Measuring the Influence of Think Tanks
BSSB.BE Chatham House 14/11/2018
Germany Europe Russia USA
* As part of the Global Go To Think Tank Index launch for 2018, Chatham House, LSE IDEAS and the Institute for Government host a simultaneous event discussing the role of think-tanks in government and civil society.
Think tanks often play the role of insiders and become an integral part of the policy process, such as the RAND Corporation and the Urban Institute, which provide research and analysis for key agencies within the government, or as outsiders like the Economic Policy Institute and the Heritage Foundation, which attempt to get their ideas incorporated into policy by conducting research and analysis that is then aggressively marketed to policy elites and the public.
There is often a clash within these institutions and in the policy community between those who believe that think tanks should be “scholarly and objective” and those who feel they must be “policy relevant” and get their research in the hands of policy makers in order to have any value. This is an age old tension between the world of ideas and the world of policy.
This tension is best expressed by Plato in the Republic when he writes: “There can be no good government until philosophers are kings and the kings philosophers.” The academic oriented school believes that think tanks should adhere to academic research standards and focus on big picture and longer term issues while the policy relevance school believes that think tanks should be more policy oriented and thus focus more on the needs of policy makers and current policy issues.
Although the organizational structures of think tanks differ, all think tanks can be classified broadly in the categories of conservative, libertarian, centrist and progressive. These lines are not easily drawn and one can find both scholars and institutions that consider themselves to be liberal or conservative but are not ideological and are open to countervailing evidence and outcomes that challenge long held assumptions and world views. The political and philosophical foundations of think tanks can affect not only the perspective from which research is conducted, but also its outcome.
- Some think tanks offer forthright explanations of their ideological bent, while others prefer to maintain at least the appearance of nonpartisanship. Based on their selfexpressed political or philosophical orientation, the orientation of their associated scholars, and their sponsored publications, this study categorizes some of the most influential think tanks, following the widely accepted definitions of conservative, libertarian, centrist, and progressive.
- At one end of this spectrum are the conservative think tanks, which generally espouse both a free market economic policy and a traditionalist social policy. Libertarian think tanks are similar, yet their emphasis on laissez-faire economics is primary, and the government’s role in social policy is discouraged.
- The centrist think tanks that exist today are noteworthy for the wide range of their scholars’ views but also for their emphasis on a detached and nonpartisan approach to policy that allows for a synthesis of conservative and progressive elements. Finally, the think tanks listed as progressive generally support state interventionist economic policy, with many supporting less state intervention in social issues at the same time. Some think tanks that focus on particular fields or issues (i.e. defense and security think tanks) are categorized as conservative or progressive based on the current manifestation of conservative and liberal orientation in those particular fields.
Thus, think tanks that follow the realist or neoconservative school in defense and foreign policy are categorized as conservative, while think tanks that generally represent a more liberal internationalist approach are categorized as progressive. The association of narrowly-focused think tanks may shift over time, but the categorization below identifies the current ideological alliance of some of these more particular think tanks. This being said, the think tank community regardless of an individual scholar’s party affiliation or philosophical orientation, recognizes a scholarly tradition, a commitment to finding the truth and figuring out what is best for the country. Obviously, not every scholar or institution adheres to these standards a 100 percent of the time, but that is the standard that most think tanks and policy makers have come to expect from the scholars who work at these institutions.
The panel assess:
Whether think-tanks can remain relevant to both the public and policymakers in promoting good governance and offer objective policy advice.
New communications tools that think-tanks can adopt to better reach the public when competing with other narratives.
How London-based think-tanks will respond as Brexit isolates the UK from EU decision-making.
The best institutional policies that ensure that civil society organizations in the UK maintain close links with their European counterparts to continue to influence in EU policy.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at:Chatham House