Maximising public impact: Think Tank Hub Geneva draws high interest by diverse set of leaders

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Ueli Staeger – On February 2016 some 40 participants from the senior management of international organisations, NGOs, academia and think tanks have been invited by foraus and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs at the Think Tank Hub Geneva to discuss and find new ways of maximizing public impact in their organisations‘ work.

Great crises require great innovation. Soon after the Ebola outbreak in 2013, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria started a vast e-consultation with several thousand experts, frontline workers and other individuals around the globe; the insights from that e-forum directly fed into the organisation’s powerful Ebola response. The public impact of the Global Fund’s Ebola campaign is just one of countless cases discussed at an innovative event at the Think Tank Hub Geneva.

Some 40 participants from the senior management of international organisations, NGOs, academia and the private sector followed an invitation by foraus and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs for an interactive exchange on how to maximise public impact in their organisations’ work. The London-based Centre for Public Impact presented a unique preview of its ‘Public Impact Framework’, which was critically debated by participants.

When reading the mission statements and mandates of any Geneva-based international organisation, all of their goals by definition aim at having public impact – healthmaintaining international peace and security or sustainable development. Why is the concept of ‘public impact’ necessary? As the discussion at the Think Tank Hub clearly demonstrated, hard-wiring the effective delivery of public impact into policy is not as easy as one may assume. All too often, the sheer size of administrations and the difficulties of reaching internal consensus overtake a clear-minded delivery of policy output aligning with organisational goals. The Centre for Public Impact’s conceptualisation of the policy-making process addresses this difficulty with a streamlined and practical framework.

Discussions also showed that simply aspiring for public impact from the outset is not sufficient. Today’s problems are not only complicated, but complex: both a problem and its relevant stakeholders today are constantly evolving; problems do not occur in a vacuum but are closely interrelated with other crises and long-term developments. As such, a simple “lessons learned” exercise at the end of a project cycle is unfit for 21st century policy-making. Effective solutions with high public impact will require organisations to oscillate between holistic planning, effective involvement of relevant actors not just in planning but also implementation, and it will require developing effective institutional memory to inform future policy correctly.

Great crises require great collaboration. With the Sustainable Development Goals urgently requiring ambitious and solid implementation measures, collaborative and focused efforts are needed in Geneva. The conversation at the Think Tank Hub Geneva only just started…

Ueli Staeger (26) is a co-founder of foraus Brussels and PhD student in International Relations/Political Science at the Graduate Institute, Geneva. His research focuses on regionalism and Africa-EU relations.