What is a Public Policy Think Tank?

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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 14 March 2020
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A public policy think tank is an organization that seeks to influence policy decisions and policy makers by conducting public policy research, and coming up with an advocacy position. Often, staff at the organization will conduct extensive media campaigns as well, both print and broadcast based. The purpose of the public policy think tank is usually to advocate for a position through research. Often, the research can be quite controversial.

Much of the research done at a public policy think tank is done to support a certain political issue or philosophy. Those organizations that tend to be more liberal will likely look for corroborating points that support that point of view. The same is true for those that tend to be more conservative. The research at a public policy think tank tends to be questioned by skeptics, especially those who realize where the research is coming from, simply because such organizations tend to advocate so strongly for one position.


In some cases, the source of a particular research project may be kept in anonymity. This is because the public policy think tank does not want to become the issue. Though the organization may appreciate the attention in the long run, the dedication to the issue may require a lower profile in some situations so as to accomplish a particular goal. Therefore, some research may be ghost written in order to protect the original source. The research will often contain extensive documentation so that reference checks can take place easily.

The funding for these think tanks usually comes from a private organization, or group of individuals who support a certain political philosophy. Some may also sell their research to other organizations or businesses as a way to make money. Others may publish their own magazines, offering news and analysis on the most current issues and events. These magazines can not only generate revenue through subscriptions, but also through advertising.

Those who staff a public policy think tank tend to be experts in their fields, but also politically minded. Many are former politicians who have decided they want a political career that does not involve the uncertainty of elections every few years. Others may be former academicians with Ph.Ds, who no longer wish to be constrained by the objectivity demanded by a university environment. Most have the expertise and contacts to get the research they need very quickly. This is why a public policy think tank can quickly put together a list of talking points and facts on nearly any issue that comes up within a day or two.



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