Monday, 11 November 2013

Why start another think-tank?

It isn't every day someone launches a new think-tank, but that's what I'm going to do today (not by myself, but with others).  The New Weather Institute's blog already has a version of my excuse for doing so, but I thought I should put a version of it here.

Because, why would anyone start another think-tank?  It is a reasonable question. The centres of the world’s greatest cities are now heaving with think-tanks, full of young men in pressed blue shirts and young women juggling with PowerPoint presentations.

The problem is that there is something circular about most of them (but not all).  Either they are think-tanks with an agenda of their own, complaining about the present, when their answer to most questions is – well, I wouldn’t start from here if I were you.

Or they are think-tanks plugged umbilically into the establishment, dedicated to suggesting very small solutions to very narrow problems, with as little reference as possible to context or future.

They are idealists or technocrats, and little in between. And neither have much to say about the future.  Both have their attention very much fixed on the present.  What we so badly need is a few more think-tanks in the middle, with the following:
  • People with life experience starting organisations and making things happen, who can tell the difference between a real trend and a dud.
  • Enough understanding of the complexity and paradoxes of the present to begin to navigate the future.
  • Faith in people, communities and creativity, rather than disconnected, dehumanised data.
We humbly submit the New Weather Institute as a different way forward.

We are not young (I fear). We are not complacent about the present, stuck in the past, nor dismissive of the future.

We don’t extrapolate trends. We don’t suffer from the besetting sin of so many conventional think-tanks: that an idea is better if it attracts a few headlines than if it might actually work.

We are a co-operative – as far as we know, the first co-operative think-tank. We have no expensive offices and don’t require huge overheads that our customers need to underwrite.

We have between us extensive experience, not only of working on the projects which map out ways forward for organisations and people – but of making the future happen, by starting the institutions or shaping the ideas that in turn have an effect on those around us.

We don’t know what’s going to happen, of course. Nobody does. But then neither do we pretend we can measure it, bottle it, or reduce it entirely to graphs.

We’re old enough to know that things DO change.  That they change sometimes all of a sudden, and that they need a nudge or two sometimes to change in the right direction.  That's what I hope the New Weather Institute can give.

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