Why Think Tanks are More Effective than Anyone Else in Changing Policy

25 February 2011

Anyone who runs or works for a think tank has had to argue the case in favour of supporting think tanks. We are seen as academics or egg heads who like to talk a lot but don’t follow through. This is reflected in the limited support from corporations and philanthropists available to think tanks in developing countries.

Jeff Judson presents 21 reasons why Think Tanks are more effective than others in changing public policy -and one reason why they are not. I was expecting a comparison between free-market think tanks and ‘other’ think tanks but the focus is more general and the comparison seems to be with other ‘free market’ interest, advocacy or lobby groups. So, without suggesting that his reasons are free from the need for a more nuanced analysis, he provides think tanks with a good argument for rallying the support of potential funders.

  1. Source of leading ideas
  2. Have the right skills
  3. Less expensive
  4. Have powerful friends
  5. Earn media better than anyone
  6. Politicians trust them
  7. Work harder
  8. Have national and international influence
  9. Powerful research
  10. Stellar reputations
  11. Impervious to attack
  12. Long-term allies
  13. Donors are confidential
  14. Messaging experts
  15. Lower overhead
  16. Singular focus
  17. Great in coalitions
  18. Pre-partisan
  19. Defining the leading edge of communications
  20. Wining in the courts
  21. Greatest Rolodex

-and one reason why they are not more influential: they are chronically underfunded.