Think Tank


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According to Oxford Dictionary, think tank is a body of experts providing advice and ideas on specific political or economic problems: a think tank devoted to the study of political and economic integration

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According to Wikipedia, a think tank (or policy institute, research institute, etc.) is an organization that performs research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, political strategy, economics, military, technology, and culture. Most policy institutes are non-profit organizations, which some countries such as the United States and Canada provide with tax exempt status. Other think tanks are funded by governments, advocacy groups, or businesses, or derive revenue from consulting or research work related to their projects.

According to onthinktanks, categories or types of think tanks, described by:

  • Size and focus: e.g. large and diversified, large and specialised, small and specialised (Weidenbaum, 2009)
  • Evolution of stage of development: e.g. first (small), second (small to large but more complex projects), and third (larger and policy influence) stages (Struyk R. J., 2006)
  • Strategy, including:
    • Funding sources (individuals, corporations, foundations, donors/governments, endowments, sales/events) (Weidenbaum, 2009) and business model (independent research, contract work, advocacy) (Abelson D. E., 2006) (Abelson D. E., 2009) (Belletini, 2007) (Ricci, 1993) (Rich, 2006) (Reinicke, 1996) (Smith, 1991) (Weaver, 1989) (Braml, 2004)
    • The balance between research, consultancy/advisory work and advocacy
    • The source of their arguments: Ideology, values or interests; applied, empirical or synthesis research; or theoretical or academic research (from a conversation with Stephen Yeo)
    • The manner in which the research agenda is developed: e.g. by senior members of the think tank or by individual researchers; or by the think tank of their funders (Braml, 2004)
    • Their influencing approaches and tactics (many researchers but an interesting one comes from Abelson D. E., 2009) and the time horizon for their strategies: long term and short term mobilisation (Ricci, 1993) (Weidenbaum, 2009)
    • Their various audiences of the think tanks (audiences as consumers and public -this merits another blog; soon) (again, many authors, but Zufeng, 2009 provides a good framework for China)
    • Affiliation, which refers to the issue of independence (or autonomy which may be a better concept to focus on) but also includes think tanks with formal and informal links to political parties, interest groups and other political players (Weaver, 1989) (Braml, 2004) (Snowdon, 2010)

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According to Harvard University library, the list of non-US think tanks are around 500.

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