Find Policy: “Ideas Worth Searching”

9 December 2013

Find Policy offers a faster and more focused approach to finding policy and analysis. The website, launched in late November, searches leading policy research organizations, both in the US and around the world. Find Policy offers thematic search for topics such as economy, environment, health and foreign/international policy. You can also find policy research from around the world, with specialized search focusing on Latin & Central America, Africa, South Asia or China, among other places. Currently Find Policy offers more than a dozen engines, which in total target more than 100 institutions around the world.

Why did we set up Find Policy? We put it together is to solve a practical problem: I recently sat with a friend who said he was wondering about ways of cutting down the waiting lists for organ transplants. The issue was of personal interest. His niece had been in and out of hospital for more than a year, often in a perilous condition. The friend mentioned that in the United States alone 120,000 people are on the wait list to receive a donor organ, a kidney, heart or lung. About 20 people will die each day while on the wait list. It appears that more Americans have died on these waiting lists than in the war in Vietnam.

We discussed the different policy options. More compelling advertising to recruit organ donors? Having a default opt-in version for organ donation? Or more incentives? The friend mentioned that Iran apparently had managed to cut wait lists to zero. Iran? All of this made me curious. I wanted to find out what the policy research said.

I sat down on my computer and did a general Google search. Although the results were interesting (and in some cases moving), few had to do with policy. I decided to look up individual think tanks. Since I have followed policy research, I had a reasonable idea on where to look.

I started with US think tanks since the twenty biggest institutions spend $900m a year and thus have a sizable research volume. I went to the Brookings website, then to RAND. Some results. I guessed that the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute probably would make the case for more market-based solutions. The search took its time, tabs sprawling. I was wondering whether other think tanks had worked on this issue, but it seemed too much of a task to look through the other 10+ institutions that might be interested in this issue.

I thought: how useful would it be to be able to search all of these institutions in a single window? All the leading research institutions in the field combined, viewable at a glance? Policy at your fingertips, making it easier for people to find good solutions.

So this is the reason why we set up Find Policy, a tool that offers ideas worth searching. We now have added a number of other search engines focusing on Development, Climate Change, Foreign/International Policy and other issues, including Accountability & Governance.

We have also put together engines that focus on quality think tanks that may be less well-known. Are you interested in checking out policy research in Brazil? If you previously did not know where to look, you now have Find Policy as a good starting point for your search. We are already covering Africa, China, more than a dozen institutions from Latin America, South Asia, and more. Find Policy should give less visible institutions a better chance to get their research found.

Search in these engines is not perfect, but we believe it is faster and more focused, and a great way to start an exploration of policy issues. Together with testers we now have done hundreds of searches, and believe it works well. Here is a search on medical error as a policy issue, here intervention in Mali, and here we illustrate how the search worked for charter schools. As a tool, Find Policy should be a suitable complement to the great initiatives in the On Think Tank Labs.

What is next? We will continue to develop Find Policy together with more contributors by refining the existing engines. We also plan to add about a dozen more engines in the next weeks, are testing a few already, and will integrate them in ways that do not clutter the site. Search should remain convenient.

Primarily, we hope that these engines will be useful for the policy research community, so we look forward to hearing what already works well, and how we can make your search even better.