Kick-Off Meeting for ISOC NL ThinkTank Feasibility Study: A Timely Initiative in Policy Research

On June 5th, 2024, a pivotal meeting was held at the Institute of Network Cultures in Amsterdam to explore the feasibility of establishing the ISOC NL ThinkTank. This initiative, driven by the Institute of Network Cultures of the Amsterdam University of Applied Science, Internet Society Netherlands (ISOC NL) and the Network Institute of the VU University Amsterdam, aims to create a platform dedicated to independent policy research and knowledge production, focusing on the digital society. The formation of this ThinkTank comes at a critical moment as the need for scientifically grounded policy advice and interdisciplinary research is increasingly evident.

Meeting Highlights

The meeting brought together key stakeholders, including Constanza Gajardo Leon (The Network Institute), Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures) and Ruben Brave (Chair, ISOC NL). The discussion underscored the diffuse landscape of policy research, which advocacy groups currently dominate. The proposed ThinkTank seeks to fill this gap by providing scientifically grounded policy advice and facilitating interdisciplinary research.

from left to right: Ruben Brave, Geert Lovink, Constanza Gajardo

The Need for Structured Policy Research

One of the critical insights from the meeting was the recognition that policy research often lacks a systematic approach. To address this, the ThinkTank will follow a structured process:

1. Recognition: Identifying issues that need attention.

2. Research: Conducting thorough research to produce actionable insights.

3. Policy Advising: Translating research findings into policy recommendations.

4. Advocacy and Campaigning: Using these recommendations to lobby for change and influence public opinion.

Step-by-Step Approach

1. Recognition: Identifying Issues That Need Attention

The first step involves recognizing and identifying pressing issues within the digital society. This includes monitoring technological advancements and their societal impacts, such as the rapid development of AI and XR technologies. For instance, concerns about data privacy, algorithmic bias, and the ethical implications of AI can be highlighted. By systematically identifying these issues, the ThinkTank ensures its research agenda is relevant and timely.

Example: A recent issue identified was AI’s potential to perpetuate hiring process biases. Recognising this, the ThinkTank can initiate research into the algorithms used in HR software and their impact on fair hiring practices.

2. Research: Conducting Thorough Research to Produce Actionable Insights

Once an issue is identified, conducting in-depth research is next. This involves gathering data, analyzing trends, and understanding the broader context of the issue. The ThinkTank will employ interdisciplinary methods, bringing together experts from various fields to ensure a comprehensive analysis.

Example: Researching the impact of XR technologies on education by conducting case studies in schools using VR for immersive learning experiences. This research could examine the educational benefits and the potential risks, such as screen time and data privacy concerns.

3. Policy Advising: Translating Research Findings into Policy Recommendations

The findings from the research phase are then translated into clear and actionable policy recommendations. This step bridges the gap between academic research and practical policy-making, ensuring that the insights gained are utilized effectively.

Example: Based on the research on XR in education, the ThinkTank could recommend policies for the safe and effective use of VR in classrooms, including guidelines for data privacy, recommended screen time, and teacher training programs.

4. Advocacy and Campaigning: Using These Recommendations to Lobby for Change and Influence Public Opinion

The final step involves advocating for the adoption of the policy recommendations. This includes engaging with policymakers, participating in public forums, and running campaigns to raise awareness and support for the proposed changes.

Example: Launching a campaign to promote digital literacy among educators and parents, highlighting the benefits of VR in education while advocating for policies that protect student privacy and well-being.

Focus on Technology and Societal Challenges

The ThinkTank’s initial focus will be on emerging technologies such as AI and XR, examining their implications for societal challenges. By studying these phenomena in depth and formalizing the resulting knowledge, the ThinkTank aims to make its projects more tangible and scientifically relevant. This approach was exemplified by previous ISOC NL initiatives, such as the Make Media Great Again (MMGA) project, which can serve as a model for future efforts.

Interdisciplinary and Inclusive Research

A significant emphasis was placed on the importance of interdisciplinary research and the inclusion of various stakeholders, including academia, NGOs, policymakers, and users. This approach ensures that the research is comprehensive and addresses the needs of all relevant parties. By broadly disseminating findings and involving stakeholders in the research process, ThinkTank aims to increase its relevance and impact.

Timeliness of the ThinkTank Initiative: shutdown of the Stanford Internet Observatory

This initiative is particularly timely given the recent shutdown of the Stanford Internet Observatory, as discussed in a recent Platformer article. The article highlights the urgent need for robust, independent policy research centers to address the complex challenges posed by digital technologies. The closure of such a significant research institution underscores the vulnerability of policy research efforts and the critical need for new, resilient structures like the ISOC NL ThinkTank.

Relevance to MMGA Project:

The Make Media Great Again (MMGA) project by ISOC NL focused on improving media literacy and combating misinformation. The ThinkTank aims to build on this foundation by providing systematic, scientifically validated insights into media practices and digital literacy. By applying lessons learned from MMGA, the ThinkTank can ensure that its projects are relevant and effective in addressing contemporary digital challenges.

Next Steps & Looking for a Third Board Member

The participants agreed to return to their networks to identify potential collaborators and bring concrete examples of successful projects, such as media literacy initiatives and the systematic discussion of tablet use in schools. These examples will help shape the ThinkTank’s strategy and ensure its activities are grounded in real-world experiences.

The meeting also highlighted the need for better documentation of activities and events. Current practices often lead to losing valuable insights due to rushed preparations and a focus on single events. The ThinkTank can preserve and build upon its work by establishing cultural routines for documenting activities.

To complete the ThinkTank’s board, we seek a third member, preferably with a strong financial background. This individual will help guide the ThinkTank’s financial strategy and sustainability, ensuring that our initiatives are well-supported and effectively managed.


The kick-off meeting for the ISOC NL ThinkTank feasibility study was a significant step towards creating a robust platform for policy research and advocacy. By focusing on structured research processes, interdisciplinary collaboration, and systematic documentation, the ThinkTank aims to address critical societal challenges in the digital age. We look forward to the next steps in this exciting journey and the valuable contributions it will bring to policy research and digital society.

Stay tuned for further updates as we continue to develop this initiative and work towards its formal establishment.

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