A Thought on Think Tanks

In this post, we will look at what a think tank is, and what makes them valuable today. We will also look at some of the different methods used by think tanks to garner success. There is controversy around think tanks and if they do good. Although this post will not try to solve such a complex problem, it is important to understand such problems exist.

A think tank is an organization that reads literature, conducts experiments, and publishes research to help influence change or expand understanding (Hauck, 2017). You can think of a think tank as a research university without the students (Hauck, 2017). A think tank should remain neutral and not accept funding from a government agency or have connections to other social interest groups (Hauck, 2017). According to Hauck (2017), around 75% of German think tanks in Western Europe are financed by the government, and nearly all think tanks in Japan are connected to the government or industry in some way. Other think tanks that are not linked to the government can obtain funding through donations from individuals or private organizations wanting to fund research (Hauck, 2017).

After several years working for and helping to build the Center for Global Development (CGD), MacDonald and Moss (2014) published a paper detailing twelve of the top lessons they have learned. All twelve of the lessons learned are valuable; however, I would like to focus on two that I gravitated towards. The concept of sharing ideas early and often is important to the success of the research being conducted (MacDonald & Moss, 2014). One person may come up with the original idea, but by sharing the idea with others it can be adjusted so that the concept is clear and easy to convey to others (MacDonald & Moss, 2014). Think tanks are about people, and the people should be encouraged to collaborate.

Speaking about the people, another important point mentioned in the paper by MacDonald and Moss (2014) is to higher great people and give them the freedom they need. The CGD certainly has senior personal that are established and specialize in a field of study, but equally as important are the junior staff members that help bring fresh ideas to the process (MacDonald & Moss, 2014). It is important for the think tank to look for good people, senior and junior alike, to help generate new ideas for the organization.

In summary, this post has looked at what a think tank is and why they are important. We also examined a few of the methods used by think tanks to garner success. No matter what country you are looking at, think tanks can be associated with the government or industry, which could potentially skew their research. Even with that fact in mind, I personally think that the majority of think tanks do good research and add value to our society.


Hauck, J. C. R. (2017). What are ‘think tanks’? Revisiting the dilemma of the definition *. Brazilian Political Science Review, 11(2), 1-30. doi:10.1590/1981-3821201700020006

MacDonald, L., & Moss, T. (2014). Building a think-and-do tank: A dozen lessons from the first dozen years of the center for global development.  Retrieved from https://www.cgdev.org/publication/building-think-and-do-tank-dozen-lessons-first-dozen-years-center-global-development

  • Michael