Getting Started

As the suggestions and cases in this How-To Guide for Economic Think Tanks illustrate, there is no “one-size-fits-all” formula for any think tank. However, there are traits that are common to many leading think tanks around the world, including CIPE partners. These nine keys to success are:

  1. Define the Mission: The mission statement must clearly describe a think tank’s purpose. It is an essential tool for running a focused, coherent program and communicating the institute’s message to all audiences. By adhering to the mission and its underlying principles, a think tank builds integrity.
  2. Establish Credibility: Credibility brings value to a think tank’s recommendations; without credibility, its work will be ignored. Credibility depends on the quality of evidence and analysis presented, the professionalism of researchers, the identity and external relationships of the institute, and transparency in operations.
  3. Engage in Advocacy: Think tanks must take steps to put their ideas into practice. Only when backed by advocacy can research influence policy change. Think tanks engage in the policy process by contacting decision makers, educating the public, promoting discussion and debate, and mobilizing key constituencies.
  4. Manage Relationships Carefully: Independence is a key ingredient of credibility. Think tanks must manage relationships with funders, government, and others so as to avoid excessive dependence. Appropriate partnerships strengthen think tanks by providing resources and support for reform objectives.
  5. Develop a Marketing Strategy: Think tanks must maintain visibility, communicate their message, and attract supporters. They must identify target audiences, match products to customer needs, engage audience attention, and work effectively with the media.
  6. Build a Broad Financial Base: Growth and sustainability require diversified, dependable sources of income. Think tanks should avoid excessive concentration of revenue sources, which would reduce independence and potentially increase volatility.
  7. Attract and Retain Talent: Professional staff such as researchers and communications specialists create value for an institute, build its credibility, and serve as its public face. Staff must be committed to the mission and motivated to drive change.
  8. Develop Leadership and Governance: Often founded by capable and prominent individuals, think tanks must develop leadership to ensure the future of the organization. They require governance mechanisms to promote accountability and quality decision making.
  9. Learn from Experience and Adapt: Leaders must regularly assess an institute’s successes, failures, and changing environment in order to update strategic plans, strengthen operations, and satisfy funders.