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Home » Articles » Think tanks and their roles in the global economy

Think tanks and their roles in the global economy

Ever wonder how companies do their research on their products and services? That’s where think tanks enter the picture.

Aside from lead generation and marketing efforts, most companies come up with a certain offer as a product of their market research and analysis. 

According to a study, the market research industry reached up to US$ 73.4 billion market size in 2019, more than twofold of its growth in 2008. With the increasing abundance of products and services in the market, market research sure pays off!

Companies changing the world tend to create innovations and revolutionary products such as laptops, online tools, and even the internet thanks to research. 

At some point, research even pushes them to contribute to society and have their social responsibility revolve around their advocacies.

However, not all companies can fund their R&D teams just to get to know what their customers want from them and how to make their operations more ethical.

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What is a think tank and what are they good for?

Think tanks are organizations that intend to research particular issues, policies, or ideas. They are also referred to as “policy institutes” and, according to a New York Times article, position themselves as “universities without students.”

As part of their services, think tanks post articles, studies, and draft policies of certain countries. However, their research does not just cover socio-political aspects alone.

As much as think tanks help further policies, some of them could push agendas that their corporate donors value.

What is a think tank and what are they good for?

The role of think tanks in a society

Primarily, think tanks act “as brokers of policy knowledge, centers for research, and incubators of new ideas,” per Center for International Private Enterprise. Their primary role is to raise awareness of several economic issues and show policymakers how to act upon them. 

Think tanks are considered crucial in measuring and finding out how to improve society. Yet, they still have to clearly define their specific roles since some of them are potentially used in harmful practices

Types of think tanks

Think tanks are classified in different ways, including their affiliations, interests, and functions. Some of the most common types of think tanks are:

  • Independent/autonomous. They usually remain “on the neutral ground” and are not connected to any interest group, donor, or government funding.
  • Quasi-independent. They are usually not connected to the government. However, quasi-independent think tanks are majorly funded by interest groups, which in turn have significant control over their operations.
  • University/political party-affiliated. These think tanks are officially affiliated with a university or political party.
  • Government-affiliated. Government-affiliated think tanks receive exclusive funding from the government. Usually, they exist within a certain government agency or department.
  • For-profit. These can either be affiliated with a certain corporation or are a standalone entity.
  • Corporate think tanks. Corporate think tanks exclusively get funding from corporate entities. They can help a company to further impact the business’s brand and purpose.
  • Ideological think tanks. They aim to solve a societal or corporate problem based on their ideological philosophies.
  • Specialist tank. Specialist tanks focus on a single specialty such as a foreign policy or education.
  • Subnational think tank. They work on a localized area of a country and can function the same as a national-level tank. For instance, a subnational tank can work on research related to a state policy.
  • Practical tanks. Lastly, practical tanks or “think-and-do” tanks work the same as a non-government agency (NGO) and do more practical efforts such as charity projects and advocacies.
Types of think tanks

Five most influential think tanks in the world

Per a report by OECD, there are more than 5,000 think tanks in the world. Most of them (61.37%) are found in the United States, Western Europe, and Canada.

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Large enterprises, in most cases, can tap the most influential think tanks for a certain purpose. In a news report, AcademicInfluence listed some of the world’s most influential think tanks.

1. Brooking Institute

The Brookings Institute was founded by a merger of three Washington-based public policy research institutes in 1927. While claiming to be “non-partisan” and “centrists,” it is said that the majority of their donations come from the US Democratic party candidates.

2. The Heritage Foundation

Compared to Brookings Institute, The Heritage Foundation leans more towards its conservative bias. Most influencing the American society, the foundation primarily aims to “promote conservative public policies based on free enterprise” and several other aspects.

3. Council on Foreign Relations

Established 100 years ago, the Council on Foreign Relations specializes in US foreign policies and international affairs. The institution boasts its 5,000-member base and influence to expanded fields of research including information technology, global health, and climate change.

4. Cato Institute

Among the list, the Cato Institute is more considered as a libertarian think tank. They even voice out their strong support to individuals and groups engaging in the peaceful struggle for civil liberties globally.

5. Center for Strategic and International Studies

Last but not least, the Center for Strategic and International Studies once started in 1962 under Georgetown University. They specialize in analyses on international relations and economies related to US national security.

Five most influential think tanks in the world

Will a think tank help my business forward?

More than their political affiliations, think tanks serve as advisors for a business. They work with a business the way consultants and outsourcing suppliers provide advice and guidance on how you can operate better.

You might think that using a think tank could only serve their political biases. However, a majority of them can give you the following benefits, to no avail.

  • Close gaps. Not all businesses – even technology-related ones – could invest time, effort, and resources to keep up with the latest breakthroughs. Think tanks help them find these trends and bring them to the market quicker.
  • Act as a liaison. Think tanks can as well be a reliable source of information for citizens and businesses on several topics and issues.
  • Push innovation further. Lastly, think tanks help in contributing to further innovations that are found outside simple research. This is since professionals such as executives, engineers, and marketing experts freely contribute and explore breakthroughs with their institutions.

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