Think tanks and the private sector: opportunities and challenges

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


Think tanks and private sector engagement is increasing across the world, yet little is little known about how and why it is happening.

Through a literature review and interviews with think tankers and key informants, this scoping paper looks at why and how engagement is taking place, and the challenges think tanks face.

The study found that motivations for think tanks to engage with private sector actors are greater than just accessing funds and resources.  For some think tanks, private sector engagement is ingrained in their organisational setup (e.g. they were founded by corporations or businesspeople). For others, stakeholder engagement is a key motivation (access to other stakeholder groups /an avenue for increased impact).

The main risks for think tanks are loss of self-determination, and stakeholder and reputational risks, both of which have the potential to affect the credibility of the think tank and their ability to engage with other actors.

To address these risks and protect their credibility, organisations engage several strategies: such as controlling funding sources and mechanisms, maintaining a strong intellectual, transparency, and risk and due diligence assessments.

Addressing these challenges gives way to interesting engagement opportunities. To capitalise on them, think tanks need to first identify the different ways in which they can (and want to) work with the private sector and the benefits to be gained by both actors.

Most importantly, think tanks need to know why they are attractive to specific actors and what they are willing to offer. Capitalising and strengthening on their assets can increase their leverage when engaging with the private sector, paving the way for a more equal relationship in which both parties benefit.

Read the paper.