Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
What is a think tank?
Think tanks are often where the research originates that media then condenses and reports on. So if you're leary of the media, rather than going to Facebook or Twitter, pick a think tank as your source of information!
A think tank is a place that nurtures and assembles multiple scholars/writers who have or will develop independent reputations for saying novel, compelling or authoritative things across multiple areas of public concern. Matt Bennet, VP for Public Affairs, Third Way
“Think tank” is a broad term, sweeping up everything from quasi-academic institutions like Brookings to politically engaged organizations like Third Way and the Center for American Progress on the left and the Heritage Foundation on the right. The scholarly think tanks are essentially universities without students – they have senior academics producing scholarly materials. The more action-oriented places do products that are intended to have an impact on actual legislative and political debates. (From Think Thanks 101.)
But can we trust think tank research? Some analysts note that think tanks, which are often funded by individuals and/or foundations, start with a conclusion that they then try to support with selective research. The think tanks then pursue research that will support that conclusion. If you're interested in reading more about this situation, take a look at the page in this guide entitled Confirmation bias.
Here's some more food for thought: http://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/devaluing-the-think-tank
Nevertheless, media articles are often based on think tank research, so it's important that we read the original research (from varying perspectives) to understand how conclusions are being drawn.
Think tanks listed below were taken from material found at: http://think-tanks.insidegov.com/InsideGov
You can search think tanks by subject by using the Harvard Kennedy School's custom think tank search
Liberal-leaning think tanks
Center for American Progress
The Center for American Progress is an independent nonpartisan educational institute dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through progressive ideas and action. Building on the achievements of progressive pioneers such as Teddy Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, CAP addresses 21st-century challenges such as energy, national security, economic growth and opportunity, immigration, education, and health care.
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
The Center conducts research and analysis to help shape public debates over proposed budget and tax policies and to help ensure that policymakers consider the needs of low-income families and individuals in these debates. We also develop policy options to alleviate poverty.
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch is one of the worlds leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For more than 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
Open Society Foundations
Open Society Institute (OSI) is a grantmaking operation founded by George Soros that aims to shape public policy to promote democratic governance, human rights, and economic, legal, and social reform.
The Inter-American Dialogue is a U.S. based center for policy analysis, exchange, and communication on issues in Western Hemisphere affairs. The Dialogue brings together public and private leaders from across the Americas to address hemispheric problems and opportunities.
Centrist think tanks
The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C.. One of Washington's oldest think tanks, Brookings conducts research and education in the social sciences, primarily in economics, metropolitan policy, governance, foreign policy, and global economy and development.
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is a unique global network of policy research centers in Russia, China, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States
Center for Strategic and International Studies
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a bipartisan, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. The Center's 220 full-time staff and large network of affiliated scholars conduct research and analysis and develop policy initiatives that look to the future and anticipate change. For 50 years, CSIS has developed practical solutions to the world's greatest challenges. As we celebrate this milestone, CSIS scholars continue to provide strategic insights and bipartisan policy solutions to help decisionmakers chart a course toward a better world.
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
The Center serves as a national memorial to President Wilson established by Congress in 1968 and headquartered in Washington, D.C. It is a nonpartisan institution supported by public and private funds, engaged in the study of national and world affairs.
Pew Research Center
Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. We conduct public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other data-driven social science research. We do not take policy positions.
Center for a New American Security
An independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization that develops strong, pragmatic and principled national security and defense policies.
Conservative-leaning think tanks
The Heritage Foundation is a conservative American think tank based in Washington, D.C. The foundation took a leading role in the conservative movement during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, whose policies drew significantly from Heritage's policy study Mandate for Leadership. Heritage has since continued to have a significant influence in U.S. public policy making, and is considered to be one of the most influential conservative research organizations in the United States, especially during the Republican administration of President George W. Bush.
American Enterprise Institute
The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research is a private, nonpartisan, not-for-profit institution dedicated to research and education on issues of government, politics, economics, and social welfare.
The Hoover Institution
The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace is a public policy think tank and library founded in 1919 by then-future U.S. president Herbert Hoover, an early alumnus of Stanford. The Hoover Institution is a unit of Stanford University, and is located on the campus. The Institution houses a large archive related to President Hoover, World War I, and World War II. It is a think tank, a host to academic activity. Its mission statement outlines its basic tenets: representative government, private enterprise, peace, personal freedom, and the safeguards of the American system.
Freedom House is a international non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C. that conducts research and advocacy on its conceptions of democracy, political freedom and human rights. It publishes an annual report assessing the degree of perceived democratic freedoms in each country, which is used in political science research.
The Hudson Institute is an American, conservative, non-profit think tank founded in 1961, in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, by futurist, military strategist, and systems theorist Herman Kahn and his colleagues at the RAND Corporation. It moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1984 and to Washington, D.C., in 2004.
Foreign Policy Institute
The Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) is an American think tank based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is "devoted to bringing the insights of scholarship to bear on the development of policies that advance U.S. national interests."
Non-partisan think tanks
RAND Corporation (Research ANd Development) is a nonprofit global policy think tank first formed to offer research and analysis to the United States armed forces by Douglas Aircraft Company. It is currently financed by the U.S. government and private endowment, corporations including the healthcare industry, universities and private individuals. The organization has long since expanded to working with other governments, private foundations, international organizations, and commercial organizations on a host of non-defence issues. RAND aims for interdisciplinary and quantitative problem solving via translating theoretical concepts from formal economics and the physical sciences into novel applications in other areas; that is, via applied science and operations research. Michael D. Rich is president and chief executive officer of the RAND Corporation
Council on Foreign Relations
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is an American nonprofit and bipartisan membership organization dedicated to improving the understanding of U.S. foreign policy and international affairs. Founded in 1921 and headquartered at 58 East 68th Street (Park Avenue) in New York City, with an additional office in Washington, D.C., CFR is considered to be the most influential foreign-policy think tank.
National Bureau for Economic Research
The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is an American private nonprofit research organization "committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community." The NBER is well known for providing start and end dates for recessions in the United States.
Peterson Institute for International Economics
The Peterson Institute for International Economics is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research institution devoted to the study of international economic policy. Since 1981 the Institute has provided timely and objective analysis of, and concrete solutions to, a wide range of international economic problems. It is one of the very few think tanks that are widely regarded as "nonpartisan" by the press and "neutral" by the US Congress. Its research staff has been cited by the quality media more than that of any other such institution. It was voted "best think tank in the world" in 2008 by the first global survey of over 5,000 such institutions and again in 2011 by the British magazine Prospect, whose selections are called "the Oscars of the think tank world" by the BBC.
World Resources Institute
WRI is a global research organization that works closely with leaders to turn big ideas into action to sustain a healthy environment - the foundation of economic opportunity and human well-being.
Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs
The Council was established by Andrew Carnegie in 1914 to work toward the ideal of world peace, and today it aspires to be the "voice for ethics" in international affairs. We provide a home for those who explore the ethical dilemmas posed by issues such as deadly conflict, human rights violations, the ethics of globalization, global economic inequalities, and the increasing role of religion in politics around the world.