Reflections on Jakarta meeting – Performance Self-Assessment for Think Tanks (PSATT)

[Editor’s note: this post was written by the Performance Self-Assessment for Think Tanks team: Irena Guruli, Adriana Arellano, Leandro Echt, Renata Hessmann, and Balázs Váradi (representing Petra Reszkető).]

How often do you go back and evaluate your work? How often do you think of your performance and try to improve your organizational practices? Measuring organizational performance is a time consuming and sometimes a complex task. Think Tanks are advised to conduct some type of performance assessment not only on the project, program but also on organizational levels to measure and overcome organizational deficiencies in management and research practices (and to learn from them and improve for next time). However, when working in a Think Tank it is hard to find time and other resources to conduct systematic formal assessments.

In view of these challenges, our group decided to set up a project that aims at identifying and reviewing easy-to-apply, inexpensive tools that can enhance knowledge about our organization’s performance. We also would like to implement methodologies or practices that can be adapted to our own organizations.

For this purpose, before our face-to-face meeting in Jakarta, we conducted a comprehensive literature review, to better understand the existing practices, tools and methodologies used in Think Tanks.  After the review we realized that aspects affecting performance are made up of multidimensional elements, covering various issues starting from governance all the way to human resources, financial sustainability, impact and uptake. Therefore, in order to narrow the topic down and concentrate on specific number of dimensions to be examined in-depth, we listed all the possible aspects affecting organizational performance and evaluated each of them against four criteria of our own:

  • comparability (the others’ experience should be applicable to improve our own think tank);
  • capacity constraints of our present project;
  • usefulness (we want to look only at facets of our own performance if we feel learning more about those is of tangible use to our organizations); and
  • sustainability (we would only want to do exercises we can imagine to be repeated and built into our routine institutional processes with identifiable resources to match).

After evaluating the dimensions determining organizational performance and finding common interest we selected four relevant ones:

  1. knowledge management,
  2. quality control of publications and events,
  3. strategic direction, and
  4. organizational boards as part of the governance process.

The next step is to refine the definitions of these dimensions and establish indicators that will allow us to measure them.

During the meeting in Jakarta, we went through the methodologies and research techniques that we shall use when piloting the tool in our organizations. We decided that the self-assessment shall only be conducted internally, without involving external stakeholders. To complement the secondary data collection method – desk research within the organization, we shall use the primary data collection method such as disseminating electronic anonymous questionnaires within the organization, conducting in-depth face to face interviews with the staff, holding focus groups, participatory observation on the way the things are done.

Case studies for each organization will be developed to share not only the results of the institutions according to each dimension, but to learn about challenges and opportunities to improve the methodology. We expect all these efforts within the project to be a starting point for a dialogue on how to asses and improve the performance of Think Tanks in middle-income countries.

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