Think tank

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As a think tank - or think tank (from English think tank ) - are institutions designated by research, development and evaluation of political , social and economic concepts and strategies influence the formation of public opinion take and so in terms of policy advice support. Some think tanks take a particular political or ideological line that is aggressively promoted to influence political debates. A think tank can be organized as a foundation , association , society or as an informal group . They usually employ economists and social scientists , specialists from the fields of advertising and communication as well as (former) politicians, entrepreneurs and so-called testimonials .

However, there is no generally accepted definition. The term think tank encompasses very different institutions whose common feature is the desire to influence politics. In linguistic usage , however, the term also subsumes institutions that do not pursue political goals.

The most important functions of think tanks include the presentation of research results and agenda setting . The promotion of a public and scientific debate and advice to politics, administration and the public are central. In the USA , think tanks serve to train a pool of experts who later become part of the administration as government officials through the revolving door effect .

The term " think tank " originated during the Second World War . The description applied to a tap-proof location ( tank ), where civil and military experts worked on military strategies ( think ). It was not until the 1960s and 1970s that practice-oriented research institutions outside of security policy were labeled with it.

In Germany , think tanks are largely publicly funded, for example by the Leibniz Association or by state funds such as political foundations (e.g. the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation , Heinrich Böll Foundation , Friedrich Naumann Foundation , Friedrich Ebert Foundation or the Konrad Adenauer Foundation ). There are also some privately financed think tanks that are supported by political parties , associations, companies, associations, private foundations or individuals.

Forms of think tanks

There are different types of think tanks:

  • Dieter Plehwe makes a distinction between “advocacy think tanks” and “academic think tanks”.
  • James G. McGann makes a distinction for the USA between “academic” (academic view), “contract-related” (research on the client), “advocacy” (political-ideological line) and “political” think tanks (basic strategy).

Nevertheless, not all think tanks would fit in there, so there are mixed forms and, in addition, one could still separate according to political opinion.

State think tanks

These think tanks work primarily for the government and are mainly funded by the state. For their research they can mostly fall back on the help of state authorities. Your research results are often secret and are therefore not published. The RAND Corporation is an archetype of the state think tank .

Advocacy think tanks

Advocacy think tanks seldom do research; their primary function is to market and repackage ideas. They take a particular political or ideological line that is aggressively promoted to influence political debates. In contrast to academic think tanks, advocacy think tanks do not carry out an independent scientific analysis, but buy external expertise that matches their mission statement and communication strategy. Advocacy think tanks are set up by interest groups and have a clear social and economic policy orientation. According to Dieter Plehwe, advocacy think tanks are difficult to distinguish from lobby organizations . The model for this type is the American Heritage Foundation . She introduced the idea of Policy Briefs , drafts that are so short and concise that they can be used e.g. B. can be read through by political decision-makers on the way from the airport to the Congress . Above all, you rely on short-term decision-making horizons and use the media intensively. The team usually consists of a few scientists and mainly PR people who “sell” these ideas.

A specifically German variant of the advocacy think tank are the party-affiliated foundations , which are party-bound and co-financed by the state. The budget negotiations of the party-affiliated foundations take place in the Bundestag . The tax money is used to finance scholarship programs, congresses, magazines and studies. The branches of the foundations include representative properties, are represented abroad and in the federal states . According to Michael Schlieben , there are “networks that are as broad as they are close-knit”. The party processes should be better known than for external consultants and thus the feasibility of reforms should be more promising. These think tanks are criticized by outsiders, for example, "friendly experts are invited, unpleasant research results are withheld, money is regularly wasted, and lateral thinkers are undesirable". Thunert is one of the party-related foundations: the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung , the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung , the Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung , the Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung , the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung and the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung . Thanks to government funding, these are large think tanks that sometimes operate in a similar way to academic think tanks. Other large German advocacy think tanks are the employer-related Initiative Neue Soziale Marktwirtschaft (INSM) and the Institute of German Economy, as well as the union -related Hans Böckler Foundation .

From 2006 to 2010, in a review project , the professors for educational policy Alex Molnar and Kevin G. Welner examined 59 studies published by 26 different American advocacy think tanks on American educational policy. They came to the conclusion that in some cases the studies were not objectionable, but in most cases they were flawed. Those think tanks where they saw methodological errors would repeat these errors over the years. Most of these think tanks would also not respond to advice. The authors of the study came to the conclusion that these errors are often not based on ignorance or inattention, but are the result of deliberate misleading ( junk science ).

Academic think tanks

Academic think tanks, sometimes referred to as “universities without students”, employ numerous academics who prepare and publish scientific studies. They tend to do more basic research and have a long-term time horizon to influence the opinion of the elites . The Brookings Institution in the USA is the “progenitor” of this species .


