November 17, 2015 Print

Fred Fransen, marketing director for Common Sense Economics, spends time during his Un-Conference session exchanging ideas with Barun Mitra, founder and director of India-based Atlas Network partner the Liberty Institute.

Conference presentations are too often one-sided, with a speaker and a crowd of listeners who don’t interact much apart from perhaps a few token exchanges during a Q&A session. Atlas Network sought to introduce an innovative format at the 2015 Liberty Forum & Freedom Dinner by hosting an Un-Conference session, which brings a workshop atmosphere to the traditional policy conference. With the help of trained facilitators, attendees and presenters work together to take think tank projects to new levels of ambition and effectiveness.

Richard Durana, director of Institute of Economic and Social Studies.

One of the primary purposes of the Un-Conference sessions was to aggregate the wisdom of crowds, bringing together insight and feedback from countless other think tank professionals from around the globe. Richard Durana, director of Slovakia-based Atlas Network partner Institute of Economic and Social Studies (INESS), faces a unique fundraising challenge in his country. The vast majority of wealthy Slovakians trace their fortunes back to the crony capitalism that emerged from its nascent post-communist days. How can they be convinced to support and fund free-market causes like the INESS Political Academy?

“My Un-Conference session is to help me overcome the challenges we have identified with raising funds,” Durana said. “One out of 10 of the wealthiest people in Slovakia made their money legitimately. The others are oligarchs who are not perceived well in society, but they are the people with money.” His Un-Conference display laid out the challenges that INESS faces in its fundraising goals, and included a board on which visiting participants provided their own advice and suggestions for successful fundraising strategies.

Greek Liberties Monitor, an online publication and Atlas Network partner based in Athens, used its “Green Investment Odyssey” session to solicit ideas from conference participants about how to help international investors navigate the tricky Greek financial climate, which has been on a precarious footing for years.

“The idea basically is that the Greek Investment Odyssey tries to change the narrative of how difficult it is for investment to come to Greece, and to actually provide numbers and show how it works with logical steps,” said Michael Iakovidis, cofounder and marketing director of Greek Liberties Monitor. “The second part is to give live interviews and statistics about companies that have come to Greece and the problems they have faced when doing so. Basically, we want to get multinational feedback on a Greek problem, and see different perspectives of how we could do things.”

Other Un-Conference participants included:

  • American Media Institute, a nonprofit startup that specializes in writing in-depth investigative journalism and hard news stories that cut through media bias, and distributing them to media outlets. Its efforts include an urban news service that is the largest distributor of African-American news content across the country, and its daily newswire feed that recently made a deal with Yahoo that will allow it to reach 175 million people.
  • TaxPayers’ Alliance, based in the United Kingdom, which produces a “spending plan” report that details more than 40 proposals on how the government should reduce spending. The organization wants to work out how best to measure the impact of that report in innovative new ways.
  • IDEAS, based in Costa Rica, is tackling the high cost of regulation in its country, and used its Un-Conference session to investigate how best to achieve a measurable and positive impact by prioritizing reform proposals.
  • Freedom Research Association, based in Turkey, explored ideas for how to fund and facilitate a series of two-day colloquia in eight different cities that will bring law students together to write publishable academic papers on aspects of the rule of law.
  • CapX, a U.K.-based content distribution service organized by the Centre for Policy Studies, recently expanded its operations to the United States. CapX seeks to provide a global audience for the most interesting think tank projects, and also provide a platform through which think tanks can bring relevant worldwide content to their own local audiences.
  • The Foundation for Government Accountability, based in Florida, aims to reduce the number of people reliant on government welfare programs, and to help the most effective private charities replicate their services and scale to larger and wider areas of service.
  • Universidad Francisco Marroquín, which sought ideas on how to amplify “silo-busting,” which counters the tendency to compartmentalize people into ideas and groups. Those groupings can create tunnel vision and an inability to see critically important challenges and game-changing opportunities.