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The Leading Public Policy Research Organizations In The World


January 31, 2010

James G. McGann, Ph.D. Director Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program International Relations Program University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA USA 19104-6305


The 2009 Global Go To Think Tank Rankings marks the fourth year edition of what has now become an annual report. The Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the International Relations Program, University of Pennsylvania has created a process for ranking think tanks around the world. It is the first comprehensive ranking of the world’s top think tanks, based on a worldwide survey of hundreds of scholars and experts. The think tank index has been described  as the insider’s guide to the global marketplace of ideas. For this ambitious project, I have assembled a panel of close to 300 experts from around the world, across the political spectrum and from every discipline and sector to help nominate and select public policy research centers of excellence for 2009. The members of the Expert Panel were asked to nominate regional or global centers of excellence that they felt should be recognized for producing rigorous and relevant research, publications and programs in one or more substantive areas of research.

The Global Go To Think Tank Rankings was launched in 2006 in response to the never-ending requests that I received from journalists, scholars and government officials to provide a list of the leading think tanks in a particular country or region of the world. When I first designed the project it was intended to identify some of the leading think tanks in the world in an attempt to answer these inquiries in a more systematic fashion. Over the last 4 years the process has been refined and the number of institutions and individuals involved in the project has grown steadily.

The primary objective of the rankings is to recognize some of the leading public policy think tanks in the world and highlight the important contributions these organizations are making to governments and civil societies around the world. In four short years the Global Go To Index has become an authoritative source for the top public policy research institutes in the world. Last year’s Report was featured in the January/February issue of Foreign Policy magazine and The Economist and this year the report will be launched at a briefing at the United Nations.
Contained in this Report are the results of the 2009 Global Go To Think Tank Rankings. Also included in this report is a summary of the major trends and issues that think tanks face across the globe. These trends were identified through our annual survey of think tanks and interviews with the staff of think tanks and civil society organizations in every region of the world.

Overall, this year’s rankings and selection process marked a number of significant improvements over previous years. We have continued to expand the participation in the rankings process by adding more members to the Expert Panel, formalizing the recruitment of Expert Panelists, creating an on-line survey instrument and increasing outreach to those regions that were under- represented in the past.  These changes have resulted in a larger, more diverse, and more representative pool of nominees and finalists.

While this year’s selection process is greatly improved, a number of qualifications are still in order. First and foremost, the significant differences between the levels of development and resources in the world continue to contribute to certain regions being underrepresented on the  top 50 think tanks in the world list. We suspect that this has to do with the relatively small number of think tanks in developing countries, their underdeveloped capacity and the limited resources available to these organizations. The unfortunate reality is that there are simply more and better-funded think tanks in the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development
(OECD) countries. In addition, the dominant role these countries play in world politics and the influence they exert over political, economic and social thinking is reflected in the global prominence of their think tanks. That being said, the real story is not what organizations make it on the list of the Top 50 think tanks in the world but the ones who make it on the list for the top think tanks in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Eastern and Central Europe.

Despite our best efforts to consult widely and create a rigorous and inclusive process we can not eliminate all bias from the selection of the top think tanks in the world. We fully recognize that personal, regional, ideological, and discipline biases may have been introduced into the nomination and selection process by some of those consulted for this study.  We are confident, however, that our efforts to create a detailed set of selection criteria, an open and transparent process, and an increase in the participation from underrepresented regions of the world has served to insulate the nomination and selection process from serious problems of bias and under representation.
It is also important to note that US think tanks (see the list of the top 50 Think Tanks in the US) were not included in the universe of institutions considered for the Top Think Tanks Worldwide list because we felt their inclusion would have a distorting effect on the global rankings. By organizing the process in this way, we were able to further highlight the lesser known think tanks in other regions of the world.
Finally, we should point out that the data collection and research for this project was conducted without the benefit of field research, a budget or a staff.

Despite these limitations, I am confident that the international experts group and peer nomination and selection process that was constituted for this study has enabled us to create the most authoritative list of high performance think tanks in the world.

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