Effect of Context on Performance of Think Tanks in Developing Countries

Developing-country think tanks strive to influence policy and ultimately contribute to improving people's lives. Perceptions vary about the ability of think tanks to contribute to positive changes in society. In fact, stakeholders involved in the Think Tank Initiative believe a country's context influences think tank performance.

This project will examine how think tanks adapt most effectively in different contexts. More specifically, it will:
- generate evidence about context factors that harm or help the influence of think tanks at the national and regional levels;
- identify actionable recommendations for institutions and donors, which will allow them to take context into account when making decisions; and,
- provide high quality data and indicators for future research on think tanks' effectiveness.

Researchers have studied how context influences the effectiveness of think tanks extensively. However, the relationship between context and the outcomes or impact of think tanks' work is not fully understood.

Think tanks may make strategic and research decisions using political, geographic, and social factors, rather than responding to them passively. While context may add a layer of complexity, it also offers opportunities. For example, think tanks and donors can leverage positive and mitigate negative context factors through their decisions.

The research team will analyze the relationships between these factors using the following approach:
- conduct desk reviews and interviews to develop a theory of change;
- categorize, validate, and test context factors in terms of how think tanks interact with and are influenced by them;
- design and implement case studies to identify how key context dimensions and factors influence think tank actions and effectiveness; and,
- develop and pilot quantitative indicators for key context and effectiveness measures based on the case study findings.

This project is expected to offer concrete and actionable recommendations for think tanks, donors, and researchers.

Project ID


Project status


Start Date

Friday, May 17, 2013

End Date

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


10 months

IDRC Officer

Taylor, Peter

Total funding

CA$ 333,700


South Asia, North of Sahara, South of Sahara, North and Central America, South America, Central Asia, Far East Asia


Think Tank Initiative

Project Leader

Elizabeth Brown

Project Leader

Courtney Tolmie


Results for Development Institute, Inc.

Institution Country

United States

Institution Website