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The Future of Think Tanks and Policy Advice

The Future of Think Tanks and Policy Advice

30 January 2020
Berlin launch of the annual Global Think Tank Ranking with a breakfast on "The Future of Think Tanks and Policy Advice"

To mark the launch of the 2019 Global Think Tank Ranking report on 30 January 2020, Ecologic Institute convened and hosted a breakfast discussion of think tankers and policy experts to discuss "The Future of Think Tanks and Policy Advice". The event, co-hosted and sponsored by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, was part of a worldwide launch of the report in over 130 cities around the world, with over 500 think tanks hosting or co-hosting.

The presenters were:

The moderator was Sascha Müller-Kraenner, Director, Environmental Action Germany (DUH), and co-founder of Ecologic Institute.

The ensuing discussion among the participants covered:

  • The diversity – or "typology" – of think tanks with their various characteristics, financial models, types of influence, and strategies to maintain their relevance, quality and independence;
  • The methodology of the ranking, its strengths and weaknesses as a "perception-based ranking;
  • The space for think tanks in democracies vs. authoritarian regimes, and how the political context shapes the roles and functions of think tanks;
  • Structural deficiencies in public administration and government, notably the separation into distinct policy domains with little interconnection, which think tanks must help to overcome;
  • The observation that many external policies increasingly have domestic policy implications and repercussions, and that the division between "internal" and "external" policies is no longer applicable;
  • The need for fundamental reorientation of policies in almost all areas, which requires think tanks to provide:              
    • Competence in the management of processes for debate and policy formulation involving more actors and segments of society;
    • Competence in the art of initiating and managing transformations, and guiding innovation to meet political and societal challenges;

An understanding emerged from the discussion that think tanks not only need to design strategies to ensure their own future, but need to actively protect and improve the political environment in which they operate.

The rankings, compiled by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) of the University of Pennsylvania, are officially launched on 30 January 2020. The results are based on a perception-based survey distributed to around 15,000 think tanks, journalists, policy makers, public and private donors and specialists, as well as a group of peers and experts.

The TTCSP is based at the University of Pennsylvania and aims to increase the profile, capacity and performance of think tanks at national, regional and global levels.


Thomas Birringer (KAS)
Dr. Michael Bröning (FES)
30 January 2020
Berlin, Germany
Think Tank, research organization, environment, University of Pennsylvania, Think Tank and Civil Societies Program, transdisciplinary, sustainability, excellence, impact, methodology, political regimes, domestic and external policy, management, transformation, innovation