post by Bill Gardner
She notes that academic writing is often useless to decision makers. It can be impenetrably technical, or it can fail to offer clear outcomes or policy implications. Academics can learn from Think Tanks how to
synthesise, create or communicate information and give advice to the public and policy-makers...; [and] ...be far more ‘media savvy’ than academics [by working] with staff who have backgrounds in the communication industry...
link researchers and decision-makers or act as a ‘broker’ between them.
I made a similar point using this graph about the role of policy intellectuals in the research diffusion process.
Sebba notes, however, that
[Think tanks] do not subject their work to review by others and so the quality of their outputs are not assessed.
There is another problem with think tanks. Many are funded by stakeholders in the health industry, or they are closely tied to a political party, or both. Sometimes this results in 'analysis' that is just lightly disguised lobbying.
Partisan think tanks also risk being listened to only by the like-minded. The graph below is a network analysis of linking patterns among conservative and liberal political blogs. The tight clustering suggests that many of these writers are simply echoing each other.
So, what can academics learn from think tanks? Specifically, can they write timely articles with clear policy implications without getting caught in the webs of deep red or deep blue? Yes, I hope, if we can find ways to bring something like the accountability to the facts provided by peer review into academic blogging.