Study: Globalisation triggers ‘explosion’ in think tanks


Globalisation is leading to worldwide growth in the number of think tanks, but such institutions must maintain their relevance by displaying a “flair for publicity” and a “streak of eccentricity” if they are to ensure they continue to engage policymakers, the press and the public.

These are the main conclusions of a new study carried out by James G. McGann of the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute. 

Describing the growth in both the number and output of think tanks in recent decades as “nothing less than explosive”, McGann also highlights the “dramatic expansion” of the scope and impact of their work on political decision-making. 

He cites the “information revolution”, the end of government monopoly on information, increased technicality of policy problems and a greater need for “timely”, “concise” and “accessible” policy-oriented research in the face of globalisation among the main reasons for this growth. 

Moreover, he asserts that the potential of think tanks to “support and sustain democratic governments and societies […] is far from exhausted” provided they can maintain their “intellectual depth” and “political influence” in the years to come. 

However, McGann cautions that they will need to evolve to survive, pointing to a relative decline in the number of new think tanks established since the turn of the millennium compared with a steady increase since the 1950s. 

He puts this down to a political and regulatory environment that is currently “hostile” to think tanks and NGOs, as well as increased competition from advocacy organisations, profit-driven consultancy firms and electronic media. 

The study, entitled “The Global ‘Go-To Think Tanks’: The Leading Public Policy Research Organisations in the World” sought to evaluate the work of over 5000 institutions by identifying the leading think tanks both on a global and regional basis. 

It was carried out over an eighteen-month period and featured over 2000 US organisations and institutes, as well as 3000 non-US ones. 

Brussels hosts around 40 think tanks dealing with a range of EU policy issues. They aim to contribute to the policymaking process by hosting stakeholder conferences and seminars as well as producing published works (see our Links Dossier on ‘Think Tanks and EU policymaking‘). 

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