Great Britain

As early as 1831, the Duke of Wellington founded a think tank for military and security issues with the Royal United Services Institute , which still exists today .

United States

Some of the oldest think tanks in the US, founded as early as the 1910s , include the Council on Foreign Relations CFR, the Brookings Institution, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington . This group, made up of influential investment banks, business people, academics and politicians, represented the internationalist ideals of US President Wilson .

The 1st President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Elihu Root , was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1912 for his constant efforts to balance interests and formulate arbitration agreements in international conflicts and was later to become honorary president of the CFR . CFR co-founder Wickersham also founded the League of Nations Non-Partisan Association (LNNPA) with John Hessin Clarke , a US Supreme Court Justice , to encourage the American people to join the League of Nations . These internationalist institutions were distinguished by the homogeneity of their membership. The members of these groups were exclusively men, came from the American east coast, had close business, social and cultural relationships with one another, were mostly wealthy, belonged to the upper classes and were educated at the famous elite universities in the USA. They had almost no contact with the electorate, members of middle management or medium-sized companies. The internationalism they shaped and the associated globalization was rhetorically addressed to all citizens, but mostly only reached other internationalists or members of the foreign policy establishment . The liberal Mont Pelerin Society was founded in 1947, the RAND Corporation in 1948. Until then, think tanks were not referred to as such; the few dozen institutes were simply known by their names.

Concept emergence

Think tank was originally a British slang term for brain . During the Second World War, this was the name given to groups that devised military strategies in secure rooms. The term got the association of a safe place to think ("think tank"). After the Second World War, think tank developed into the name for political advisory institutions, i.e. places where experts from various disciplines came together to think in a focused interdisciplinary manner. A factory-like production of ideas, as suggested by the literal sense of the German translation of “think tank”, is not what is meant.

Until the 1970s, the few dozen well-known think tanks used to provide general and independent advice to political and military agencies in the United States remained. They usually had a lot of staff and money at their disposal. It was only after this that the number of think tanks exploded, and many smaller institutions emerged, more often set up to support targeted lobbying .

Of the more than 6,300 think tanks that existed around the world in 2009, half were founded after 1980. After 1989, (economic) liberal think tanks were founded in Eastern Europe , mostly with American financial support . In Western Europe, the advisory functions of think tanks have long been taken over by institutions with university status.


Niklas Luhmann sees organizations that resemble think tanks as an answer to the - in his opinion - lack of social acceptance of a link between power and money : “You don't finance truths , but organizations that are concerned with establishing and researching truths or Use untruths more or less successfully. Mutatis mutandis , a similar situation arises with the conversion of property and money into power. "()

The much-discussed, published in 2007 bestseller The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy ( English for is influenced American foreign policy, the Israel lobby. As ) of the prominent political scientist John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt of the made in rows Council on Foreign Relations for much to talk about. "Pro- Israeli forces predominate in the US think tanks, which play an important role in influencing public opinion as well as actual politics," was a core thesis of the book, the aim of which was described as follows:

"The book focuses primarily on the lobby's influence on US foreign policy and its negative effect on American interests."

"The book primarily focuses on the lobby's influence on US foreign policy and its negative effects on American interests"

In an April 5, 2006 column, military historian and CFR member Eliot A. Cohen accused Walt and Mearsheimer of anti-Semitic arguments. The anti-Semitic content of the book made Cohen an “obsessive and irrational hostile attitude towards Jews ”, which they exposed to the “accusation of faithlessness , subversion and betrayal ”. Cohen was supported in his criticism a. a. by Princeton University Professor of Politics and International Relations , Aaron Friedberg; and Stanford University Professor of Economics and Editor of the Time, Josef Joffe , both CFR members.

Concerned about the influence in the US think tanks, however, the corresponding book reviews etc. a. in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (“Walt and Mearsheimer are among the few who, beyond the everyday warfare, search for reasons out of lies, death and incompetence that their country could get so completely astray. And they are ready to lead a debate that want to prevent many of their critics. ") and Die Zeit (" Your theses are not 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion' from Chicago and Harvard, but courageous statements on a domestic and foreign policy phenomenon that must be alarming. ").


British political scientists and publicists Diane Stone and Andrew Denham point out that early studies tended to focus on the role of think tanks only on policy-making. The two explain that studies of elite institutions like the Brookings Institution emphasize that think tanks are important components of the power elite, where decisions are concentrated in the hands of a few groups and individuals. However, the fact that the smaller, lesser-known institutions thrive in far greater numbers than the elite think tanks would be neglected. Of the 6,545 think tanks worldwide in 2012, 1,815 think tanks would cooperate and compete for influence in politics, business, science, media and society in the USA alone.

