Building a Think-and-Do Tank: A Dozen Lessons from the First Dozen Years of the Center for Global Development

January 13, 2014


CGD turned 12 years old in the fall of 2013. This essay is an effort to distill what we think we have learned in the past dozen years. Neither of us was present at the Center’s creation in 2001, but each arrived in the formative years and each has spent a decade helping to build CGD. Between us, we have a pretty good idea of what makes the place tick, one of us working rather more upstream and the other somewhat downstream, with plenty of overlap in the middle.

This is our idiosyncratic list of 12 lessons from the Center’s first 12 years as a think-and-do tank—the ingredients in CGD’s secret sauce. Some are attributes that other think tanks might seek to emulate. Others are part of our core DNA, bequeathed to us by the circumstances of CGD’s birth. These lessons may be of particular interest to our supporters and funders, as well as to laudable efforts (such as the Think Tank Initiative) that seek to support the emergence of high-performing research organizations in developing countries. In compiling this list, we’ve tried to abide by one of our unofficial mottos: “We take our work seriously, but not ourselves.” We hope this list will be read in that spirit.

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