Monday, March 12, 2012

Are Think Tanks Obsolete?

How relevant or important or useful or influential are think tanks?  Of course, the definition of those terms shapes the answer.

Here is an interesting article in the Winter 2009 Middle East Quarterly written by Hannah Elka Meyers titled "Does Israel Need Think Tanks?"  It argues that Israel's think tanks lack influence for several reasons.
"Much of the reason for the Israeli think tank sector's weak influence lies in Israel's political structure. Like parliaments in many European states, Israel's Knesset offers fewer points of access for outside policy advice than does either the U.S. Congress or the executive branch...In addition, Israel's proportional electoral system discourages the election of officials interested in new, independent policy ideas....Funding also limits the influence of Israeli institutes in comparison to their American counterparts."
Assuming traditional think tanks are useful/influential, why should we pay more attention to them then to say, TED talks, or to new-model think tanks, such as "New Think Tank," a crowdsourcing think tank launching June 1, 2012. 

Google has recently launched a new "think tank" called Solve for X, where "the curious can go to hear and discuss radical technology ideas for solving global problems."  In October 2010, Google launched Google Ideas, another type of think tank, based in its New York office.

If those are the new models, will traditional think tanks die out?  How can traditional think tanks stay relevant?