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The Go to Think Tank Index: two critiques

This is a bit old news but i feel it is worth sharing reviews by other researchers on the think tank index produced by James McGann.

Jan Trevisan, at the International Centre for Climate Governance has published an interesting critique. There is not much I disagree with in his assessment. He points at several mistakes in the analysis regarding think tanks in the sector he is more familiar with. And this is not surprising because it is difficult for any one person (or team) to delve into the detail that is necessary to adequately assess al think tanks in the world. It makes me think that we should not only attempt to think of think tanks at a country level (which is what I have argued before) but also by theme or issue.

My only disagreement, I guess, is that the ICCG does not consider government or party think tanks in their map. I think that this is a mistake as in many developing countries (and indeed developed countries) it is not possible to find truly independent centres. Affiliation with should not be confused with lack of autonomy.

A couple of years ago, Christian Seiler and Klaus Wohlrabe published their own, very well researched, critique of the 2009 think tank index. Their critique, besides identifying several inaccuracies, focused on the methodological weakness of the ranking. I remember that at the time I offered a similar critique.

I think it is clear that the method is inaccurate and the output is therefore flawed. At least, however, it has got many think tanks and researchers thinking about it. And these critiques and analyses offer far more insights into the world of think tanks than the ranking will ever do.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. isn’t the fundamental problem that we are ranking the unrankable? How meaningful is it, say, to identify the best hotel in the world, when hotels are a response to particular local need? Yes, we can recognize that particular responses are particularly successful, but ultimately I think these rankings are a distraction from the substantive debates that one should have.


    March 14, 2012
    • ooops, just saw your excellent critique in a previous post. I think your comments are very good, but I am not sure that national rankings would solve it, since the same problems persist: flattening dimensions.

      A broader question is how to overcome this ranking-culture, with its many insidious effects. Yes, they start conversations, but with all the wrong parameters.


      March 14, 2012
      • jknezovich #

        Hans, I like your hotel analogy. Maybe what the think tank world needs is something less like McGann’s rankings and something rather more like TripAdvisor. ‘Customers’ can help create lists of the organisations, and offer public ‘reviews’ of the the think tanks rather than coughing up contex-free rankings…


        March 26, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Prompt for Session 9 « Business Government & Society III
  2. This year, instead of ranking think tanks lets think about them more carefully | on think tanks
  3. And the winner is… A look at the Prospect Think Tank Awards 2014 | on think tanks

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