Capturing the Political Imagination: Think-Tanks and the Policy Process.Dr Diane Stone is a Lecturer in Public Policy at Warwick University, and her book is a thoughtful and well-researched study of an aspect of policy development which has not been much written up in this country. 'The Think-Tank' was the popular name for the Central Policy Review Staff (CPRS CPRS Canadian Public Relations Society
CPRS Computerized Patient Record System
CPRS California Park and Recreation Society
CPRS Comprehensive Psychopathological Rating Scale
CPRS Center for Political Research and Studies (Cairo University) ) established by Edward Heath
British Conservative politician who served as prime minister (1979-1990). Her administration was marked by anti-inflationary measures, a brief war in the Falkland Islands (1982), and the passage of a , who was never very receptive to official advice - but many believe it will one day have to be re-invented.
However, Dr Stone is not much concerned with policy units set up and controlled by Governments. She has a different definition of a think-tank: 'an independent policy research institute'. Unlike the CPRS, it is, she says, 'an organisational expression of the blending of ideas, politics, and policy outside formal political arenas, [occupying] an ambiguous position between the market and the state'. Think-tanks are, or should be, distinct from pressure groups, which exist to further a particular, pre-determined point of view.
The earliest organisation conforming to Dr Stone's definition seems to be the Fabian Society Fabian Society, British socialist society. An outgrowth of the Fellowship of the New Life (founded 1883 under the influence of Thomas Davidson), the society was developed the following year by Frank Podmore and Edward Pease. , set up in 1884; it later became linked to the Labour Party but has never been afraid to challenge socialist orthodoxies. (The first American First American may refer to:
Sage was born at Verona in Oneida County, New York. He received a public school education and worked as a farm hand until he was 15, when he became an errand boy in a grocery conducted Foundation, was established in 1907 to improve domestic social conditions.) Between the wars some other notable bodies were born: the Royal Institute for International Affairs Noun 1. international affairs - affairs between nations; "you can't really keep up with world affairs by watching television"
affairs - transactions of professional or public interest; "news of current affairs"; "great affairs of state" (Chatham House For for the all boys grammar school situated in Ramsgate of the same name, see .
Chatham House, formally known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs, is a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in London whose mission is to analyze and promote the ) in 1920; the Royal Institute of Public Administration (not mentioned here, and now sadly defunct in its original form); the (Robert) Brookings Institution Brookings Institution, at Washington, D.C.; chartered 1927 as a consolidation of the Institute for Government Research (est. 1916), the Institute of Economics (est. 1922), and the Robert S. Brookings Graduate School of Economics and Government (est. 1924). in Washington, D.C. (1927); and Political and Economic Planning Political and Economic Planning (PEP) was a British policy think tank, formed in 1931 in response to Max Nicholson's article A National Plan for Britain published in February of that year in Gerald Barry's magazine The Week-End Review. (PEP) in 1931.
But it is in the years since 1945 that the think-tank has really proliferated, with the huge and generously-funded RAND (Research and Development) Corporation in 1948. Dr Stone lists a total of 52 British and 132 American institutions, of which 45 and 114 respectively are post-war.
Think-tanks now flourish in other parts of the world, in Eastern Europe since the collapse of Communism and in Asia, where they 'tend to be closely linked with their governments' - and thus are perhaps not think-tanks in Dr Stone's sense. The true think-tank has an efficient organisation, an independent income, and some degree of permanence. Some are established as charities, or by Royal Charter. The primary products are research, analysis, and advice, usually promulgated prom·ul·gate
tr.v. prom·ul·gat·ed, prom·ul·gat·ing, prom·ul·gates
1. To make known (a decree, for example) by public declaration; announce officially. See Synonyms at announce.
2. by publications, press releases, conferences and seminars. Expertise and professionalism are sine qua non [Latin, Without which not.] A description of a requisite or condition that is indispensable.
In the law of torts, a causal connection exists between a particular act and an injury when the injury would not have arisen but , and it is essential that the organisation should have the freedom to choose its own research agenda. Think-tanks seek some involvement in government, but through intellectual argument rather than through the lobbying methods of pressure groups. R. K. Weaver (1989) aptly likened the older, traditional think-tanks to 'a university without students'.
There is a risk that some smaller institutions ('vanity tanks') may be unduly dominated by powerful and charismatic individuals. Ideally, however, objectivity should be the hallmark. But Dr Stone shows how some groups, especially those set up since the early 1970s, have become openly partisan 'with predictable policy positions'. One has only to think of the rise of such ideas an monetarism monetarism, economic theory that monetary policy, or control of the money supply, is the primary if not sole determinant of a nation's economy. Monetarists believe that management of the money supply to produce credit ease or restraint is the chief factor influencing and privatisation to see how much is due to Right-wing organisations like the Centre for Political Studies (founded 1974 by Sir Keith Joseph) and the Adam Smith Institute The Adam Smith Institute is a think tank based in the United Kingdom, named after the father of modern economics, Adam Smith. Although non-partisan, it espouses free market and classical liberal views, in particular by creating radical policy options in the light of public choice (1977). Nothing in the political world is static, though, and the current world-wide trend to the Right may be a passing phenomenon; the 21st century may see another swing of the pendulum.
How effective are think-tanks, then? Dr Stone is cautious: 'It is impossible to establish a casual link between the activities of think-tanks and policy outcomes . . . It is easy to exaggerate the importance of these organisations, and dangerous to accept uncritically their own statements of influence. They provide 'the rhetorical weapons for opposition groups' - but do they change the way governments behave? Certainly my own experience in the Home Office, when the Urban Aid Programme was set up, suggests that while they make an important contribution to the sum of knowledge and the policy option, it would be hard to quote specific instances where they inspired a policy change. Perhaps once or twice during Mrs Thatcher's premiership? - but her days are gone.
Nevertheless, think-tanks are undoubtedly here to stay, and Dr Stone's book is a valuable guide to them. On a purely factual level, it collates data not readily available elsewhere - in its chronology and its 73-page Appendix listing 49 British and 125 US think-tanks, with addresses and an explanatory paragraph on each. (The Constitution Unit is an unfortunate omission, in view of its relevance if there is a change of government in the UK this year.) The author writes in a clear style, although she cannot resist the occasional jargon phrase - 'epistemic communities', 'policy windows', 'discourse coalition', 'telos'. She compares the situation in Britain and the U.S., pointing out that the more open and more fragmented structure of the U.S. Constitution gives policy institutions greater opportunity to influence legislation than in the more secretive Westminster and Whitehall system - although she believes the 1979 changes to the House of Commons House of Commons: see Parliament. Select Committees have offered them more scope.
With its chapters on organisation, management, foreign policy, and other matters, this is an essential book for the library of the policy student - and of the decision-taker in Government.
DENNIS L BIRD