The results of our (hotly contested) annual awards for policy and researchby Prospect Team / July 17, 2014 / Leave a comment
The 14th year of the Prospect Think Tank of the Year Awards, supported by Shell, took place at the end of an eventful 12 months. The global economy has shown the first signs of sustainable recovery since the crisis of 2008. But governments in the west still face big problems, and think tanks big questions. Debt is not a new problem; but ageing populations, the impact of globalisation and new technology reshaping the economy and the world of work are. There is a real question here of what government can actually do, as well as what it should do. Can they, for example, collect tax? Stop migration? Create the conditions for medical innovation? Can Westminster shield us from these changes, or steer a path through them?
In international relations, it has not been a quiet year. From the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to the civil war in Syria, the advance of Isis in Iraq to the new violence between Israel and the Palestinians, crises have broken out across the globe. Low-level conflicts against extremists have persisted in the southern Arabian peninsula and the abduction in Nigeria of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram made clear that aggressive ideologies were finding new footholds.
The aim of the Think Tank Awards is to honour the achievements of the organisations that help to shape public and political thinking on policy questions. Entrants to the awards were scored according to six criteria: coherent selection of topics of importance; innovative and plausible policy prescription; rigour of analysis; influence on politics; influence on media and wider impact; convening power.
The judges were: Andrew Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England; Bridget Kendall, the BBC’s Diplomatic Correspondent; Bill Emmott, former Editor of the Economist; Gisela Stuart, the Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston; Professor Diane Roberts of Florida State University; Wolfgang Münchau, Financial Times columnist; Paul Bledsoe, President of Bledsoe & Associates, the public policy advisory firm in Washington DC; Chris Huhne, former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change; Philippe Legrain, writer and commentator; Philip Coggan, columnist for the Economist; and Michael Grubb, the energy economist at University College London. The judging panel was chaired by Bronwen Maddox, the Editor of Prospect.
US Think Tank of the Year
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Foreign Policy Research Institute
Institute for Women’s Policy Research
WINNER: Inter-American Dialogue
The Brookings Institution, although not on the shortlist,was cited this year for its especially strong work on the Syria crisis and was described by one judge as “huge, but nimble.” The American Enterprise Institute was also noted for its significance, especially in its attempts to fashion a more moderate policy offering for the Republican Party, while the Centre for American Progress drew plaudits for its work on the left of the US political spectrum.
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace won a place on the shortlist this year for its convening power, as well as the presence of the Canadian politician and academic Michael Ignatieff. The Foreign Policy Research Institute was shortlisted for its success in reinventing itself and expanding its reach, through key publications and blogs, while staying true to its aims of looking at policy through the lens of history, geography and culture.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, headed by Heidi Hartmann, a MacArthur fellow and economist, continues to impress with its analysis of women’s pay, participation in the labour force, and social issues such as domestic violence. It has produced influential reports on low paid workers and childcare.
But this year’s winner of the US Think Tank of the Year award was Inter-American Dialogue. This organisation aims high: to shape policy debate in the Americas, and to advance democratic governance, economic opportunity and social equity. More than half of the Dialogue’s members and Board are from Latin America and the Caribbean. John Kerry delivered his first address on Latin America as Secretary of State at a Dialogue event, and it has done important work on remittances, among many other areas.
EU Think Tank of the Year
Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei
The Hague Institute for Global Justice
WINNER: Carnegie Europe
Open Europe “ticked all boxes” according to one judge for its work on European affairs. It has done thorough work on finalising the structure of the single market in Europe for goods and services. The Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey was also noted for its strong work this year. The importance of having views on EU policy that were from “outside” the usual sphere of comment was also noted.
Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei, the Italian think tank was commended for its willingness to promote liberal economic ideas in an environment that is not always favourable to such messages.
The Hague Institute for Global Justice was also placed on this year’s short list, due to the organisation’s ambitious remit and useful links with the Dutch government.
