The emergence of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as important global actors has received increased attention from researchers and scholars in international relations, development studies, and nonprofit management. One type of NGO, the think tank, has received much less attention despite their growing number and influence. Think tanks now constitute a set of knowledge-based policy-oriented institutions that serve governments, intergovernmental organizations, and civil society. These institutions generate policy-oriented research, analysis, and advice on domestic and international issues in an effort to enable policymakers and the public to make informed decisions about public policy issues. And as most of us know that governmental and individual policymakers throughout the developed and developing world face the common problem of bringing expert knowledge to bear in governmental decision-making. In developing and transitional countries, in particular, the basic data needed to make informed decisions doesn’t exist and must be collected and analyzed so that it can be put into a form that is useable for parliamentarians and bureaucrats. Politicians and government officials in many developed countries, on the other hand, are confronted not with a lack of information but an avalanche of information and paper. However, some of this information is unreliable, and some is tainted by the interest of those who are disseminating it. Some may be so technical that generalist policy makers cannot understand it or use it. Some information may be politically, financially or administratively impractical. Other information may not be useful because it differs too radically from the worldview or ideology of those receiving it. Thus, in both information rich and information poor societies, policy makers and others interested in the policy making process need information that is understandable, reliable, accessible, and useful. Despite the many potential sources for such information, demands for information that can be used in policy making have also increasingly helped to foster the development of independent public policy research organizations, commonly known as think tank. In fact, defining think tanks, and establishing clear boundaries from other organizations is one of the most conceptually difficult tasks in analyzing these organizations and considering that there is no single definition to the think tanks, we can say within the previous preview that think tanks or public policy research, analysis, and engagement institutions are organizations that generate policy-oriented research, analysis, and advice on domestic and international issues in an effort to enable policymakers and the public to make informed decisions about public policy issues. Think tanks may be affiliated with political parties, governments, interest groups, or private corporations or constituted as independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). These institutions often act as a bridge between the academic and policy making communities, serving the public interest as an independent voice that translates applied and basic research into a language and form that is understandable, reliable, and accessible for policymakers and the public.
Sally Roshdy is a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellow serving at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) .
The CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellowship brings talented young professionals with strong research backgrounds to shadow researchers and experts at leading U.S. think tanks for six month. Sally Roshdy is part of the inaugural class, serving at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED).