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2007 Survey of Think Tanks: A summary report

James McGann

Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI)

August 2007

SARPN acknowledges FPRI as a source of this document:
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The Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program is pleased to announce the publication of Global Trends and Transitions: 2007 Survey of Think Tanks, an in-depth survey of all known public policy research organizations, or “think tanks,” worldwide. James McGann, Director of the Think Tank and Civil Societies Program “the‘think tanks’think tank” specializes in the study of research organizations; the survey was carried out in order to develop an empirical base for further research on trends that are currently affecting think tanks. The findings contained in the report are a follow up to the 1999 comprehensive assessment of this class of institutions. We expect that this study will make a major contribution to the understanding of public policy research organizations, and is likely to become an important reference point for donors, policy makers, and civil society groups that are interested in working with these important institutions. A summary of the findings is provided below.

Table 1.0

Surveys were emailed and mailed to 5,035 think tanks in 169 countries, and of these, 1028 institutions responded from 134 countries. Each respondent was asked to provide the following information: year established, annual budget, number of staff, type of activities, and types of research. Optional questions included the following: products and services, income, sources of funding, expenditure levels, deficits/surpluses, and value of endowment. The results of this study have been compiled into a report that analyzes this data by region: Asia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand, and the United States and Canada.

The picture emerging from this survey is a radically different one from the one we reported on in 1999. At that time, the community of think tanks was quite dynamic and growing. Today we find that the number of think tanks being created has decreased dramatically and major shifts in their priorities and operations are taking place in every region of the world. In the changing marketplace of ideas, new and old think tanks have been compelled to rethink their strategies for engaging and influencing policy makers, the press, and the public. The trends illustrated in this report help to show some of the current and future challenges and opportunities that think tanks are encountering. It is important to note that the data for the decade beginning in 2000 does not cover a full decade but strong trends are clearly evident. We believe these trends will only be reinforced with additional data and research. The findings of the study are summarized in the following charts and graphs.

Table 1.0 shows the number of think tanks in our database and the number that responded to the survey per region. Not surprisingly, the survey revealed that many closed societies and societies in turmoil, such as Brunei, Libya, Myanmar, North Korea, Suriname, Swaziland, Djibouti, Turkmenistan, and Equatorial Guinea do not have think tanks. Most countries in the world now have at least one think tank (see list of countries with think tanks on page.

The charts and graphs provided below represent the number of think tanks established per year worldwide. The data is based on the information gathered from the 3,794 think tanks that provided background information. This information included address and date established but may not have furnished answers to other questions on the survey. Of the responding think tanks, 1,242, or 31.9%, were established between 1991 and 2000. The drastic increase in think tanks that began in the 1980's can be largely attributed to greater democratization in formerly closed societies, trade liberalization, and the expansion of both market based economies and globalization. The general trend that can be drawn from this information is that the rate of establishment was most pronounced in the 1990s (with the exception of the US & Canada).

Please note that information regarding the number of think tanks established per year worldwide was gathered not only through surveys, but also through the Think Tanks and Civil Societies directory of think tanks. This directory includes the date established for each institution listed in the directory. As a result, this information is more comprehensive than other sections of the report and includes dates established for 3794 (77.3 %) of the 5035 known think tanks in the world.

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