But the winner this year of the EU Think Tank of the Year award was Carnegie Europe, for its excellent access, convening power and willingness to speak difficult truths—as it sees them—to European policymakers. Some commented that it did seem like the European arm of a US think tank—which it is—and tended to treat Europe as a homogenous block. But its willingness to take the argument to the EU and forthrightness in criticising Europe’s dearth of strategic thinking was praised.
AWARDS FOR THINK TANKS BASED IN THE UK
Economic and Financial Think Tank of the Year
Institute of Economic Affairs
Institute for Fiscal Studies
WINNER: Institute for Fiscal Studies
The National Institute for Economic and Social Research did strong work this year on the economics of Scottish devolution. The Social Market Foundation was also applauded for its work on challenging the idea of a “Squeezed Middle” of low to middle income earners who are coming under special pressure. However, these were not on the shortlist.
The Institute of Economic Affairs was short-listed for its clarity of message and the robustness of its policy positions, especially in its opposition to High Speed Rail. A close association with the 1922 Policy Committee has acted as a strong conduit for its ideas to the heart of government. A notable aspect of the IEA’s output has involved engaging with ideas and individuals with views that differ sharply from its own free market libertarian standpoints, not least when it invited Stewart Wood, Ed Miliband’s chief adviser, to speak on the problems facing the UK economy.
The Institute for Public Policy Research was placed on the short list for its trenchant thinking on the economy, not least on stimulating growth in the north of England. The ability of Britain to encourage greater growth in its northern cities will be of crucial importance for delivering a balanced national economic recovery and the IPPR, through its IPPR North office, is uniquely well-placed to contribute.
The Resolution Foundation also made the shortlist, for pressing ahead with its analysis of the problems facing Britain’s low and middle-income earners. The organisation asks pressing questions on insufficient housing provision, the potential threat posed by higher interest rates, dwindling living standards and how these problems should be addressed.
But this year’s winner was the Institute for Fiscal Studies, an organisation that has crawled all over the government’s figures and has been hugely prominent in the fiscal and economic debates of the last 12 months. The insights delivered by the IFS’s research have been of significance, not least the repeated point that the government has not yet completed its intended cuts and that more fiscal pain is to come.
Energy and the Environment
WINNER: Chatham House
The Institute for Public Policy Research made this short list this year for its work on the weaknesses in Britain’s energy system. There was some surprise when the IPPR came out in support of fracking and its report Help to Heat was a strong and rigorous analysis of how the government might improve fuel efficiency, thereby reducing bills for consumers. Also on the short list this year was Population Matters, the think tank given over to the study of problems caused by population increases and ways to offset the resulting pressures.
ResPublica also won a place on this year’s shortlist and its work on energy policy has been particularly strong, not least on the untapped potential of renewables. Its argument that energy trading at a local level would lower the entry requirements for new and smaller energy suppliers into national markets and as such yield both increased competition and choice was also engaging.
But the winner this year was Chatham House, which conducted excellent work on energy this year, divided into three channels of research: climate security; energy security; and development. Its work on the oil producing countries of the Gulf was startling not least of the amount of oil that was shown to be wasted in the region but for revealing that the six oil producing nations of the gulf consumer more energy than the whole of Africa. The knock-on consequences for the region’s water security was also of very great—and alarming—significance. Chatham House continues to enjoy very strong access to high level policymakers, not just in Britain but globally.
European Council on Foreign Relations
Overseas Development Institute
Royal United Services Institute
WINNER: European Council on Foreign Relations
The Legatum Institute has had a very impressive 12 months, covering a huge spread of subject matter and enjoying substantial influence. Its ability to attract contributors of the highest profile and significance to its events is impressive.
Chatham House had a good year, especially for its work on Afghanistan and Pakistan. It enjoys impressive top-level access and the participation in its events of high profile figures. Its work on North Africa has also been especially strong—it was placed on the short list this year.
Also on the short list was the Overseas Development Institute, which has conducted impressive work in developing economies, taking in health, economic and security issues. Representatives of ODI had conducted interviews with members of Al-Shabab, the Islamist militant organisation based in Somalia. There are few organisations that can boast that.