The sociologist Rudolf Stumberger is of the opinion that tendencies towards re-feudalization are recognizable. This means that in addition to the official democratic structures, unofficial structures are increasingly gaining weight again and these self-appointed elites are increasingly isolating themselves. He also considers the boundaries between the political and economic world to be barely perceptible. The Hamburg historian and Americanist Bernd Greiner believes that the Bilderberg conferences are far less important than the private meetings of privately financed think tanks.

Hans-Jürgen Krysmanski from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation notes that the universities, private think tanks and the large foundations, which are largely dependent on private grants, played a central role in the fundamental problem analysis. The intended direction of the analyzes can already be influenced at this point through the wise use of money and personnel. The resulting "definition of reality" is then the basis for the "real" decisions within the framework of "planning groups". These policy discussion groups represented the power-political cores of the system of influence of the money and power elites. Prof. Krysmanski considers these groups to be still surprisingly little researched - and their whole nature is not open to reliable research.

The influence of foreign governments, especially from the Arab region, on think tanks in the USA was criticized on September 6, 2014 in the New York Times (NYT): “More than a dozen outstanding research institutions in Washington have tens of millions of dollars from foreign countries Governments received in order to induce government officials to implement political goals that correspond to the priorities of the donors. ”During the research of the NYT, members of the institutions had mentioned the pressure exerted on them to produce results according to the wishes of the sponsors achieve. Institutions affected include the Brookings Institution , the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Atlantic Council . The influence ranges from monetary donations to contractual agreements. It may be in violation of the 1938 Foreign Agent Registration Act.

See also


  • Donald E. Abelson: Do Think Tanks Matter? Assessing the Impact of Public Policy Institutes. McGill-Queen's University Press , Montreal et al. a. 2002, ISBN 0-7735-2317-0 .
  • Kubilay Yado Arin: The Role of Think Tanks in US Foreign Policy. From Clinton to Bush Jr. , VS Springer Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2013, ISBN 978-3-658-01043-0 .
  • Michael Borchard : Political Foundations and Political Advice. Successful teammates or participants out of competition? In: Steffen Dagger, Christoph Greiner, Kirsten Leinert (eds.): Political advice in Germany. Practice and Perspectives. VS, Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2004, ISBN 3-531-14464-2 , pp. 91–97.
  • Josef Braml : Think tanks versus "think tanks"? US and German Policy Research Institutes' Coping with and Influencing their Environments. Strategies, management and organization of policy-oriented research institutes (English; current materials on international politics. Vol. 68). Nomos Verlags-Gesellschaft, Baden-Baden 2004, ISBN 3-8329-0547-2 (Also: Passau, University, dissertation, 2001).
  • Thomas Brandstetter, Claus Pias , Sebastian Vehlken (eds.): Think Tanks. Advising society. Diaphanes, Zurich a. a. 2010, ISBN 978-3-03734-086-8 , publisher information .
  • Daniel Florian: Benchmarking Think Tanks. Change strategies of academic think tanks . (PDF) Bochum 2004 (Bochum, University, Bachelor thesis, Bochum, 2004), (PDF; 351.30 kB).
  • Martin Gehlen: Policy advice in the USA. The influence of think tanks on American social policy (= North American Studies . Volume 24). Campus, Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-593-37728-4 (Also: Erfurt, Universität, Dissertation, 2004).
  • Winand Gellner: Ideas agencies for politics and the public. Think tanks in the USA and Germany (= studies on social sciences. Volume 157). Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1995, ISBN 3-531-12721-7 .
  • Ulrich Heisterkamp: Think Tanks of the Parties? A comparative analysis of German political foundations . Springer VS, Wiesbaden 2014, ISBN 978-3-658-06857-8 .
  • James G. McGann: The Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program 2009. The Global "Go-To Think Tanks". The Leading Public Policy Research Organizations in the World. (English), University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia PA 2010, ( Memento from June 23, 2011 in the Internet Archive ; PDF; 801 kB).
  • James G. McGann, R. Kent Weaver (Eds.): Think Tanks and Civil Societies. Catalysts for Ideas and Action. Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick NJ 2000, ISBN 0-7658-0032-2 .
  • Wolfgang H. Reinicke, Jennifer Mitchell: pilot services for politics. Think Tanks - American experiences and perspectives for Germany. Bertelsmann Foundation publishing house , Gütersloh 1996, ISBN 3-89204-235-7 .
  • Diane Stone: Think Tanks and Policy Advice in Countries in Transition (= ADB Institute Discussion Paper. No. 36, ZDB -ID 2221806-3 ). Paper prepared for the Asian Development Bank Institute Symposium: "How to Strengthen Policy-Oriented Research and Training in Viet Nam." , Hanoi August 31, 2005, (PDF; 567 kB)
  • Diane Stone, Andrew Denham (Eds.): Think Tank Traditions. Policy Research and the Politics of Ideas. Manchester University Press, Manchester u. a. 2004, ISBN 0-7190-6479-1 .
  • Martin Thunert: Think Tanks as Resources for Policy Advice. Federal German framework conditions and perspectives. In: Research Journal New Social Movements. Vol. 12, Issue 3, September 1999, pp. 10–19, online (PDF; 5.3 MB) (PDF)
  • Martin Thunert: Think Tanks in Germany - Advisers to Politics? In: From Politics and Contemporary History . B 51, 2003, pp. 30–38, (PDF; 1.3 MB)
  • Martin Thunert: Think Tanks in Germany: Their Resources, Strategies and Potential. In: Zeitschrift für Politikberatung , Volume 1, No. 1, March 2008, ISSN  1865-4789 , pp. 32–52, doi: 10.1007 / s12392-008-0003-4 .
  • Wolfgang Wessels , Verena Schäfer: Think Tanks in Brussels: "Soft" Players in the EU System? - Possibilities and limits of academically led policy advice. In: Steffen Dagger, Michael Kambeck (eds.): Policy advice and lobbying in Brussels. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2007, ISBN 978-3-531-15388-9 , pp. 197-211, preview .

