Changing World of Think Tank Firms– Think Tanking is Billion Dollar Industry in Decline: Aged Business Model, Strategy…

Most citizens have no concept on what a ‘think tank’ is, or its purpose. In simple terms; think tank is an ‘ideas industry’, and like other ‘ideas industries’, i.e.; journalism, entertainment, academia… these industries are changing… The original purpose of think tank firms were to offer nonpartisan, independent analysis– they were ‘ideas factories’ that perform research, analysis, made expert recommendations on topics such as; social policy, strategy, economics, technology, military…

Most think tanks are 501(c)3 non-profit tax-exempt organizations, and at last count there are about 6,800 think tanks worldwide, and about 1,984 in U.S… According to study by Transparify; in 2013, the total annual revenue for largest 21 think tanks amounts to US$1.077 billion, employed total of 7,333 people, including part-time employees, and their total net assets grew 8% to US$ 2.65 billion… The median think tank had a revenue of US$39 million, expenditures of US$32 million, assets worth US$ 87 million, and 211 employees…

In the article Think Tank: New Brand of Lobbying by Alan Crawford writes: Think tanks are losing their intellectual independence and integrity… According to James McGann; role of many think tanks is global where they are engaged in critical transnational policy-makers issues, such as; global warming, pandemics, terrorism, education… Although what constitutes a think tank varies by country, some governments create so-called think tanks, which are designed to appear as independent research organizations, but they are in fact just another propaganda arm of the government…

Also, the traditional function of think tanks is changing due to the emergence of the Internet, social media, increase in social activism… Which means that more organizations and private foundations are limiting their funding to think tanks, since they have access to other expertise… and individual donors are moving the support from analysis to activism, and from think tank to advocacy groups…

In the article Devaluing the Think Tank by Tevi Troy writes: Think tanks were highly influential in politics and social issues, and their research and scholars were heavily consulted and relied on by many leaders…  But in these times with daunting policy challenges and highly polarized political debates– think tanks, especially the new and more advocacy-oriented institutions founded in the past decade or so, risk becoming both more conventional and less valuable… At a moment when there is too much noise in politics and too few constructive ideas, these organizations are simply become part of the intellectual echo chamber of politics, rather than providing alternative sources of policy analysis and intellectual innovation…

The proliferation and politicization of new think tanks has, perhaps ironically, tended to weaken the ability of all think tanks to influence policy debates… According to Andrew Rich; the known ideological proclivities of many think tanks, especially the newer ones and their aggressive efforts to obtain high profiles have come to undermine the credibility with which think tanks are generally viewed by many public officials… According to Karlyn Bowman; politicization of think tanks limits their ability both to provide new and innovative policy solutions and to get them implemented…

It ‘s important not to overstate the independence and the value of the original think-tank model… The value of the original model came from its ability to bring serious, original, expert research to the task of analyzing policy issues and proposing creative solutions… It sought to expand the range of options under debate, and to ground that debate in hard facts and figures… Instead, many of these organizations avoid the difficult task of pursuing creative policy ideas and solutions, and are giving politician and others different ways to persist in failed courses… There are exceptions in the think-tank world but these are increasingly have trouble being heard over the din…

In the article Virtues of Virtuality by Enrique Mendizabal, Stephen Yeo writes: Changing global realities are causing some think tanks to consider reshaping themselves as ‘think-nets’ or ‘virtual think tanks’, which are cheaper to run and more conducive to open innovation... Think tanks are under increasing pressure to reinvent themselves in the age of technology, and to secure new forms of funding… Many are exploring different strategies and one such paths is recreating themselves as ‘think-nets’ or’ virtual think tank’…

A think-net is an Internet-based, collaborative business model where human capital is a network, e.g., individual researchers, supporting resources… that focus on policy-specific issues… Here the traditional think tank model remains the same– independent, original, quality research and analysis, that create spaces for nonpartisan political and scientific debate… key advantages of think-net are; learning from others, more flexibility, and more adaptable to rapid policy changes…

In the article Rethink the Think Tank by Anne-Marie Slaughter and Ben Scott writes: Objective research from think tanks can still play an important role in social and political policy-making. But the think tank as a policy organization has not adapted fast enough to escape the dysfunction of the political environment… Even superb policy analysis seldom results in policy change. One reason is that expert positions in many debates are alien to the mobilized bases of both parties…

Another is that the desire to score partisan points trumps the effort to get something done irrespective of whether the ‘right answer’ is served up on a silver platter. Meanwhile, a plethora of specialized research organizations funded by trade associations, corporations, and partisan donors on both right and left have led many to question the objectivity of the policy positions adopted… It’s time to rethink the think tank to meet the evolving challenges. The central mission is the same– to help solve public issues– but the form and function of the work must adapt… Today, that model is too elitist, too narrow, and too slow.

According to Daniel Betekhtin; think tank flourished in 20th century for two reasons; governments were expanding everywhere hence there was lots of demand for policy expertise… and the arrival of 24-hour news created an insatiable appetite for informed-experts… Yet the world may have reached– ‘peak-tank’… Researchers at University of Pennsylvania; found that in 2014 the number of new tanks declined for first time in 30 years. Think tanks are no longer only organizations engaged in public policy analysis and research… in fact, think tanks are increasingly being caught in a squeeze…

There is an emergence of many so-called independent experts, such as; academics, journalists, grassroots organizations, political parties, bloggers, interest groups, media consultants, spin doctors, and other distinct voices that combine to provide citizens and leaders with a broad range of information, perspectives, ideas…

Adding to this smorgasbord of thought and discussion is government’s shrinking funding for research, as well as leading foundations becoming more like advocacy groups… Hence, perhaps the traditional think tank should rethink their strategy, business model, relevance. Or perhaps the traditional think tank is just a dying breed…