Activists and policy experts: Exploring think tank engagement with social movements

[This working paper was published as part of the Working Paper Series.]


Collaborations between think tanks and social movements appear to be a positive partnership, as think tanks get to understand and engage with the lived experiences of the public and increase their impact, whilst social movements benefit from specialist knowledge and access to formal policy processes. Together they have the potential to achieve a right balance between democratic accountability and expert input. But do such collaborations exist? And if they do, what motivates partners to collaborate? What benefits do they gain from collaboration? How do relationships unfold and what do they achieve? What role do think tanks play in relation to social movements and vice versa? What difficulties do think tanks and social movements face in their relationships? How do they resolve them? And what role do funders play and what effects does this have on collaborations? This paper explores these questions through a literature review, 18 interviews over a four-month period, and two focused group discussions. It finds that think tanks and social movements do collaborate, and the main reason to do so is to acquire new knowledge and insight (albeit about different things) and to contribute to changes in themselves and in wider society. The paper discusses the findings along the questions outlined.