Web links

Commons : think tanks  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: think tank  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: think tank  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations (English)

Individual evidence

  1. Ulrich Sarcinelli: Political Communication in Germany: For Political Mediation in the Democratic System . Springer, 2009, ISBN 978-3-531-91458-9 , pp. 65 ( Google books ).
  2. a b c d e Donald E. Abelson: Do think tanks play a role ?: Evaluation of the effect of moral institutions . McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal 2009, ISBN 978-0-7735-3608-1 , 1. ( Do think tanks matter ?: assessing the impact of public policy institutes .).
  3. ^ A b Martin Thunert: Think Tanks in Germany - Advisers to Politics? In: From Politics and Contemporary History . tape 51 . Federal Agency for Civic Education , 2003, p. 30-38 ( [PDF; 1.3 MB ]).
  4. Lea Hartung: "Half-an-idea machine" - The Mont Pèlerin Society between learned society and think tank . In: Thomas Brandstetter, Claus Pias, Sebastian Vehlken (eds.): Think Tanks: The advice of society . Diaphanes, Zurich 2010, p. 92 f . (87–111 pp., ICAE [PDF; 670 kB ]).
  5. ^ A b Johannes Wendland: Think tanks between independence and lobbyism . In: VDI-Nachrichten . October 14, 2011 ( ).
  6. think tanks in the USA . 2009 ( Konrad Adenauer Foundation [PDF; 29  kB ] English: think tanks in the USA .).
  7. Michael Schlieben: Böll and Adenauer as thought leaders. In: Zeit Online . October 20, 2011, accessed December 3, 2019 .
  8. Kevin G. Welner, Patricia H. Hinchey, Alex Molnar: think tank research quality . Information Age Pub Inc, 2010, ISBN 978-1-61735-020-7 , pp. 315 (English: think tank research quality .).
  9. ^ Winand Gellner, Eva-Maria Hammer: Policy research . Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, 2010, ISBN 978-3-486-58674-9 , p. 33 .
  10. James G. McGann: The Leading Public Policy Research Organizations In The World. (PDF; 801 kB) (No longer available online.) University of Pennsylvania, January 2010, p. 9 , archived from the original on June 8, 2011 ; accessed on February 9, 2017 (English).
  11. Niklas Luhmann, Macht (Chapter 9, Organized Power ), 1975
  12. Eliot A. Cohen: Yes, it's anti-Semitic . In: The Washington post . April 5, 2006 ( WP - Yes, it's anti-semitic .).
  13. Aaron Friedberg: an uncivilized dispute . In: foreign policy . August 2006, p. 59 f . ( university of Chicago [PDF; 1 kB ] Original title: an uncivilized argument .).
  14. Josef Joffe : common denominator . In: the new republic . June 4, 2006 ( middle east - original title: common denominator .).
  15. Jörg Häntzschel: Relationship between the USA and Israel - friendship in the crossfire . In: Süddeutsche Zeitung , September 5, 2007.
  16. Christian Hacke : Political Book: Anti-Semitism or Breaking a Taboo? In: Die Zeit , No. 37/2007.
  17. ^ Diane Stone, Andrew Denham: Think Tank Traditions: Policy Research and the Politics of Ideas (English), Manchester University Press, 1998, ISBN 0-7190-6479-1 , pp. 11/12.
  18. a b Re-feudalization and privatization of power? Deutschlandfunk , June 2, 2010.
  19. Hans Jürgen Krysmanski: The privatization of power is stabilizing (PDF; 76 kB).
  20. Politics: Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks . In: New York Times , September 6, 2014 (English).