Academic journal article German Policy Studies

The Development and Significance of Think Tanks in Germany

Academic journal article German Policy Studies

The Development and Significance of Think Tanks in Germany

Article excerpt


Think Tanks are players in an increasingly diverse world of policy advise-giving organizations and political consultancies, which has emerged in Germany during the past two decades. This article uses the term 'think tank' in its broadest sense -- that is, non-profit private and public organizations devoted to examining and analyzing policy-relevant issues, and producing research outputs in terms of publications, reports, lectures, and workshops, in most cases targeted to identifiable audiences with the hope of influencing decision-making and public opinion1. The article tries to combine the approaches of the two "schools" of think tank research in contemporary social science (see Stone 2004: 1-2): the first approach and henceforth the first part of this article focuses on the different types of German think tanks and their organizational ingredients by looking at issues such as think tank management, funding, staffing and strategies. The second "school" and the second part of the paper cut to the central issue of the policy influence and the political impact of think tanks in Germany.

The German Think Tank Sector: An Organizational Overview

The German think tank sector is characterized by a large number of organizations and researchers, scattered across the country. Estimates of the number of think tanks operating in Germany vary, ranging between 70 and 100 institutions (see Day 2000). If one broadens the definition to also include various church-sponsored academies (which sometimes serve as part-time think tanks), operating foundations or university research centres, the number may even exceed 1002.

More than half of the German policy research institutes were founded in the last quarter of the 20th century, although a large proportion of the largest and best-funded think tanks date from pre-1975. Compared to other countries -- especially to the United States and Britain -- the percentage of publicly financed think tanks is very high, and ranges around 75%. There are about a dozen large non-university institutes that have annual budgets of Euro$ 5 to $ 14 million and employ between thirty and eighty research staff. With the exception of a very few private operating foundations such as the Bertelsmann Foundation, these larger institutes receive funding from the federal government or the Lander, joint funding from both levels of government as well as from research bodies such as the Max Planck Society or the Fraunhofer Society. Contract research is an important funding source for 45% of German think tanks, but it is difficult to separate contract research institutes from academic think tanks. The important role of state governments as sponsors and financiers of think tanks reflects Germany's federal structure.

Typology of German Think Tanks

By and large, the German think tank landscape fits into the mould of international think tank typologies (Weaver and McGann 2000), although the sector of private and advocacy-oriented policy research institutes is less developed than in Anglo-American countries. It is also sometimes hard to distinguish between research-oriented academic think tanks on the one hand and institutions of basic research touching on policy-relevant questions on the other. It has proven quite difficult, if not impossible for members of this diverse group of think tanks to recognize that they may belong to a clearly identifiable community. Table 1 provides a breakdown of think tank types in Germany.

Table 1

Types of think tanks in Germany (as percentage of 93 think tanks)

Academic Think Tanks       75%
Advocacy Institutes        20%
Party Think Tanks           5%

Generally speaking, German think tanks are post-World War II creations. Less than 10% of German think tanks date back to the Weimar Republic or even to Imperial Germany. Four of the six large economic research institutes, the HWWA Hamburg (1908), the Kiel Institute of World Economics (IfW) (1914) and the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin (DIW) (1925) as well as its western branch, the Essen-based Rhine-Westphalia Institute for Economic Research (RWI) (1926) were post-war relaunches of previously existing institutes. …

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