What makes a great city for think tanks?

31 August 2015

This is a subject I come back from time to time. In the discussion about the effect of context on think tanks, I am more interested in the effect of what I call the micro-factors (transport, technology, availability of talent, etc.) than the macro-factors (democratic institutions, freedom of the press, etc.).

A new article published in The Times of India: Is Bengaluru the next think tank hub?offers an opportunity to explore this issue further.

According to the article, the following factors make Bangalore, away from the capital, Delhi, a promising think tank city?

    1. Money: A vibrant local business and philanthropic community is important. They are likely support charities before think tanks but some will undoubtedly look at them as an interesting option. The think tank community can also help: a higher concentration of think tanks will increase their visibility and make them more attractive to funders.
    2. Creativity and innovation: Think tanks may be part of the natural evolution of a creative city. New investments in science, technology, innovations, and start-ups could well lead to investments in thinking -in the capacity to advance public policy ideas to sustain all of this.
    3. Perspective -long term focus, implementation, independence:
      1. Space to focus on finding solutions to long term problems: The hustle and bustle of the capital city can distract and challenge a think tank’s independence. Being next door to a ministry or the HQ of a national news station can undermine researchers capacity to focus on long term issues, concerned, instead, with being relevant in the short term.
      2. Evidence of how policy unfolds in the field: Proximity to high level politics can also distract from the need to understand the manner in which policies are implemented and how they affect their intended beneficiaries.
      3. Independence: Being outsiders, too, offer a great opportunity to avoid the personal and professional networks that lead the most talented researchers to self-censor.
    4. The weather -and quality of life: Increasingly emerging economies’ capital cities are turning into great places to make money in but terrible places to live in. Smaller cities, in the periphery or regional political and economic centres offer a great alternative to establish more relaxed and happier thinking communities.
    5. People: Particularly young, educated, and idealistic can help to build a thriving thinktanking community. Still, this is not a condition for success on its own. Most young people do not know what think tanks are or what it means to work for one. But motivated young and skilled people are think tanks best chance to “make it” in the marketplace of ideas. The presence of dynamic universities and businesses that attract top talent can make a huge difference to think tanks’ prospects.

When we think of great think tank cities we tend to think of Washington DC or London. Centres of government and international politics. But we should not forget that some of the most interesting developments in these thinktanking communities often emerge from the fringes in their interactions with academia and the private sector. The rise of new technology start-ups in London has ushered a new breed of thinktankers. Even traditional think tanks have started to look at setting up offices outside London.

Bangalore’s Wikipedia page offers great insights into the origin of this new honour (at least for 4 of the 5 factors mentioned above):


Bangalore is known as the “Silicon Valley of India” because of its role as the nation’s leading information technology (IT) exporter.

Creativity and innovation:

Indian technological organizations ISROInfosys and Wipro are headquartered in the city. A demographically diverse city, Bangalore is the second fastest-growing major metropolis in India.

The city also houses the Kannada film industry.

Bangalore is sometimes called as the “Pub Capital of India” and the “Rock/Metal Capital of India” because of its underground music scene and it is one of the premier places to hold international rock concerts. In May 2012, Lonely Planet ranked Bangalore 3rd among the world’s top 10 cities to visit.

Namma Wifi is a free municipal wireless network in Bangalore, the first free Wifi in India. Bangalore was the first city in India to have the 4th Generation Network (4G) for Mobile.[219]

The weather:

Located in southern India on the Deccan Plateau, at a height of over 900 m (3,000 ft) above sea level, Bangalore is known for its pleasant climate throughout the year. Its elevation is the highest among the major large cities of India.

Bangalore is known as the “Garden City of India” because of its gentle climate, broad streets, greenery and the presence of many public parks, such as Lal Bagh and Cubbon Park.

People :

It is home to many educational and research institutions in India, such as Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Indian Institute of Management (Bangalore) (IIMB), National Institute of Fashion Technology, Bangalore, National Institute of Design, Bangalore (NID R&D Campus), National Law School of India University (NLSIU) and National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS). Numerous state-owned aerospace and defence organisations, such as Bharat ElectronicsHindustan Aeronautics and National Aerospace Laboratoriesare located in the city.

On Think Tanks will travel to Bangalore in November to undertake a series of interviews and meet some think tanks there. We will return to this post then with more insights into what makes this a great city for think tanks.