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Public Administration

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Think tanks are present in countries from across the globe, especially nations that recognize and promote intellectual freedom. In the United States (U.S.), other western countries, including Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom (U.K.), the term or phrase “think tank” is inextricably linked to the Second World War (WWII). During this time, major players in the war created environments in which military planners, as well as defense scientists, could develop working strategies for emerging victorious (Ahmad, 2008). Over time, the usage of the term has expanded to politics, economics, religion, environmental, and sociocultural issues. Although scholars are yet to reach a consensus regarding the number and types of think tanks, there is a widespread agreement that they belong to four major categories, including party, academic, advocacy, and contract (Ahmad, 2008). Any other group of think tanks is believed to be derivatives of four. The criteria for categorizing think tanks revolve around their funding, research, agenda-setting, as well as ideology.

Academic Think Tanks

Fraser Institute is the leading Canadian think tank. The organization’s main mission involves improving the Canadians’ health and overall quality of life. In particular, it achieves this by studying, measuring, in addition to conveying the potential impact of a wide range of government choices, policies, as well as entrepreneurship on residents’ well-being. Regarding its dependence status, the organization does not allow any forms of a government contract, not funding, which they believe goes a long way in protecting the think tank’s independence. Given its mission, source of support, and specialization, Fraser Institute is an academic think tank. The organization remains driven by ideas, and it is future-oriented, thrives in disinterested research, with its findings distributed in a way that benefits all humanity. Fraser Institute (2020) achieves this by engaging the best brains to produce research about natural resources, taxation, economic freedom, health care, the environment, and aboriginal issues.

Contract Think Tanks

Rand Corporation, founded in 1948, is one of the contracting or consulting think tanks in the U.S. The primary purpose for its establishment was to offer the much-needed research, as well as analyses to the country’s Armed Forces (Rand Corporation, 2020). In other words, the organization’s main mission revolves around protecting and promoting American interests. In this respect, it is funded by the U.S. government, private individuals, private endowment, universities, and other players, including corporations (Ahmad, 2008). As a contract think tank, Rand Corporation’s research focuses on addressing specific issues or concerns of policymakers, in this case, security.

Advocacy Think Tanks

The Cato Institute serves as one of the most active and effective advocacy think tanks in the U.S., with its influence felt beyond the West. An advocacy think tank is driven by ideology, supported by donors, not the government, and focuses on supplying social science expertise and associated information from their objective research to policymakers. The Cato Institute (2020) operates as a leading public policy research firm that places a great deal of emphasis on principles of peace, individual liberty, free markets, as well as limited governments. The organization realizes its objectives by conducting nonpartisan research and thus influences policy through its publications, media, and engagement in other public relations activities.

Policy and Advocacy Enterprise Think Tanks

The Resources for the Future (RFF) can either be categorized as a policy-driven or advocacy think tank. For this reason and given its focus on both endeavors, it belongs to the advocacy and policy enterprise think tank, a derivative of advocacy (Ahmad, 2008). The organization’s research seeks to improve natural resource, environmental, as well as energy decisions (RFF, 2020). Though impartial policy engagement, RFF emphasizes policies that promote a healthy environment and economic growth. Although the think tank accepts financial support from government agencies, it ensures independence by availing its research findings to the public while at the same time, adhering to the highest possible professional and ethical standards.

Party Think Tanks

Unlike any of the above think tanks, the Progressive Policy Institute, founded in 1989, is driven by political affiliation, commonly known as party allegiance. The organization is a party think tank that pays little to no attention to the supply of social science expertise and associated knowledge to policymakers (Ahmad, 2008). Moreover, the organization is mainly funded by an affiliated political party and like-minded interest groups. In particular, the Progressive Policy Institute advocates for leftist policies and, thus, a representation of the Democratic Party in the U.S. (PPI, 2020). The think tank focuses on developing proposals that seek to stimulate U.S. economic innovation, social mobility for all, and defend liberal democracy.


Ahmad, M. (2008). U.S. Think tanks and the politics of expertise: Role, value, and impact. The Political Quarterly, 79(4), 529–555. doi:10.1111/j.1467-923x.2008.00964.x 

Cato Institute. (2020). About Cato.

Fraser Institute. (2020). Welcome to the Fraser Institute.

Progressive Policy Institute. (2020). About us.

RAND Corporation. (2020). About the RAND Corporation. Resources for the Future. (2020). About us. https://www.r

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