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Day 28 – Q 3.What are policy think tanks? Why are they significant? Illustrate.

3. What are policy think tanks? Why are they significant? Illustrate. 

पॉलिसी थिंक टैंक क्या हैं? वे महत्वपूर्ण क्यों हैं? उदाहरण देकर स्पष्ट करें।


A policy think tank is an organization that gathers a group of interdisciplinary scholars to perform research around particular policies, issues or ideas. Topics addressed in think tanks can cover a wide range, including social policy, public policy, economic policy, political strategy, culture and technology


Significance of Policy think tanks:

  • Helps fill the gap between academia and policymaking: Academics grind out authoritative studies, but at a snail’s pace. Journalists’ first drafts of history are speedy but thin. A good think-tank helps the policymaking process by publishing reports that are as rigorous as academic research and as accessible as journalism.

Example: Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA):  Key evolution was during the debate on whether India should go nuclear. IDSA came out strongly backing the strategic choice to go nuclear, shaped larger opinion, and conveyed India’s position to the global strategic community through Track 2 dialogues. IDSA’s president is the Defence Minister and its annual report is tabled in parliament; and the funding is entirely by the Ministry of Defence. Serving officers of the armed forces come for a period of two years to gain a wider policy perspective. 

  • Influence Policy formulations in the country: Think tanks involve in business consulting, intelligence analysis, investigative journalism, or academic research in the social sciences and use the research to inform and influence public policy. Their target audience is therefore either policymakers in government or the broader public.

Example: Vivekananda International Foundation:  Core activities revolve around international relations, defence, economy, governance and historical and civilisation studies. Among other activities, it has engaged deeply with Chinese and US delegations and had Track 2 exchanges. It hosted the British and French defence ministers, convened meetings with over 20 foreign ambassadors, and hosted many seminars on relations with Pakistan.

  • Neutral venue for dialogues: Think tanks also serve as a venue for political leaders, bureaucrats and military officers to exchange views and interact with other actors: foreign counterparts, the media, academics, corporate representatives and the wider public. Having neutral venues for these kinds of interactions is particularly important given the changing roles and growing clout of some of these stakeholders in public policy formulation and implementation.

Example: Observer Research Foundation: It receives project-specific funding from the Ministry of External Affairs for studies on BRICS, Russia, climate and other thematic issues. It hosts a range of Track 2 dialogues with France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Australia, BRICS and Track 1.5 dialogues where officials from both sides are present but without a formal agenda and format. It also hosts the Indian Ocean Dialogue and Blue Economies Forum and has other projects lined up with the government. Observer Research Foundation also concluded the Raisina Dialogue, giving India a major international policy conference.

  • Delve into pressing issues and provide assessment: Some think tanks research and spread awareness over multiple pressing issues like Environmental degradation, climate change, maritime pollution etc. 

Example: New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE): It has been ranked the top environmental policy think tank in India and 16th in the world. CSE researches into, lobbies for and communicates the urgency of development that is both sustainable and equitable. It monitors toxic contamination of the environment and uses the results of this monitoring to advocate for improved regulation of the use of toxins in the country.

  • Promotes inclusive growth and mainstreaming of vulnerable sections: Think tanks promote human rights and help in mainstreaming the backward and disadvantaged sections of society, helping them grow and participate in the development of the country.

Example: Indian Council of Social Sciences Research: Involved in researching discrimination in the employment market, access to capital markets, and non-market institutions and schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee programme, primary health centres and the national mid-day meals programme for primary children, enabling the development of policies for social inclusion and empowerment of socially excluded groups in various areas.

Concerns related to Think tanks:

  • Ideas coming out of think tanks, even when adopted as government policy, are rarely credited as such.

  • Interference by bureaucracy.
  • Lack of funding from sources other than government and skewed geographical spread.


Policy think tanks can play a big role in advising governments on sound policy, enabling increasingly important dialogue with a variety of stakeholders, and interpreting obscure policy issues for the broader public. They can also help build expertise, and perform in-depth or specialised research that government do not have the time or capacity to do and thus should be promoted to work effectively.

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