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Policy influence: networking


Networking is the way in which research results and ideas are communicated, not in publications or media, but through human and institutional relationships. It is evident that different types of people play different roles in the diffusion of ideas; as policy entrepreneurs, change agents, leaders, or as a variety of connectors, translators, salespersons, mavens or networkers.

Stone (2000) identifies four modes and techniques through which policy research institutes engage with one another and with policymakers, business, and civil society: person-to-person, organisational, research and virtual networks:

Four modes of networking
Person-to-person networking should not be underestimated. It is an important foundation upon which more substantial interactions are often built. Individual exchanges via email as well as meetings and 'after-hours' discussions at think tanks and other conferences help to build personal relationships. These relationships are essential to effective communication and fruitful research collaboration. This kind of networking could be said to create 'invisible colleges' of policy researchers.

Organisational networking is the public face of many think tanks. For example, the network style of the International Center for Economic Growth (ICEG) - which has offices in San Francisco, Nairobi, Quezon City, Budapest, and Cairo - is to act as a 'clearing house' for the work produced by hundreds of think tanks it counts as its 'member institutes' in 117 countries. It claims that its website is 'the place to go to find out what is being researched and written around the world by leading policy research institutes,' especially those with an interest in the market economy. Its electronic newsletter provides a medium through which institutes are kept abreast of policy research of other institutes.

Another network style is what might be called the research network think tank. Instead of operating with a full-time, salaried, in-house research staff, some successful think tanks are small organisations that operate through a dispersed network of researchers. For example, the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), based in London, operates through a network of economists throughout Europe and North America with whom it contracts to produce policy studies. This has the advantage of drawing in a wider range of expertise to an organisation and of reducing the salary and overhead costs of maintaining an in-house research capacity. A further feature is the transnationalisation of think tanks. Think tanks have moved offshore and established branch offices. For example, a few American institutes - such as the Heritage Foundation, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Urban Institute - opened offices in Moscow after the collapse of the Soviet Union to 'export' democracy and market reforms.

An additional and more contemporary networking style is that of virtual networks. Developments in information technology have meant that virtual networks of think tanks can be sustained. OneWorld provides easy access to numerous think tanks on the Web. Similarly, the four-week email discussion group convened by the GDN facilitated considerable exchange between research institutes and the wider community of development researchers and practitioners in 37 countries.

This tool first appeared in the ODI Toolkit, Tools for Policy Impact