A Think Tank has a small handful of obvious tools at its disposal. First and foremost, there’s the Conference. (Other tools include the White Paper; the Case Study; Testimony; Advice; Courses/Seminars/Online Offerings of Various Sorts; and a very few other things.)
One of the learnings from BloggerCon II is that an “un-conference” can be very refreshing. An inversion of audience and panel/keynote, with the right structure, *can* work (maybe not always, but for some topics and within some communities with certain social norms). Dave has more on this phenomenon, and particularly the role of the discussion leader. Lance Knobel, as usual, says it better than I could (and as the former Davos organizer, this is one man who knows what he’s talking about when it comes to conferences). I like it.
A previous learning that we’ve been seeking to refine is the Food for Thought dinner. Either after the main day of the conference or in the middle evening, try organizing dinners at area restaurants on specific themes, and throw up an online sign-up form. Each FFT dinner has a leader, whose job it is to pose the Hard Question to the table and to record the insights that pop out of the conversation over broken bread (and perhaps a bit of wine).
Given the number of conferences we put on, it would be sad if we weren’t improving — or at least seeking to innovate — as we go along. Help, please, if you have ideas.