For many, the phrase “Think Tank” brings to mind smoke filled rooms of handsome billionaire geniuses all discussing solutions to the world’s problems over whiskey and boutique coffee. While this imaginative scenario is more colorful than reality, it is not altogether mistaken.
A think tank is an organization whose primary objective is to evaluate contemporary issues in society and propose solutions via writing, reporting, lecturing, consulting, and counseling global industry and political leaders.
Much of public and corporate policies are made by individuals with divided attention. One cannot be a full-time politician or CEO and a full-time researcher at the same time. Scholars employed at think tanks (often called “fellows”) comprise some of the most educated minds in the world. These individuals, unfettered by public opinion or the mundane constraints of corporate America, have the luxury of focusing their efforts brainstorming, innovating, and problem solving.
Some think tanks are dedicated to narrow areas of focus like healthcare, sustainability, human rights, or national security. Others are broader in scope, dealing with issues like international affairs, domestic and foreign policy, or science and technology.
Like engineers, think tank scholars step away from issues and deconstruct them on an elemental level and try to propose unique solutions based on a mixture of research and ideas espoused by the organization. Besides the scholars, think tanks can have teams of secondary analysts, all united in a common goal of advancing the ideas of the think tank.
A think tank is like a marketing firm for newly incubated ideas. It sinks or swims depending on the organization’s ability to sway policy makers, persuade the public, and prove the relevance and superiority of their ideas amongst the fray of ideas all duking it out for donor dollars. While most are non-profit, there do exist for-profit think tanks.
With various organizations vying for common funding, many think tanks have a political bent so as to attract donors interested in promoting a political agenda. This is not always the case, but more often than not, you will find a political undercurrent directing the activities of the organization.
Our list of the 50 Most Influential Think Tanks runs the gamut from classically conservative to liberal, independent to centrist. Whether you agree or disagree with their ideology, you cannot deny that they are—at the very least—influential in society.