Monday, October 5, 2015

Are Think Tanks Obsolete?

Amanda Bennett, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post, has a new piece out entitled "Are Think Tanks Obsolete?"  Here are some excerpts:

If we think about Washington the way we think about Detroit, then the organizations that line Massachusetts Avenue are like the capital’s factories. Only in D.C.s case, the buildings are think tanks and what are chugging out the doors are ideas, not automobiles. 
With their multimillion-dollar budgets, thousands of employees and access to power, its tempting to think of think tanks as juggernauts impregnably dominating their market, just as we once saw the automobile industry. 
But what if the opposite is true? What if think tanks today are more like the Detroit of the 1990s than of the 1950s? What if they, too, are facing existential threats they dont quite understand and arent very well prepared to deal with? In fact, what if the think-tank establishment is like a whole host of other industries — including newspapers and television — that are struggling against forces beyond their control? What if bloggers, YouTube, sound bites, social media, TED talks, metrics, changing business models and even rogue players who create their own narratives represent the same menace to think tanks as they do to mainstream media? What if the upstarts are to think tanks what Datsun, Toyota and Hyundai were to Ford, GM and Chrysler: small, fast, annoying competitors, easy to ignore, disrespected by the establishment — and ultimately very effective guerrilla warriors?

The piece goes on to list a variety of challenges that think tanks face, including gridlock in the US government which makes it harder to get their ideas heard, and TED talks.  The full piece can be read here.

Think Tank Watch has long written about the challenges think tanks face in order to avoid becoming obsolete.  In fact, a 2012 Think Tank Watch post with the same title (Are Think Tanks Obsolete?) can be found here.  And from a Think Tank Quickies: Are Think Tanks in Canada Obsolete?