique advantages of foundations. By combining elements from both approaches it should be possible to construct an ‘ecosystem’ of funding styles that matches the needs of the issues and communities at hand. The paper concludes that the two priorities for the future of philanthropy are to preserve and enhance the diversity of funding options from foundations in order to ensure that every aspect of wellbeing is attended to; and strengthen their accountability.

Sanborn, C. and Portocarrero, F. (2003) ‘Philanthropy in Latin America: donor foundations challenges in building human capital and social justice’. Lima: CIUP.

Access online (In Spanish)

The authors highlight some characteristics of philanthropy in Latin America: the persistence of assistentialism and religious charity; growing interest of some sectors of the economic elite in seeking lasting solutions to hunger, poverty and violence; dispersion, fragmentation and limitation of the impact and capacity to achieve the objectives; ‘endogenization’ of some philanthropic practices. The paper also argues that philanthropic efforts aimed at closing social gaps should: seek partnerships in which governments participate as active and legitimate partners; achieve greater coherence and effectiveness in the efforts of the higher-resources and economic power in solving social problems; extend and deepen partnerships and exchange of experiences with counterparts from different societies to improve governance, transparency and social impact of their activities.

Sandulli, F. (2008) ‘Strategies of Global Corporate Philanthropy: The case of Spanish Firms in Latin America’. Madrid: Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

(In Spanish)

Why do multinational companies decide to internationalize their social action? The paper analyzes that decision through a sample of Spanish multinationals present in Latin America. The author concludes that this decision has to do with the learning dynamic characteristic of the process of internationalization of firms, so that firms with greater international exposure are more likely to undertake social action programs at the international level. Furthermore, the study shows that global companies with strong global corporate reputation tend to follow a unified social action strategy, while other companies often choose local social action strategies.

Sierra, K. (2012) ‘The Green Climate Fund’s Private Sector Facility: the case for private sector participation on the Board’, Brookings Institution.

Governance practices in the management of public, pooled funds have been evolving. Increasingly, civil society and the private sector are being asked to serve on governing boards in decision-making capacities. This paper discusses the case for private sector engagement in the Green Climate Fund’s Private Sector Facility’s governance in light of emerging practice in board governance for public funds in a variety of settings. The general idea is that an organization can enhance the likelihood of achieving its goals of scale-up, transformation and leverage by including individual voting members who bring private sector skills and experience in its board. The paper includes a number of risks, including conflicts of interest, selection by constituency versus by skills and experience, distortions of the public good, lack of knowledge of developing country conditions and opportunities, low value-added from private sector engagement, and lack of trust. Finally, the paper makes some recommendations for institutions seeking to involve private sector in their boards, suggesting that involving private sector members in their boards could be appealing to for research organizations.

Ogden. T. (2011) ‘Living with the Gates Foundation. How much difference is it making?’, Alliance magazine, November 28th 2011.

Which is the influence of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in pursuing the philanthropic agenda? Can a foundation as large as Gates change government policy or influence enough giving to really change things? Can even Bill Gates change the way the wealthy give and engage in philanthropy? The article sets that the foundation’s spending power has an inexorable impact on any field in which it chooses to invest in a number of ways. First, it attracts researchers to its interests (and away from competing interests) by making funds relatively easily available. Second, the foundation’s spending on advocacy and media affect even what is discussed in its areas of interest. Moreover, the article highlights one of the strengths of the foundation: that it was able to find a focus, but keeping the attributes of flexibility, adaptability and learning, which are all praiseworthy in philanthropy.

On private sector funding and philanthropy in research

Callahan, D. (1999) ‘The Think Tank As Flack. How Microsoft and other corporations use conservative policy groups’.  The Washington Monthly online.

Three mighty rivers of private money help shape American politics. The first, and most familiar, is direct campaign contributions to political candidates and parties. The second goes to underwrite a vast lobbying apparatus in Washington and state capitals. The third river is less well-known: it is the money which underwrites a vast network of public policy think tanks and advocacy groups. For public policy organizations on the left and the center, this source of money remains dominant, with some funds also coming from unions. However, the big development of the 1990s is that conservative institutes have had spectacular new success in tapping business money to fund ideologically charged policy research. The author argues that hard-edged corporate don’t give away money for nothing, they expect a return on their investment: corporate giving to right-wing groups has steadily increased as private sector leaders have seen the effectiveness with which conservative think tanks, and their armies of credentialed “experts,” advance business interests in the political arena, help to buy respect for the self-interested positions of private companies, and help to push ideas into the mainstream of political debate. Finally, the paper highlights the fact that all corporate contributions to nonprofits have the advantage of being tax-deductible.

James, J. (2011) ‘Academic-business relationships built on quality research and strong relationships can boast illustrated impact and great results for both sides’, Blog Impact of Social Sciences: maximizing the impacts of academic research, London School of Economics and Political Science.

