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Governments and NGOs are beginning to realise that digital strategy means more than posting a document online, but what will it take for these groups to change not just their tools, but their thinking? It won’t be enough to partner with WhatsApp or hire GrumpyCat.

Three aspects of scholarship appear to be most important: First, policymakers appear to want mid-range theory. Policymakers do not reject methodologically sophisticated scholarship across the board but do seem to find much of it not useful. They prefer that scholars generate simple and straightforward frameworks that help them make sense of a complex world. They seem not so much to be looking for direct policy advice as for background knowledge to help them put particular events within a more general context. We interpret policymakers’ preference for theories over facts to the fact that like most busy people, they are cognitive economizers who need ways to make good decisions quickly and under great uncertainty. Along these lines, Henry Kissinger reportedly demanded of his subordinates: “Don’t tell me facts, tell me what they mean.” Second, brevity is key for policymakers. We suspect that the reason that Op/Eds are so influential among policymakers is only partly due to where they are published; another important aspect of their influence is their short length. We are by no means suggesting that scholars only write in that format, but we strongly believe that research findings that cannot be presented in that format are unlikely to shape policy. Therefore, our recommended model is one in which a scholar publishes his or her findings in traditional scholar outlets such as books or journals but also writes shorter and more accessible pieces reporting the same findings and telegraphing their policy implications in policy journals, opinion pieces, or even on blogs. Finally, a related issue is accessibility: Policymakers find much current scholarly work – from across the methodological spectrum – inaccessible. Policymakers don’t want scholars to write in Greek or French, but rather just plain English.’

What lessons could the Prussian General Staff offer Indian think tank managers in the 21st century? First, that small is better. The relatively tiny size of the Staff did not detract from its respectability, once it demonstrated that it possessed expertise which no field commander had, and none could do without. […] Second, that multidisciplinary research is the key to innovation. Even as the Staff acquired in-depth expertise, it broadened its mandate to include topics that went beyond the purely military. […] The General Staff was in effect, a small but multidisciplinary think tank. […] Third, the experience of the Prussian General Staff suggests that policy advisors do their best work out of the public glare. Unlike most think tanks today, which measure policy impact based on webpage hits and media quotes, a genuinely influential research center will prepare reports for an elite audience of policymakers, not a rabble of curious onlookers. […] Lastly, the case of the Prussian General Staff goes to prove that mindset changes do not occur randomly, they are triggered by powerful reform movements that are personality-driven. Prussia was motivated to set up a professional Staff system due to the shock of its 1806 defeat and the strategic vision of high-ranking generals like Scharnhorst.

Dr Prem Mahadevan in March 2011 writing for the Vivekananda Foundation on how Indian Think-Tanks could learn from the Prussian General Staff

What lessons could the Prussian General Staff offer Indian think tank managers in the 21st century? First, that small is better. The relatively tiny size of the Staff did not detract from its respectability, once it demonstrated that it possessed expertise which no field commander had, and none could do without. […] Second, that multidisciplinary research is the key to innovation. Even as the Staff acquired in-depth expertise, it broadened its mandate to include topics that went beyond the purely military. […] The General Staff was in effect, a small but multidisciplinary think tank. […] Third, the experience of the Prussian General Staff suggests that policy advisors do their best work out of the public glare. Unlike most think tanks today, which measure policy impact based on webpage hits and media quotes, a genuinely influential research center will prepare reports for an elite audience of policymakers, not a rabble of curious onlookers. […] Lastly, the case of the Prussian General Staff goes to prove that mindset changes do not occur randomly, they are triggered by powerful reform movements that are personality-driven. Prussia was motivated to set up a professional Staff system due to the shock of its 1806 defeat and the strategic vision of high-ranking generals like Scharnhorst.

Dr Prem Mahadevan in March 2011 writing for the Vivekananda Foundation on how Indian Think-Tanks could learn from the Prussian General Staff