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Internationalization a major trend for think tank development

Author  :  Wang Huiyao and Miao Lü     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-04-17

Think tanks serve to generate new ideas, influence policymaking and inform public opinion. In 2016, the world underwent rapid changes while economic globalization met unprecedented challenges. Against this backdrop, it is critical for think tanks to offer professional and forward-looking policy suggestions to governments based on an understanding of world economic and political trends.

Currently, global think tanks, on the whole, are showing the following trends and characteristics. First, their focus will shift from quantity to quality. The number of global think tanks will increase steadily while their structures and functions will be optimized. Since the global financial crisis, the number of think tanks around the world has grown slowly and it has almost reached saturation levels in the United States and European countries. But they are underdoing internal adjustment. Media, consulting companies and law firms are all entering the marketplace of ideas. Facing these emerging competitors, the essential means for think tanks to win more discourse power is to produce high-quality and professional research results.

Second, professional and distinctive research as well as cross-disciplinary studies have been further stressed. In response to international and domestic developments, some major international think tanks are expanding their research areas. For example, the RAND Corporation initially focused on military issues, but now it has expanded to social, economic, energy and other areas. However, this path of expansion through comprehensive development is not suitable for most think tanks, especially emerging ones. The better choice for the latter is to grow toward professionalization and specialization. Also, cross-disciplinary studies can help them understand the overall trend of research fields. This allows them to provide more targeted and constructive policy advice.

Now, China is upgrading its economy through innovation, and many areas, like climate governance, ecological protection, food safety and information safety, require intellectual support, which gives rise to the development of professional think tanks.

Third, think tanks are getting better at publicizing research results. The audiences of think tanks include policymakers, media and the public. Today, people tend to adopt a more fragmented reading style because they often read on mobile devices, which is not conducive to consuming lengthy reports and other academic publications. Think tanks should study the characteristics of the audience and spread the research results to their target audience in the most effective way at the most proper time. The Internet, online social networks, cloud technology and other new technologies offer platforms that are relatively favorable to think tanks of different types and scales. Many international think tanks use microblogs, WeChat, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, podcasts and other platforms to publicize their research findings.

Finally, internationalization is an important trend for think tank development. Climate change, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, epidemic diseases, terrorism and other global issues require think tanks to have a global vision.

Many globally influential think tanks like Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Brookings Institution, and Stockholm International Peace Research Institute all regard globalization as an essential strategy. They proactively employ international research personnel, establish branches in other countries, and seek international communication and cooperation.

Chinese think tanks are now exploring ways to conform to the globalization trend. But in general, their development has not kept pace with the shifting landscape of international relations. Domestic think tanks should try to keep up with the international trend in terms of research fields and perspectives, talent, transmission modes as well as influence.


Wang Huiyao and Miao Lü are from the Center for China and Globalization.

Editor: Yu Hui

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