The Global “Go-To Think Tanks”

Frontier Centre, Publications, Think Tanks

“Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come” Victor Hugo

In a world saturated with information, connected by the web and challenged by complex issues that often hit like a meteor from outer space, there is a growing need to know where to turn for high quality information and analysis on critical policy issues. Increasingly policy makers and the public are turning to the close to 5,500 public policy research organizations around the world for assistance. This report identifies and ranks the leading think tanks in every region of the world.

The Global Go To Think Tank rankings grew out of the never-ending requests we receive from journalists, scholars and government officials to provide a list of the leading think tanks in a particular country or region of the world. In 2007, we launched a pilot project that was designed to identify some of the leading think tanks in the world in an attempt to answer these inquiries in a more systematic fashion. The inaugural report, while successful, had some shortcomings, mainly due to the sheer number of think tanks worldwide that had to be reviewed and because of the regional and national differences that exist among them. The report that follows is an expansion and refinement of the 2007 inaugural report that reflects our successful efforts to create a rigorous and inclusive process that has resulted in the expanded 2008 global “go-to” think tanks report.

Over the course of the past eight months, 407 think tanks were nominated by a diverse panel of experts comprised of peer institutions, donors, directors of think tank networks, and representatives from intergovernmental organizations. Only those organizations that received two or more nominations were included in the final rankings process, most received well in excess of that number. We then emailed and mailed the 5,465 plus organizations in the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program think tank database a list of the nominated think tanks and asked them to make their selections for the top think tanks in the world as well as by region and research area. Organizations were also asked to recognize organizations in a few special categories that were added as one of the enhancements to this year’s report.

Also included in this report is a summary of the major trends and issues that think tanks face across the globe. These trends were identified through our annual survey of think tanks and interviews with the staff of think tanks and civil society organizations in every region of the world.

Overall, this year’s rankings and selection process marked a number of significant improvements over our inaugural 2007 report. Not only are the nominations now divided into more specific categories, but the panel of expert nominators has also been expanded in an effort to capture the diversity of the think tanks around the world.

Finally, and most importantly, a detailed set of selection criteria was developed and circulated to the peer and expert panels to guide the nomination and selection process (see selection criteria below). These changes have resulted in a larger, more diverse, and more representative pool of nominees and finalists.

While this year’s selection process is greatly improved, a number of qualifications are still in order. First and foremost, the significant differences between the levels of development and resources in the world may have contributed to certain regions being underrepresented on the Global Go-To top 50 think tanks in the world list. We suspect that this has to do with the relatively smaller number of think tanks in developingcountries, their underdeveloped capacity and the limited resources available to these organizations. The unfortunate reality is that there are simply more and better-funded think tanks in the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) countries. In addition, the dominant role these countries play in world politics and the influence they exert over political, economic and social thinking is reflected in the global prominence of their think tanks. These factors help explain, in part, why think tanks in the US, Europe and Asia are overrepresented in the rankings while regions such as Africa, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe are underrepresented on the list of Global Go-To Think Tanks. Finally, we should point out that the data collection and research for this year-long project was conducted without the benefit of field research and with limited resources and a dedicated group of unpaid interns.

Despite our best efforts to consult widely and create a rigorous and inclusive process we cannot eliminate all bias from the selection of the top think tanks in the world. We fully recognize that personal, regional, ideological, and discipline biases may have been introduced into the nomination and selection process by some of those consulted for this study. We are confident, however, that our efforts to create a detailed set of selection criteria, an open and transparent process, and an increase in the participation from underrepresented regions of the world has served to insulate the nomination and selection process from serious problems of bias and underrepresentation. It is also important to note that U.S. think tanks (see the list of the top 30 Think Tanks in the US) were not included in the universe of institutions considered for the Global Go To Think Tank lists because we felt their inclusion would have a distorting effect on the global rankings.

Despite these potential limitations, I am confident that the international experts group and peer nomination and selection process that was constituted for this study has enabled us to create the most authoritative list of high performance think tanks in the world.

Before you read this year’s Go To Think Tank Report we would like to point out that the inclusion of an institution in the universe of leading think tanks does not indicate a seal of approval or endorsement for the institution, its publications or programs. Likewise a failure to be nominated does not necessarily indicate a lack of a quality and effectiveness or poor performance. There are 5465 think tanks that are doing exceptional work to help bridge the gap between knowledge and policy. This report is simply an effort to highlight some of the leading think tanks around the world.