Do Think Tanks Matter?

Do Think Tanks Matter?: Assessing the Impact of Public Policy Institutes

Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 2
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Do Think Tanks Matter?
    Book Description:

    Do Think Tanks Matter? evaluates the influence and relevance of public policy institutes in today's political arena. Many journalists and scholars believe the explosion of think tanks in the latter part of the twentieth century indicates their growing importance in the policy-making process. This perception has been reinforced by directors of think tanks, who often credit their institutes with influencing major policy debates and government legislation. Yet the basic question of how and in what way they influence public policy has, Donald Abelson contends, frequently been ignored.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7541-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acronyms
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    According to a recent survey conducted for the National Institute for Research Advancement (NIRA), a Tokyo-based research institute, over thirty-five hundred public policy institutes, or think tanks, as they are more commonly referred to, exist worldwide. Of these, more than half are located in the United States: think tanks such as the worldrenowned Brookings Institution, the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, and RAND.¹ For many scholars and journalists studying the so-called think tank phenomenon, the explosion of policy institutes in the latter part of the twentieth century is indicative of their growing importance in the policy-making process, a...

  7. CHAPTER ONE Surveying the Think Tank Landscape in the United States and Canada
    (pp. 17-48)

    In the early 1900s policymakers in the United States and Canada did not require a directory to keep track of think tanks conducting research and analysis on domestic and foreign policy. Until the outbreak of World War II, less than two dozen policy institutes existed in the United States, and in Canada only a handful had been established. However, by the mid-to late 1970s and early 1980s, the think tank community in both countries had grown considerably. In his study of 1991 on the rise of American think tanks, James Smith estimated that more than twelve hundred private and university-based...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Thinking about Think Tanks: A Conceptual Framework
    (pp. 49-57)

    As think tanks have come to occupy a more visible presence in both advanced and developing countries, scholars have employed various theoretical approaches to explain their role and significance in the policy-making community. In this chapter we explore what these approaches are and what steps can be taken to provide more informed insights about their impact in shaping public policy. As we will discover, it is important to move beyond the existing literature in the field to develop a more useful conceptual framework to evaluate their involvement in policy-making.

    Scholars who study think tanks tend to do so from three...

  9. CHAPTER THREE In the Arena: Opportunities, Constraints, and Incentives for Think Tanks in the United States and Canada
    (pp. 58-73)

    In an ideal world, think tanks would have few, if any, financial concerns, conduct research on a wide range of timely and policyrelevant issues, and from the comfort of their book-lined offices observe their ideas translated into concrete policy decisions. The world of think tanks and the reality of the policy-making process, however, is far from ideal. The vast majority of think tanks in the United States, like those in Canada, lack the resources they require to examine the many complex policy questions confronting government. Many also lack the resources to convey their ideas effectively to decision makers. Moreover, since...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Competing in the Marketplace of Ideas: The Strategies of Think Tanks
    (pp. 74-87)

    Think tanks are in the business of developing and promoting ideas and like corporations in the private sector, they devote considerable attention to marketing their product. Unlike corporations, however, think tanks measure success not by profit margins but by how much influence they have in shaping public opinion and the policy preferences and choices of leaders. Unfortunately, for think tank directors and those who study these institutions, it is far simpler to read their annual reports than to measure their performance. In this chapter, I lay the foundation for assessing the impact of think tanks by exploring the many channels...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Public Visibility and Policy Relevance: Assessing the Influence of Think Tanks
    (pp. 88-122)

    Much has been written in recent years about the growing influence of the Heritage Foundation, the Fraser Institute, and several other think tanks in the United States and Canada. Those who study the burgeoning think tank population in these countries point to their ever-expanding output of publications, their appearances before congressional and parliamentary committees, and their considerable media exposure as evidence of their heightened importance in the policy-making community. This perception, as noted, is reinforced by directors of think tanks who often credit their institutes with influencing major policy debates and government legislation. While it is not surprising that think...

  12. CHAPTER SIX On the Road to the White House: Presidential Candidates and the Think Tanks That Advised Them
    (pp. 123-143)

    In April 1998 Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush interrupted a fundraising trip for a gubernatorial candidate in Northern California to meet with several scholars from the Hoover Institution. The purpose of the meeting, which took place at the home of former secretary of state and Hoover fellow George Shultz, was to allow the governor of Texas to get acquainted with some of the nation’s leading policy experts. Although before accepting Shultz’s invitation, Bush had little knowledge of the Hoover Institution or the work many of its scholars engaged in, his friendship with Hoover fellow and economist Michael Boskin may...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN Policy Experts or Policy Instruments? Think Tanks and the Debate over Constitutional Reform in Canada
    (pp. 144-161)

    In their annual reports and promotional materials, think tanks in Canada, like their American counterparts, frequently highlight their achievements. Among other things, they list their recent publications, provide information on the research programs they are engaged in, and summarize their contributions to various policy issues. To put it simply, think tanks, like corporations, have a vested interest in convincing their target audiences that they offer a useful product. It is not surprising, therefore, that they often exaggerate their impact in the policy-making process.

    Think tanks try to create the impression that they play a critical role in injecting new and...

  14. CHAPTER EIGHT Conclusion: Policy Influence, Policy Relevance, and the Future of Think Tanks in Canada, the United States, and Beyond
    (pp. 162-172)

    This book began with a seemingly straightforward question – do think tanks matter? Unfortunately, after surveying the think tank population in Canada and the United States and examining their involvement in the policy-making process, there does not appear to be a simple answer. Depending on who the question is directed to, responses may range from yes to no, and from at times to more than you can possibly imagine. In some respects all these answers are accurate. Indeed, as this study has demonstrated, several conclusions can be drawn regarding the role and significance of think tanks in policy-making.

    Notwithstanding the considerable...

  15. APPENDIX ONE A Profile of Selected American Think Tanks
    (pp. 173-182)
  16. APPENDIX TWO A Profile of Selected Canadian Think Tanks
    (pp. 183-192)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 193-220)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 221-246)
  19. Index
    (pp. 247-251)