Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Brookings Named Think Tank of the Year - Again

The University of Pennsylvania's Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) has just released its 2012 Global Go To Think Tanks Report ranking the world's 6,603 think tanks.  This is the sixth edition of the annual report.

Here are this year's top 10 think tanks in the world:
  1. Brookings Institution (US)
  2. Chatham House (UK)
  3. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (US)
  4. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sweden)
  5. Center for Strategic and International Studies (US)
  6. Council on Foreign Relations (US)
  7. Amnesty International (UK)
  8. Bruegel (Belgium)
  9. Rand Corporation (US)
  10. International Institute for Strategic Studies (UK)
Interestingly, the list now has a section on best for-profit think tanks.  Examples include:
  • AT Kearney Business Roundtable
  • Deutsche Bank Research
  • Economist Intelligence Unit
  • Ernst & Young
  • Eurasia Group
  • Kissinger Associates
  • McKinsey Global Institute
  • Nomura Research Institute
  • Oxford Analytica
  • Statfor
Here are the changes that have been made since the previous report: 
This year’s Rankings feature a number of new or modified categories. The 2012 Global Go-To Think Tank Index includes several new categories and several categories that have been altered from the 2011 index. The new categories are: “Top Energy and Resource Policy Think Tanks”, “Top Education Policy Think Tanks”, “Best For-Profit Think Tanks”, “Best Independent Think Tanks (financially, structurally, and legally independent of government and political parties)”, “Best Advocacy Campaign” and “Best Policy Study/Report Produced by a Think Tank 2011-2012.”  “Top Think Tanks in Asia” was split into “Top Think Tanks in China, India, Japan and the Republic of Korea” and “Top Think Tanks in Asia (excluding China, India, Japan, and the Republic of Korea).”  The regional categories for the Americas were rearranged into “Top Think Tanks in South America,” “Top Think Tanks in Central America and the Caribbean” and “Top Think Tanks in Mexico and Canada.” Finally, “Best New Think Tank” is now determined by the past 24, previously 18, months.
The report has has a section on emerging issues and trends facing think tanksFollowing are the 12 trends:
 I. Dramatic Shifts in Funding Patterns: National, regional, and local governments
have cut their funding for public policy research while corporations and private
foundations have limited their grant-making to project-specific support. Foreign donors
from Asia, and the oil-rich countries of the Middle East increasingly help fill the funding
gap while baby boomers make significant resources available to non-profit institutions
through planned giving. This can be a mixed blessing since these donors often have very
specialized interests and want to be involved in the projects they support on an ongoing
basis. In addition, some private foundations and individual donors have been moving
their support away from analysis to activism and from think tanks to advocacy
organizations. The recent economic crisis continues to have a negative impact on think
tanks that are not considered as critical as social welfare programs. Many institutions are
taking a hard look at their programs and a number of think tanks are considering
merging with larger, more established institutions.
II. Increased Specialization: Specialized institutions and programs are attractive to
funders who want to target their dollars at specific problems or issues. This trend toward
increased specialization has had a direct impact on the programs, constituencies and
funding sources of multi-purpose policy organizations, thereby increasing competition
among think tanks simultaneously. It has become increasingly difficult for think tanks to
convince prospective funders that their programs are worthy of support. Moreover,
increased specialization discourages interdisciplinary responses to complex issues and
limits creativity of scholars.
III. Increased Competition: Think tanks have embraced specialization as a means of
distinguishing themselves from the competition. This branding has taken the form of
functional, political and issue specialization that helps market their institution to donors
who are increasingly providing project- specific support, to policymakers, and to the
public who is trying to make sense of the crowded marketplace of ideas and institutions.
The vast majority of the think tanks that have come into existence in the last 30 years
have been focused on a single issue or area of policy research. More recently, think
tanks have faced a new competitive threat from consulting firms, law firms, advocacy
groups and cable news networks that now directly compete with think tanks for gifts,
grants and contracts.
IV. Influence and Independence: As think tanks become more visible and influential,
some organizations appear to be losing their voice and independence along the way.
Managing the tensions associated with relevance, influence and independence is a
delicate balancing act that must be carefully managed if think tanks are to maintain their
credibility with policymakers and the public.
V. Outputs vs. Impact: Historically think tanks have placed a focus on output over
impact. How do think tanks measure their impact? For many institutions, it is limited to
the number of books and policy briefs produced rather than providing the impetus for
new legislation or changes in policy. This issue is further complicated by donors who are
increasingly interested in supporting “high impact organizations” and want think tanks
to demonstrate their impact on public policy.
VI. Phantom NGO Think Tanks: Governments are creating think tanks that are
designed to appear to be non-governmental organizations but are in fact arms of the
government. Likewise, corporations and individuals have established think tanks to
promote their special interests. This trend raises concerns about a lack of transparency
and private interest masquerading as public interest.
VII. Hybrid Organization: As think tanks have faced new challenges in the societies in
