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Presentation to the Israel Democracy Institute International Conference “What Do Think Tanks Do?” May 15, 2011 Donald Abelson The University of Western Ontario. Think Again: How American Think Tanks Compete in the Marketplace of Ideas. What are Think Tanks?.

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think again how american think tanks compete in the marketplace of ideas

Presentation to the Israel Democracy Institute International Conference “What Do Think Tanks Do?”

May 15, 2011

Donald Abelson

The University of Western Ontario

Think Again:How American Think Tanks Competein the Marketplace of Ideas

what are think tanks
What are Think Tanks?

Scholars who study think tanks have been unable to reach a consensus on how to define these organizations. There are some identifiable characteristics:

  • Not for profit
  • Tax-exempt
  • Non-partisan (not to be confused with non-ideological)
  • Research -oriented, with a commitment to shaping public opinion and policy
common types of think tanks
Common Types of Think Tanks

In the absence of an agreed-upon definition, scholars in the field have established classifications to account for the diverse nature of the think tank community (McGann and Weaver, Stone, Abelson, etc…)

  • Universities without students –policy research
  • Government Contractors/Specialists
  • Advocacy Think Tanks

Although it is not always easy to classify think tanks, scholars generally agree that the trend since the early 1970s has been toward the creation of advocacy think tanks that combine policy research with aggressive political advocacy.

the evolution of american think tanks philanthropy policy expertise
The Evolution ofAmerican Think Tanks:Philanthropy & Policy Expertise

Andrew Carnegie Robert Brookings Herbert Hoover

the first generation of american think tanks
The First Generation of American Think Tanks

The Brookings Institution

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

government contractors
Government Contractors

The Rand Corporation

The Urban Institute

the rise of advocacy think tanks
The Rise of Advocacy Think Tanks

Edwin Feulner

The Heritage Foundation

Paul Weyrich

the pendulum begins to swing
The Pendulum Begins to Swing

From

Policy Research

to

Political Advocacy:

Combining Policy Research with aggressive marketing

Quick Response Policy Research-Timely & Policy Relevant

Emphasis on Media Exposure

It’s all about the numbers

Institutional & Private Interests

National or Public Interest?

competing in the marketplace of ideas
Competing in theMarketplace of Ideas

Think tanks vary enormously in terms of size, financial resources, areas of specialization, and research programs, but they share in common a desire to influence public opinion and public policy.

Target Audiences/Stakeholders:

  • Policy-Makers (Executive and Legislative Branches); They also target bureaucratic departments and agencies responsible for foreign and defense policy (State Department, Department of Defense, National Security Council, etc…)
  • Media
  • Academics
  • Corporations
  • The Public
channels of influence how do think tanks communicate their ideas
Channels of Influence:How do Think Tanks Communicate Their Ideas?
  • Publications –Books, policy briefs, opinion magazines
  • Media commentaries
  • Blogs- websites
  • Congressional Testimony
  • Seminars; Conferences; Workshops
  • Liaison Offices with Congress
understanding the policy making process
Understanding the Policy-Making Process

Think Tanks convey ideas to policy-makers at different stages of the policy-making process.

To achieve influence, think tanks often need to present the right ideas to the right people at the right time.