Why should a company enter into academic partnerships? And what makes a good academic-business partnership? Based on Hewlett-Packard’s experience, the author gives three main reasons why a company might enter into an academic partnership: to enhance capability, enable collaboration and add credibility to its work. So what makes a good academic-business partnership?  Firstly, it must be based on quality research and teaching. Second, the best partnerships grow bottom up, based on strong personal relationships. Third, a good partnership should allow both partners to achieve some form of market differentiation. Finally, strongest partnerships are those that embrace academic independence, even where this leads to research findings that could be regarded as ‘inconvenient’ to the business.

Nachiappan, K. (2011) ‘Philanthropic Foundations, Think Tanks, and Development: Understanding and Assessing the Think Tank Initiative’. Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, November 21st 2011.

According to the author, today there are two broad philanthropic approaches to effecting change in developing countries. The first approach focuses on developing and augmenting the core capacities of citizens, empowering them to eventually function as progressive agents of change within their own societies. Development initiatives under this rubric emphasize local participation, ownership, partnership, collaboration, and capacity building. The second method endeavors to direct immediate resources to tackle and ultimately resolve problems that languish due to pervasive deficits in governance, finance, and capacity. The TTI exemplifies an emergent development paradigm—where partnership and collaboration are underscored, knowledge is recognized as a growth lever, and local agency and empowerment are deemed critical to advance and sustain growth trajectories. And philanthropy, given its penchant towards innovation and experimentation, appears poised to function as the predominant driver of this epistemic shift.

Mendizabal, E., 2012, ‘Independence, dependency, autonomy… is it all about the money?’. Onthinktanks blogpost, June 1st 2011.

What do we really mean by independence when talking about think tanks? The authors sets that the idea of independence as non-affiliation is damaging for think tanks in developing countries. It leads them to think that the only way of achieving it is to ‘let the research speak for itself’ avoid any close relationships with political or economic powers, and this can, in some cases, stop them from exploring new ways of fulfilling their missions. After exploring some actions that think tanks can carry out when seeking their independence, the article concludes that independence comes from the power of the organization (and its members) to choose their own path. But it can never be total, there is only relative independence. And finding the right balance has to be one of the most difficult things a think tank needs to achieve.

Kremer, M., (2005) ‘Encouraging private sector research for tropical agriculture’. Cambridge, M.A: Harvard University.

Private research in agriculture is particularly concentrated in rich countries. This is a result of significant failures in the market for research and development (R&D), in particular, the difficulty of preventing the resale of seed in developing countries. How can governments encourage private R&D in tropical agriculture? The paper argues that traditional funding of research may be usefully supplemented by a commitment to reward developers of specific new agricultural technologies. Rewards tied to adoption may be especially useful in increasing up-take. An illustration of how a commitment to reward developers of new agricultural technologies might work is provided.

Broadbent, E., (2012) ‘Research-based evidence in African policy debates. Case study 3 The contemporary debate on genetically modified organisms in Zambia’, EBPDN case study. London: EBPDN/Mwananchi.

This case study considers contemporary discussions surrounding Zambia’s acceptance of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The characteristic of the debate is that evidence on respective sides, supporters and opponents of GMOs, is thought to be selective, used with the intention of supporting a position formed prior to any review of existing evidence. The debate lends itself to the selection and dismissal of evidence on the grounds that it is either invalid or not part of the relevant ‘discourse’. While – and probably because – this national debate showcases a great use of evidence, there is considerable scope to suggest that evidence selection is based on economic interests.

Food & Water Watch (2012) ‘Public research, private gain: corporate influence over university agricultural research’. Washington D.C: Food & Water Watch.

What happen whens funding comes from private and corporate donations? The report provides a history of the land-grant university system including how, as public funding has stalled in recent decades, these universities have turned to agribusiness to fill the void, compromising the public mission of the institutions. The report outlines the millions of dollars that land-grant universities and professors have received from corporate funders and gives examples of the unencumbered access and influence corporations have received in return. To conclude, the report make several recommendations for ways public agricultural research should be reoriented to serve the common good, including a call for more transparency and directing research funding toward more practical solutions to the day-to-day problems facing farmers.

Lowe, P., (2012) ‘Public research for private interests’.  Harvest, December 10th 2012.

What is the “funder effect”? Based on different studies, the article argues that agricultural universities in the top five beef-producing states in the U.S. have become quasi-arms of the cattle industry, focused on work for the big corporations and commodity groups that make up the industrialized beef industry. Created to do research, teaching and service for the common people who first populated the prairie states, the colleges have become de facto research and development labs for big business, offering naming rights for buildings and professorships. But for many universities, these public-private collaborations are the only way to combat the dwindling public funds while keeping research intact: researches that would benefit small operators, organic farmers or sustainable agriculture are “orphan issues”.

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