The Think Tank Index: It's No Accident That Barack Obama Plucked His Transition Chief from a Think Tank. the World's Idea Factories Are Charged with Brainstorming Solutions to Everything from Global Warming to Wall Street's Implosion to the War on Terror. in the First Index of Its Kind, FP Ranks the World's Best Think Tanks

By McGann, James | Foreign Policy, January-February 2009 | Go to article overview

The Think Tank Index: It's No Accident That Barack Obama Plucked His Transition Chief from a Think Tank. the World's Idea Factories Are Charged with Brainstorming Solutions to Everything from Global Warming to Wall Street's Implosion to the War on Terror. in the First Index of Its Kind, FP Ranks the World's Best Think Tanks


McGann, James, Foreign Policy


In Washington, it's not for nothing that think tanks are called "governments in waiting." Presidents seek them out because they are critical to the global ideas industry. Far more than simply churning out endless papers, think tank wonks generate and fine-tune solutions to some of the most complex and vexing issues of the day. Leaders around the world need them to provide independent analysis, help set policy agendas, and bridge the gap between knowledge and action.

But not all think tanks are created equal. There are some 5,500 think tanks worldwide, in nearly 170 countries. Some organizations specialize in security; others in the environment. Some are intensely partisan; others fiercely independent. Some have budgets in the tens of millions of dollars; others are one-person operations. Some are already changing the world with their big ideas; others merely aspire to.

Until now, there has been no guide to this rapidly growing global industry. The Think Tank Index is the first comprehensive ranking of the world's top think tanks, based on a worldwide survey of hundreds of scholars and experts. Think of it as an insider's guide to the competitive marketplace for ideas that matter.

The Think Tank Field Guide

As think tanks nave grown n number and influence a handful of distinct breeds nave emerged. Here's a guide to telling the wonks from me water careers.

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The Policymakers

These organizations enjoy a competitive advantage over their rivals when it comes to government contracts and research. They have the know-how and PR skills that ministers, bean counters and bureaucrats seek.

* Rand Corporation, United States

* Urban Institute, United States

* Overseas Development Institute, Britain

* Fundacao Getulio Vargas, Brazil

* Institute for Research on Public Policy, Canada

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The Partisans

These ideology-driven organizations generate the leading ideas on the right and left, develop new political talent, and offer a home to out-of-power party leaders.

* Heritage Foundation, United States

* Center for American Progress, United States

* Adam Smith Institute, Britain

* Civitas, Britain

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The Phantoms

Designed to look like NGOs, these organizations are in fact arms of the government. They've emerged as a favorite strategy for authoritarians to mask their diktats as flourishing civil society.

* China Development Institute, China

* Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, Russia

* Center for Political Studies, Uzbekistan

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The Scholars

The stars of the think tank world, these powerhouses of policy are regularly relied upon to set agendas and craft new initiatives.

* Brookings Institution, United States

* Council on Foreign Relations, United States

* Chatham House, Britain

* Danish Institute of International Studies, Denmark

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The Activists

These do-gooders don't simply advocate for important causes. They've become top-notch policy and research hubs in their own right.

* Human Rights Watch, United States

* Centre for Conflict Resolution, South Africa

* Amnesty International, Britain

Top 15 U.S. Think Tanks

[1] Brookings Institution (d)

Location: Washington

Annual budget: $60.7 million

Specialties: U.S. foreign policy, Middle East

Boldface names: Strobe Talbott, Kenneth Pollack, Alice Rivlin

[2] Council on Foreign Relations (d)

Location: New York

Budget: $38.3 million

Specialties: U.S. foreign policy, national security

Boldface names: Richard Haass, Michael Gerson, Waiter Russell Mead, Angelina Jolie

[3] Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (d)

Location: Washington

Budget: $22 million

Specialties: Nuclear nonproliferation, China

Boldface names: Jessica T.

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