A think tank or policy institute, research institute, etc. is an organization that performs research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, political strategy, economics, military, technology, and culture. Most policy institutes are non-profit organizations, which some countries such as the United States and Canada provide with tax exempt status. Other think tanks are funded by governments, advocacy groups, or businesses, or derive revenue from consulting or research work related to their projects.〔Diane Stone 'Think Tanks and Policy Analysis', in Frank Fischer, Gerald J. Miller. & Mara S. Sidney (eds.) Handbook of Public Policy Analysis: Theory, Methods, and Politics, New York, Marcel Dekker Inc. 2006: 149–157〕
The following article lists global policy institutes according to continental categories, and then sub-categories by country within those areas. These listings are not comprehensive, given that more than 6,800 think tanks exist worldwide.〔http://gotothinktank.com/dev1/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/GoToReport2013.pdf〕
While the term "think tank" with its present sense originated in the 1950s, such organizations date to the 19th century. The Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) was founded in 1831 in London. The Fabian Society in Britain dates from 1884.
The oldest American think tank, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was founded in Washington, D.C. in 1910 by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie charged trustees to use the fund to "hasten the abolition of international war, the foulest blot upon our civilization."〔Edmund Jan Osmanczyk and Anthony Mango, ''Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International Agreements.'' London: Routledge, 2004.〕 The Brookings Institution was founded shortly thereafter in 1916 by Robert S. Brookings and was conceived as a bipartisan "research center modeled on academic institutions and focused on addressing the questions of the federal government." 〔
After 1945, the number of policy institutes increased, as many small new ones were formed to express various issue and policy agendas. Until the 1940s, most think tanks were known only by the name of the institution. During the Second World War, think tanks were often referred to as "brain boxes" after the slang term for skull. The phrase "think tank" in wartime American slang referred to rooms where strategists discussed war planning. Later the term "think tank" was used to refer to organizations that offered military advice—such as, perhaps most notably, the RAND Corporation, founded originally in 1946 as an offshoot of Douglas Aircraft Corporation, and which became an independent corporation in 1948.
For most of the 20th century, independent public policy institutes that performed research and provided advice concerning public policy were found primarily in the United States, with a much smaller number in Canada, the UK and Western Europe. Although think tanks existed in Japan for some time, they generally lacked independence, having close associations with government ministries or corporations. There has been a veritable proliferation of "think tanks" around the world that began during the 1980s as a result of globalization, the end of the Cold War, and the emergence of transnational problems. Two-thirds of all the think tanks that exist today were established after 1970 and more than half were established since 1980.
The effect of globalization on the proliferation of think tanks is most evident in regions such as Africa, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and parts of Southeast Asia, where there was a concerted effort by the international community to assist in the creation of independent public policy research organizations. A recent survey performed by the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program underscores the significance of this effort and documents the fact that most of the think tanks in these regions have been established during the last 10 years. Presently there are more than 4,500 of these institutions around the world. Many of the more established think tanks, having been created during the Cold War, are focused on international affairs, security studies, and foreign policy.〔
Also see the United Nations Development Programme definition.
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