GIGA Focus International Edition English

Think Tanks: The Quest to Define and to Rank Them

GIGA Focus | International Edition English | Nummer 10 |

On 22 January 2014 the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania releases its latest “Global Go To Think Tanks Report.” This series of annual reports, launched in 2007, has been subject to substantial criticism from scholars working in or on think tanks.

Analysis
Over the past decade, various organizations and publications have started to rank think tanks, mostly at the national level. Top-ranked think tanks like to announce their standings in promotional material and on their websites. While such ranking Indexes help to draw attention to the growing think tank scenes across the globe and are thus to be welcomed, the existing rankings are fraught with problems; conceptual and methodological difficulties in particular are abound. Current attempts to rank think tanks therefore need to be approached with caution.

  • There is no agreement on what essentially defines a think tank. Many definitions have been offered, but not one is entirely satisfactory. Given the prevailing ambiguity and also vagueness of think tank conceptualizations, we often do not really know which organizations should be considered thinks tanks and which ones should not.

  • The national contexts in which think tanks operate differ and so do the ways in which they perform their various activities and roles in pursuing their manifold missions. Think tank rankings at the regional or global levels are thus always dubious.

  • Output, public outreach or other performance-based criteria are usually offered to buttress think tank rankings, but these criteria are often not weighed or properly operationalized.

  • It is especially difficult to assess think tanks’ policy-oriented influence. Various rankings try to measure some of the output produced by think tanks – output that can be understood as “intermediary products.” Counting such products can help to get a better idea of think tanks’ visibility, but not of their actual impact on public policy.

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Vorgeschlagene Zitierweise

Köllner, Patrick (2013), Think Tanks: The Quest to Define and to Rank Them, GIGA Focus International Edition English, 10, Dezember, urn:nbn:de:0168-ssoar-370407

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Gesamtredaktion GIGA Focus: Prof. Dr. Sabine Kurtenbach

Prof. Dr. Patrick Köllner

Vizepräsident
Direktor des GIGA Instituts für Asien-Studien

Prof. Dr. Patrick Köllner ist Vizepräsident des German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA), Direktor des GIGA Instituts für Asien-Studien und Professor für Politikwissenschaft an der Universität Hamburg. Sein aktuelles Forschungsinteresse gilt vor allem Think Tanks in Asien, australischer und neuseeländischer Politik gegenüber China sowie vergleichenden Regionalstudien.

Aktuelle Publikationen der AutorInnen

Patrick Köllner

Australia’s and New Zealand’s South Pacific Diplomacy: Seeking to Balance China’s Regional Engagement

in: Robert G. Patman / Patrick Köllner / Balazs Kiglics (eds.), Diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific: Ideas, Interests, Institutions, Issues, Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming

Raphaëlle Khan / Patrick Köllner

The Rise of New-Generation Foreign Policy Think Tanks in India: Causes, Contours, and Roles

in: Robert Patman / Patrick Köllner / Balazs Kiglics (eds.), Diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific: Ideas, Interests, Institutions, Issues, Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming

Robert Patman / Patrick Köllner / Balazs Kiglics (eds.)

Asia-Pacific Diplomacy in Transition: Ideas, Issues and Institutions

Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming

Marco Bünte / Patrick Köllner / Richard Roewer

Taking Stock of Myanmar's Political Transformation since 2011

Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 38, 2020, 3, 249-264