Geoff Mulgan: How do think tanks think?

28 October 2013

Geoff Mulgan from NESTA gave a talk at Cambridge University this month on the question of what is it that think tanks do? 

He distinguishes from think tanks that seek to answer new questions and open new debates and ways of seeing old problems, from others that work with established paradigms and aim for more incremental change instead.

He argues that the first group (those who seek to challenge what we know and what we do) tend to be weak on evidence. This is very much similar to the argument made by Roger Martin in relation to ‘logical leaps of the mind’.

But both groups, Mulgan argues, face a broader challenge. They need to reflect on:

What kinds of knowledge are they trying to create or spread?

In some fields, practical knowledge may well be ahead of theory – hence the spread of do-tanks which both learn and persuade through real life examples rather than pamphlets. I also wrote a short piece to accompany Demos’ 20thbirthday.