Public Policy Institutes (Think Tanks)

Yep, it turns out that there are organizations whose job is to come up with well researched policy proposals for addressing a variety of the world’s problems.  At last count the US has 1,984 think tanks–almost a third of the world’s total.  Lots of decisions, at the federal, state, and local levels, are based off of research and arguments developed by these organizations.

Some examples: The center-left Brookings Institution is typically ranked by those in Washington as the most influential general public policy institute, regardless of the means for measuring performance.  Cato Institute is the most frequently cited online, and comes from a libertarian perspective (fiscally conservative, socially liberal).  Heritage Foundation is the dominant conservative think tank out there, and continues to be the number two source in media citations–just behind Brookings.  (Here’s a great list of think tanks organized by political leaning, with a brief description of their stance.  Also, here is left-leaning media watchdog’s perspective of bias for the 25 think tanks most cited in the media.)

It can be really useful to look to these sources not only because of the well developed research they provide, but because they can provide arguments you could appropriate (with citation!) as you present your own recommendation in the policy essay.  You might use Harvard’s Think Tank Search to explore what has been discussed on your particular issue.  For instance, I typed in “Crimea,” the portion of Ukraine that Russia seems intent on “annexing” in the next 48 hours.  (Seriously.  Check out the news.)  I found this policy brief from 2009 that warned of the likelihood of the current situation and provided recommendations that could potentially have headed off the brewing conflict between Russia and the West.

After the jump, I’ve copied the list of top 55 US think tanks, as compiled by U Penn’s Think Tanks and Civil Society Program, as well as a link to an alternate ranking system from the Center for Global Development.  (You can also review U Penn’s full report, which ranks think tanks by issue; I could see this being especially important for some topics you might explore.)

1. Brookings Institution (United States)
2. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (United States)
3. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) (United States)
4. RAND Corporation (United States)
5. Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) (United States)
6. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (United States)
7. Pew Research Center (United States)
8. Heritage Foundation (United States)
9. Cato Institute (United States)
10. Center for American Progress (CAP) (United States)
11. American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) (United States)
12. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) (United States)
13. Peterson Institute for International Economics (United States)
14. Center for a New American Security (CNAS) (United States)
15. World Resources Institute (WRI) (United States)
16. Atlantic Council of the United States (United States)
17. United States Institute of Peace (USIP) (United States)
18. Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs (United States)
19. Hoover Institution (United States)
20. James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy (United States)
21. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (United States)
22. Earth Institute (United States)
23. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) (United States)
24. Urban Institute (United States)
25. Center for International Development (CID) (United States)
26. Freedom House (United States)
27. Center for Global Development (CGD) (United States)
28. Human Rights Watch (United States)
29. Stimson Center (United States)
30. New America Foundation (United States)
31. Hudson Institute (United States
32. Open Society Institute (OSI) (United States)
33. Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) (United States)
34. Acton Institute (United States)
35. Worldwatch Institute (United States)
36. Resources for the Future (RFF) (United States)
37. Inter-American Dialogue (United States)
38. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), FNA Pew Center on Global Climate Change (United States)
39. Center for the National Interest, FNA Nixon Center (United States)
40. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) (United States)
41. Reason Foundation (United States)
42. Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI) (United States)
43. German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) (United States)
44. Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) (United States)
45. Aspen Institute (United States)
46. Economic Policy Institute (EPI) (United States)
47. Mercatus Center (United States)
48. Center for Transatlantic Relations (CTR) (United States)
49. Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) (United States)
50. Pacific Research Institute (United States)
51. Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) (United States)
52. Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) (United States)
53. Demos US (United States)
54. Independent Institute (United States)
55. EastWest Institute (EWI) (United States)

And as promised, here is an alternate ordering of the top policy shops by the Center for Global Development.  This looks at each think tank’s public profile using hard data (social media, traditional media, academic citations, etc.), rather than U Penn’s expert-selected list.

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