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Ranking Think Tanks

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By Barend ter Haar, Clingendael Institute of International Relations.

Rankings are at least as old as the Olympic Games, but nowadays rankings are not limited to sports, but encompass almost everything, from the best airport to the best restaurant and the best university.
Since 2008 the University of Pennsylvania publishes an annual ranking of think tanks: the Global Go-To Think Tanks Report.  This year almost 2000 experts from 120 countries were involved in the process of nominating and ranking 6,826 think tanks from 182 countries in 47 categories. As Clingendael is ranked in seven of these categories and is placed on the 31st position of the overall ranking of all think tanks, we have little reason to complain, but it cannot be denied that these rankings can be questioned in many respects (as is the case with most rankings). It is, for example, strange to find the Wiardi Beckman Foundation on the list of the Best For Profit Think Tanks.
Keeping that in mind, the Global Go-To Think Tanks Report provides a lot of food for thought. It is, for example, interesting to note that of the twenty think tanks that are considered to have the largest impact on public policy eight are based in Washington, five in London and four in Brussels. Whereas influential universities can afford a location at some distance from the centers of power (e.g. in Cambridge (US and UK), in Stanford and Oxford), think tanks clearly cannot.
I doubt whether anybody would be able to guess which Dutch think tanks, apart from Clingendael, have made it into one or more of the lists of top think tanks. They are the following:

–         Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB)  (42 on the list of Domestic Economic Policy Think Tanks)

–         Socires (36 on the list of Education Policy Think Tanks)

–         Stichting Natuur en Milieu (60 of Environment Think Tanks)

–         Transnational Institute (69 on the same list)

–         Philips Center for Health and Well-Being (19 of Health Policy Think Tanks)

–         Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (73 of the International Development Think Tanks)

–         European Center for Development Policy Management (mentioned twice: 75 on International Development and no 46 of the Top Think Tanks in Western Europe)

–         Wiardi Beckman Foundation (mentioned twice: 26 of the Best For Profit Think Tanks and 22 of the best Think Tanks with Political Party Affiliation)

–         Evert Vermeer Foundation (no 17 of the Think Tanks with Political Party Affiliation)

–         European Research Center on Migration and Ethnic Relations, Utrecht University (34 of the Best University Affiliated Think Tanks)

A clear difference between The Brookings Institute, that remains the best think tank in the world, and the eleven Dutch think tanks mentioned in the listings, is that Brookings covers the subjects of each of them, whereas the eleven Dutch think tanks seem sometimes to be barely conscious of each other’s existence. Could it be that Brookings owes its high ranking to the synergy between different programs? Shouldn’t that give us pause to think?

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