which they operate, they have adapted and created hybrid institutions. More and more
think tanks are a blend of organizational types (academic research center, consulting
group, marketing firm, and media outlet) and the roles of key staff have changed as well.
Think tank budgets and staffing patterns now place as much emphasis on policy research
as they do on promoting it and the scholars who conduct it. Today, the staff of think
tank institutions are comprised of multifaceted individuals who are part scholar,
journalist, marketing executive and policy entrepreneur.
VIII. Impact of the Internet, New Media, Social Networking and the Cloud:
Information no longer translates into power unless it is in the right form at the right time, and it is redefining how think tanks operate. Most think tanks now have websites and conduct policy debates via the Internet. The reality that more and more people get their information from the Internet, traditional and new media, and through social networking sites requires that organizations reexamine how they create, disseminate, and discuss public policy issues. This reality also requires that organizations reconsider the methods they use to reach the constituents they represent and/or the clients they serve and to produce academic-quality research that is understandable and accessible to policymakers and to the public. These dramatic changes have transformed how public policies are analyzed, debated and made and think tanks need to keep pace with these changes or be buried by them.
IX. Action vs. Ideas: Non-partisan, multi-purpose organizations are forced to abandon
traditional methods of operation, such as dialogue and debate, and consider new
methods as funders and other stakeholders in the policy process have grown impatient
with conferences, forums and seminars on public policy issues. This trend owes
significantly to the influence of donors who now prefer operational, advocacy-oriented
programs and institutions over conferences, forums, and seminars. New policy-oriented
institutions have out-marketed traditional policy research establishments that fail to
understand and respond to the fundamental changes that have taken place in
Washington and other capitals around the world.
X. Greater Emphasis on External Relations and Marketing Strategies: The rise of
special interests and a need for a quick response to complex policy problems have
created a greater demand for policy research and fostered the growth of specialized
public policy think tanks. This trend has placed greater emphasis on marketing strategies
and external relations that effectively target key constituencies and donors. Think tanks
are forced to redesign their “products” so they can be disseminated to a number of
strategically selected target audiences for the greatest impact. In this new world, pithy,
punchy policy briefs replace books, journals and white papers in order meet the time
constraints of policymakers and the demand for a quick response to policy issues and
problems. Four hundred-page books and reports now are reduced to a few pages or
words if the material is disseminated as a text message or blog. These new realities pose
immense challenges for think tanks that must adapt to these changes while not losing the
quality and integrity of their research.
XI. Going Global: Think tanks are increasingly adopting a global presence, perspective
and audience. The economist Joseph Stiglitz commented that think tanks must “scan
globally and act locally” if they are to be effective in today’s policy environment. This
trend is driven, in part, by transnational issues such as global warming, proliferation of
weapons of mass destruction, pandemics and terrorism. In recent years, a number of
global think tanks (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the International
Crisis Group) have emerged. They are designed to address global issues and serve a
global audience of policymakers. Numerous think tanks are trying to cultivate stronger
ties to counterpart organizations within their region and across the world. The
emergence of regional economic alliances due to global interdependence has created a
new network of regionally oriented policy institutions. But these organizations tend to be
the same ones that find it difficult to compete with the highly specialized organizations
that have a clear market niche and constituency.
XII. Leadership & Managing Tensions: An unprecedented number of think tank
executives are retiring or stepping down. Many of these leaders founded and/or led the
think tanks for many years so the impact and transitions are likely to be problematic. Key
institutions like RAND, Peterson Institute for International Economics, Urban Institute,
and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars have all seen leadership
changes in the last 12 months and others like the Heritage Foundation and the
Brookings Institute are planning for a transition to new leadership. The issue is more
severe in Africa and Eastern and Central Europe where the senior staffs are very small.
Transitions there can have a far greater impact on an organization. The successor
generations of leadership – whether of governments or other institutions – is never easy,
but nonetheless essential. One bad hire or a rocky transition can cripple an organization
for years. Even when the search for an executive is successful, the institution will face a
range of challenges that will require careful management by the governing board. New
leaders will face new challenges and will be required to deal with the continuing
challenge of managing the tensions among influence and independence, rigor and
relevance, degree of specialization, breadth and depth in the range of issues they seek to
address, between continuity and change in pursuing those issues, and ultimately, having
an impact on policy and the lives of the people in the countries in which they operate.
You can click here for the full report.  You can click here to see the Power Point presentation given by Dr. McGann during his presentation about the release of the report.

Just before the UPenn report was released, the Center for Global Development (CGD) released its own think tank rankings in which the Cato Institute was ranked #1.