What to Think about Think Tanks - Towards a Conceptual Framework of Strategic Think Tank Behavior

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 15:15
Location: Hörsaal 23 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Alexander RUSER, Zeppelin University Friedrichshafen, Germany, Germany
Expert advice is gaining importance in advanced knowledge societies. Particularly the demand for scientific knowledge increases as political decision-makers look for answers that help them coping with the ever more complex challenges of a globalized world. Likewise public discourses tend to rely on scientific knowledge for scientifically produced evidence developed into a strategic resource to justify world-views and political positions. Against this background the observed ‘global spread’ of so called think tanks, seems to respond to this growing demand. Defining what a think tank is, let alone what they´re doing and if they are able to effectively shape political ideas is yet a controversial issue. This contribution outlines a comprehensive conceptual framework for analyzing the strategies of different types of think tanks in distinct institutional environments. Starting with classical typologies to distinguish between organizations, which adhere to standards of scientific inquiry at the one end of a continuum and ideologically biased institutes at the other the analytical model takes into account distinct ‘points of intervention’ and systematically considers the respective institutional and ideological environment. The first dimension allows for distinguishing between distinct effects of political ideas: They can influence decision- making as concepts in the foreground or as underlying assumptions in the background of policy debates. At the cognitive level they can function either as programs (foreground), that is they serve as policy prescriptions for the political elite necessary to formulate actual agendas, or as paradigms (background) (cf. Campbell 1998). Considering different ‘knowledge regimes’ (Campbell, Pedersen 2011) permits to test for the influence of respective institutional and normative settings. In consequence it becomes possible to analyze how think tanks shape and are in turn shaped by their environment.