Partisan think tanks: between knowledge and politics. The case of Fundación Pensar and PRO party in Argentina

5 September 2019

[This is a summary of the seventh working paper of the Working Paper Series, Partisan think tanks: between knowledge and politics. The case of Pensar Foundation and PRO party in Argentina.]

Literature specialized in the link between knowledge and politics has focused mainly on independent and external think tanks, but not on partisan think tanks. Two reasons explain this. First, the relative scarcity of partisan think tanks compared to independent or external think tanks. Second, and as suggested by Garcé,+ these two objects of study, the think tanks and the political parties, refer to different academic traditions, which are rarely integrated. Political parties are addressed by the classic studies of political science focused on political institutions, and think tanks are mainly the focus of  policy studies.

Argentina is not the exception, and even though there are numerous think tanks, political parties have not consolidated internal think tanks that contribute to shaping their programmatic horizon. However, a partisan think tank experience has recently stood out by its evolution and consolidation. In 2010, the party Propuesta Republicana (PRO) publicly relaunched the Pensar Foundation, with the objective of designing government plans in case the party’s leader and candidate, Mauricio Macri, were to be victorious in the 2011 presidential elections. Since its re-launch, the Foundation went through several stages that, incrementally, would result in its establishment within the party.

The objective of this research is twofold: present a framework to study partisan think tanks and use the framework to study the evolution of Pensar Foundation and its relationship and contributions to the party PRO, its growth and victory in the 2015 presidential elections.

The paper starts with a discussion of the concept of partisan think tanks, and proposes a definition that integrates attributes presented by different traditions. The autor argues that a partisan think tank produces knowledge and ideas with a claim to influence (a charachteristic typical of think tanks). Partisan think tanks  must also have the explicit recognition of a political party and have it as its target audience, orienting its advice to their interests, and engaging in direct collaboration strategies.

After reflecting on the notion of partisan think tanks, the author presents a framework of analysis (of the relationship of a think tank and a political party) that integrates four dimensions. This conceptual framework is a significant contribution to systematic study of these actors The four dimensions are:

  • the party system
  • the functions of the think tank
  • its strategic autonomy
  • its sustainability

The analysis of the case of the Pensar Foundation and PRO party against this framework yields the following main findings:

  • Party system.The creation of internal think tanks although related to the party system, the dynamics of political competition, and the features of the political knowledge regime, also depends on the characteristics of the party and the value it gives to expert knowledge vis a vis its political goals.
  • Functions. The technical knowledge of a partisan think tank has three important functions in politics: a) the applicability of its inputs (instrumental function); b) legitimises the discourse and actions of the party (symbolic function), and also strengthens its profile and technocratic credentials, and; c) expands the political-institutional linkages of the party (network function).
  • Strategic Autonomy.The integration of the think tank into the party’s structure requires mutual, and the thinkt ank striking a balance between an actor (concerning autonomy) and agent (organisational resource to the party), in which the political goals prevail over technical ones.
  • Sustainability.The case study confirms the constitutive uncertainty that underpins any partisan think tank, as its evolution (and that of its members) depends largely on the performance of the party in

The author concludes with an invitation to study other cases of partisan think tanks in the region and in other latitudes in light of the proposed framework, which would allow testing the validity of the latter. Moreover, he suggests that the study about Pensar Foundation could be enriched with an analysis of its evolution after the 2015 elections in which PRO became the ruling party.

Finally, it is important to highlight that the findings of this paper and the lessons about Pensar Foundation are relevant not only for partisan think tanks, but also for political parties and policy entrepreneurs who want to promote or enhance the functioning of a partisan think tank.

Read the paper.

An adapted version of the paper has been published in Spanish in the Academic Journal Revista de la Sociedad Argentina de Análisis Político. Read it here.