Think tanks arose from the success of university research in the social sciences and the humanities, but even more so, as a result of its limitations. The differences between think tanks and university research are as follow. First, while academia has a tendency to talk ‘over’ society, think tanks aim to speak from within it. Second, think-tankers deal with real problems and not, as is often the case with university academics, with issues that have been scientifically defined. Third, the strength of a think tank, as opposed to a traditional university department, is that it can bring together experts in different fields to work side by side. Fourth, while researchers seek to explain the causes of phenomena by looking to the past, think-tankers are more interested in the consequences of phenomena and look to the future. Finally, while university academics largely talk among themselves, and are not particularly interested in reaching the educated general public, think tanks care a great deal about their ability to reach out and influence educated readers. In consequence, think tanks have a prosperous future ahead of them. If think tanks did not already exist, we would have to invent them.
This article was originally the conference paper for Silk Road Forum 2015 and has been granted authorization to use by the Elcano Royal Institute.
Executive summary is based on the article. Copyright © the Elcano Royal Institute. All rights reserved.