The Role of Think Tanks in Shaping Policy Making

The role and influence of think tanks on policy making is attracting increasing political and academic attention. Thus, in the run-up to the July edition of the Think Tank Review, we would like to draw your attention to few studies further exploring this subject.

In a 2012 BEPA study, Antonio Missiroli and Isabelle Ioannides argued that think tanks are fostering the development of a common European public sphere as ‘they shape both expectations and perceptions regarding EU policies, with increasing access to old and new media at national, continental and international level’.

Donald E. Abelson, in an article published in International Affairs, focused on the evolution and transformation of foreign affairs think tanks in North America and Europe, particularly of those looking at foreign and defense policy issues. He pointed out that due to the methodological obstacles, it is difficult to determine the influence think tanks have, but added that “directors of think-tanks remain convinced that their institutes wield enormous influence.” He emphasised the need for a method for capturing meaningful data on the subject.

Marybel Perez’s January 2014 International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society article, examines how the EU policy-making process affects the knowledge-broker role of EU think tanks. In the conclusions, the author argued that “EU think tanks concentrate on customised knowledge management and platform development and dissemination among target audiences in order to appeal to partners, members and sponsors and thereby secure funding and reputation.”

Finally, how much influence one finds might depend on which particular EU policy area one looks at. Therefore, Andrew Geddes in his recent EUI Working Paper aimed to determine possible influence of think tanks on the EU migration policy. He analysed the relationship between the production of knowledge about international migration and the use of this knowledge in policy-shaping and policy-making and concluded that the production of knowledge has not changed the substantive orientation of policy, mostly due to information overload and the packaging of research.

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