UPenn Global Go-To Think Tank Rankings 2014 – how we did

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This year's Global Go-To Think Tank Rankings, which are compiled annually by the University of Pennsylvania, have been released, and the ASI did pretty well. Our global rankings were:

  • 69th in Top Think Tanks Worldwide (Non-US)
  • 16th in think tanks in Western Europe
  • 3rd in Top Domestic Economic Policy Think Tanks
  • 5th in Top International Economic Policy Think Tanks
  • 17th in the Best Use of Social Networks
  • 40th in Think Tanks with the Best External Relations
  • 24th in Think Tanks with the Most Significant Impact on Public Policy
  • 12th in Think Tanks with Outstanding Policy Orientated Public Programmes

The full rankings are here, and congratulations to our friends at other think tanks who also did well, particularly the Cato Institute which came 8th in the total US think tank rankings. We rose in most rankings, and by our own internal measures of impact, media coverage, research quality, events attendance and fundraising, 2014/15 is shaping up to be a very good year indeed.

Reading the report reminded me of the challenge that think tanks (and non-profits in general) all have. As Jeffrey Friedman has observed, when you run a for-profit firm, you have a single measure of success – profit. If you do X and profits go up, keep doing X. If you do X and profits go down, stop doing X. In a complex world having just one thing that matters cuts through quite a lot of confusion.

But, obviously, non-profits don't have that measure or any single thing we can focus on. For us, it's a constant struggle. Focus on fundraising too much as a think tank and you end up being good at talking to donors but not good at using their money to make the world better. The tail wags the dog. Focus on media coverage and you become a rent-a-quote. And so on.

The thing you really care about is changing the world. But if that's done by, say, changing the minds of young people, it takes decades to measure success. If it's done by focusing on policies implemented, you're tempted to go for the easy, insignificant win over the difficult long-term change. There's no single thing you can look at, so it's tough to cut through the complexity. Rankings like this don't do that entirely, but every little helps.