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Investing in Ideas, Influencing Policy: A Guide to Think Tank Effectiveness

Philanthropy Roundtable

June 29, 2023

Executive Summary
As donors evaluate think tank investments, this paper proposes a series of features that distinguish independent autonomous public policy think tanks and their effectiveness in influencing public policy choices. With careful consideration to the process outlined in this
report, donors may direct think tank funding toward those with high impact.

It will discuss and exemplify the following stages of an effective think tank as follows:

  1. Conceptualizing the “think tank question”: Including discussion of how a think tank project differs from purely academic research.
  2. Promotion of research findings: Why think tanks seeking impact must maintain public communication arms and public-facing scholars.
  3. Seizing the moment: Understanding when a window of policy opportunity has opened—whether for new or older findings—and acting on it. This can include legal action. While the examples of policy reform successes in this paper focus on the work of think tanks, it is important to note that these successes were often aided by the joint efforts of coalitions of nonprofit organizations.
  4. Engaging allies: Either actively working in coalitions or making supportive interest groups aware of findings at the appropriate time.
  5. Impact and politics: Including the decision of if and when to compromise.

Read more here.