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  • Writer's pictureJohnson C Onuoha

A Deep Dive into what Think-Tanks do


The world of think tanks is extensive, with many institutions everywhere across the globe. The think tank is a relatively new concept for many people. It influences policies and the decision-making process of governments for positive change. A think Thank ensures aid is more effective and focuses on a minor but significant part of the wider debate, which is usually about how to realistically encourage development and national growth.

What is a think-thank, exactly?

A think tank is a well-organized multidisciplinary research institution or organization that uses specialized knowledge and the activation of networks to provide advice on a broad variety of policy concerns. It conducts research and frequently advocates on a wide range of issues, such as economics, technology, human rights, governance, socioeconomic and sociopolitical issues, and even culture as the case may be. Some think tanks are political, while the focus of others may be scientific. It further refers to a location where research and development challenges, policies, and strategies can be discussed and assessed to create a functional system.

Think Tanks: What Do They Do?

A well-networked think tank effectively undertakes its core role of conducting policy-focused and politically astute research and influencing government policymaking processes. Think tanks are usually designed to provide expertise and ideas for policymakers and decision-making. They are places where scholars do and produce rigorous and in-depth research on relatively pressing issues. Think tanks are typically goal-oriented around a common aim. Instead of pushing a position regardless of the facts, think tanks typically stand back from the fray and offer insights that might contribute to a discussion of interest to governments or businesses. As The Economist puts it, “think tanks aim to fill the gap between academia and policymaking.” Think tanks can also have a practical impact. Depending on the subject, think tanks attract people from a variety of educational backgrounds. Public policy think-tanks focus on how government functions, while others may focus on global issues like poverty or regional issues like local economic development. Foreign policy and education think tanks have also evolved to serve their respective specialties. Think Thank organizations have several common characteristics. Some of which are below:

  • Evidence-based Research; The key activities of think tanks are usually to systematically observe, investigate and professionally apply their expertise and intellectual resources to research, analyze, and advise, based on a handful of evidence and further, legitimize their findings in the form of publications

  • Policy Focused Analysis; A major objective of a Think-Thank is its policy focus. This implies that the goal is to connect knowledge and policymaking through engaging and, possibly influencing the policy process for positive change. Think tanks undertake and repurpose research to solve policy issues rather than advance the theoretical debate. The analysis of think thanks is usually policy-focused.

  • Exists for Public Purpose; This is a common characteristic of a think-thank that relates to the significant reason for the existence of think tanks. Policy analysis and research are typically conducted to educate, inform, and enlighten the public and the government on how national policies may be enhanced

Despite these essential contextual factors, five distinct ways in which think tanks strive to exert influence can be identified in general terms according to RSA

  1. Direct policy impact. Policy impact occurs when a think tank pushes for the implementation of a specific idea, which is then implemented by the government.

  2. Indirect policy influence: This occurs when a think tank proposal changes policy, but only as part of a messy and difficult process in which a variety of competing interests form a policy shift.

  3. Influence the broader atmosphere of ideas: this is frequently where they have the greatest impact, reshaping policy debates around new ideas.

  4. Informing public conversations on significant issues: through communication and dissemination efforts, think thanks can help shape public debate.

  5. Hold governments accountable, for instance, by reviewing implementation process of policies or providing evidence that programs are failing to produce results.

What Sets Think-Tanks Apart?

A think tank's original aim is to conduct policy-oriented and politically adept research with the goal of influencing public policy. In other words, think tanks are in the business of trying to solve issues rather than just diagnosing them, and once they've come up with a policy solution, they want to see their suggestions put into action. Think tanks are more likely than traditional civil society organizations (CSOs) to influence public policies, and their research is more policy, socioeconomic, and politically informed than academic research. Although differences exist between the thinks and advocacy organizations, there is a sharp contrast between them. Advocacy groups such as lobby groups, often serve the corporate interest. Think tanks, by contrast, are usually described as nonpartisan and have a primary mission of charitable public giving, which provides greater assurance that the ideas and policies being pushed are done in the genuine public interest. Think tank entities are typically nonprofit organizations distinct from government, their work may involve projects on social policy planning for the government and even for private and commercial clients. They're also different from other government advisory groups in that they provide unbiased intellectual support as well as new innovative and alternative policy choices for government policies.

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