The Royal United Services Institute also made the short list this year, not least for being the only organisation in Britain to predict the annexation by Russia of Crimea. It also correctly suggested that President Putin would use the presence of ethnic Russians within the province as his excuse for invasion. Rusi has also been central to debates in Britain over the Syria crisis. Its convening power has been good—General David Petraeus, the retired former head of the US Army addressed one such event.
But the winner of this year’s UK International Affairs category, was the European Council on Foreign Relations, which stood out for its excellent work on Russia and Ukraine. Its identification of a Russian “pivot” away from the west and towards Asia was an especially astute observation, codified in a series of essays by Russia experts. The ECFR was also quick to recognise the extent of the threat posed by civil war in Syria, and identified the potential for that war to spread to neighbouring countries.
CentreForum made it onto the shortlist this year, not least for its work on school league tables. It was able to challenge the methodology of league tables and make its case at high levels of British policy debate. The changes recommended by CentreForum were reflected in Coalition policy.
The Legatum Institute was also on the short list, and impressed with its continuing development of policies on wellbeing. The Legatum also maintains a “Prosperity Index” a creation arising from the idea that economic measures such as GDP tend not to reflect wellbeing or correspond with quality of life. Reform, a former Think Tank Awards winner, also made it to the shortlist for its continued exploration of public services and their appropriate structure.
But this year’s winner for the social policy think tank of the year award went to the Institute for Public Policy Research, which moved to the centre of the British national policy debate with the release of its excellent report The Condition of Britain, a book-length examination of British society. The report gave a step-by-step series of recommendations of how British social policy might be re-made, covering everything from family, the young to work, housing and crime. The report was launched at an event addressed by Ed Miliband, and also John Cruddas, head of Labour’s policy review, an indication of the impact of the IPPR’s thinking on Labour policy.
One to watch
Centre for Cross Border Studies
Higher Education Policy Institute
Transform Drug Policy
WINNER: Higher Education Policy Institute
Think tanks in many different areas had shown exceptional focus and clarity in selecting projects to work on this year. Though not on the shortlist, the work of Common Vision, an new “visual think tank”, was intriguing—it uses film and interactive media to produce new discussion about politics and society. Commonwealth Exchange, a new foundation committed to helping the Commonwealth realise its role has also carried interesting work, as has the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, which has had the very good sense to give itself a name that is entirely self-explanatory.
So, up to a point, has the International Longevity Centre, which looks at demographic change.
However, those on the shortlist showed exceptional focus and progress.
The Centre for Cross Border Studies has as its central mission the promotion of cooperation across sectors, jurisdictional boundaries and national boundaries on the island of Ireland. It is committed to reconciliation among the island’s communities, and within the European Union. Its direct comment on north-south cooperation was striking. Transform Drug Policy offered high-quality analysis of the failures of drug policy.
The Legatum Institute has put itself on the map in many areas in the think tank world. It has been doing an immense amount of work on economic development and transition. Its programme on the Culture of Prosperity is intriguing and the coming year may bring even more coherence and force to its striking but sometimes disconnected projects.
However, the prize for One to Watch goes to the Higher Education Policy Institute. It is a small think tank but one that has significant impact, particularly under a new Director, with analytical Blue Books and polemical Yellow Books. It won the prize for its three big hits of the 2013-14 year: its survey of undergraduates and their Academic Experience, which provided a good portrait of teaching, learning, and perceptions of value for money, at a key point of change in university funding and education. Its report on financing universities was one of the first to claim that the government was underestimating the proportion of student loans that would not be repaid.
The UK Think Tank of the Year
There were good arguments for think tanks in many areas. In a big year for foreign policy, those think tanks analyzing those threats have played a central role. Reform, in looking at the size of the state, and the IPPR, in its superb recent report, both have good claims to have influence on public debate .
The prize, however, went to the only think tank that was placed first by all the judges in its category in the first round. The Prospect award for UK Think Tank of the Year 2014 went to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Applications for the Think Tank of the Year Awards 2015 are now closed. To apply for a place at the ceremony held on the 30th of June at the Institute of Directors, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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