The 15th annual Think Tank Awards were held at the Institute of Directors. It has been an exceptional 12 months for policy specialists everywhere and has been characterised by some of the most profound policy challenges of recent times, including the Greek debt crisis, the rise of Islamic State and the continued economic weakness that is the legacy of the financial crisis. These issues were among those confronted by think tanks over the last year, and the entries submitted to our judges showed an impressive range of innovative analysis and policy suggestions on these and many other issues.
US think tanks
US Economic and Financial Award
Bipartisan Policy Center
WINNER: Bipartisan Policy Center
The Peterson Institute for International Economics is well known for its work on debt and fiscal management. More recently it has worked on trade, helping to shape the debate on Washington on this and other international issues, and one judge stressed the effectiveness of the Peterson in these areas. Another comment was that “its work on labour market slack has been influential inside the Fed and other economic bodies.” Its work over the last year was described as “fascinating”. The think tank Reason, which focuses on local, not federal government policy making, was complimented for its work on pensions which was dubbed “hard-headed,” by one judge. Another judge praised its work on infrastructure. Though its association with the left wing of US politics can restrict the breadth of its appeal, judges commented that its work deserved wider recognition.
But this year’s winner was the Bipartisan Policy Center, a smaller think tank whose sharp focus on the question of financial regulation stood out for judges. The organisation “deserves huge credit for the way that it has defined its mission,” commented one judge, adding that “untangling the process of regulatory reform is a very difficult task since these processes are fiendishly complex.” The “veritable army” of well-funded industry lobbyists in Washington makes the Center’s work all the more important, said another, and the importance of its work, combined with the precision of its focus, judges agreed, made them worthy winners in this category.
US Social Policy Award
WINNER: New America
The Brookings Institution, in the words of one judge, “takes on the world’s most stubborn problems: class inequality, gender and race prejudice,” and does so with a line-up of thinkers which is “unequalled in the world.” The RAND Corporation has done strong work this year on prisoner rehabilitation and the role of education for inmates. It is to be welcomed, commented one judge that RAND has moved on from its role of being “the scary incubator of Mutually Assured Destruction theory.”
But the winner this year was New America, a think tank whose work was called “ambitious,” and “wide-reaching,” ranging from analysis of American families to higher education reform. It is “not afraid to challenge cherished American notions of class mobility,” a judge commented, “and has been becoming more and more visible on the international stage.”
US Energy and the Environment Award
World Resources Institute
WINNER: RAND Corporation
The Brookings Institution was shortlisted this year for its work on energy, on which it continues to be at the heart of the Washington debate. The World Resources Institute was also shortlisted—its “Global Forest Watch” platform has proved so effective that it is now used by the Government of Indonesia to track illegal loggers.
But the winner this year was the RAND Corporation, which was commended for its work on the immense problem of China’s chronic air pollution. “The economic scale of the challenge as set out is sobering,” commented one judge and for this reason the RAND was found to be a worthy winner.
International Affairs Award
Migration Policy Institute
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace remains “one of the most respected of all U.S. think tanks” said one judge, adding that, “with former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns as its new leader, Carnegie promises to remain in the forefront of the discussion of US foreign policy.” The Migration Policy Institute “has become an important DC player,” according to one judge, who pointed to a combination of strong leadership and a well-realised range of subject-matter in its area of focus.
But the winner this year was the Brookings Institution, a think tank whose work, and its breadth and depth, was called “continually impressive,” by one judge. It was also noted that: “The rigour of its research, the expertise of its many scholars and its role as a setting for keynote presentations by major policymakers put it in the top tier of think tanks around the world.” It is hardly unknown, but all the same has resisted the lack of focus or originality that can afflict the biggest think tanks.
EU think tanks
EU economic and financial Award
The Danish think tank, the Economic Council of the Labour Movement was shortlisted this year for its work on the preservation of the Danish social model. Katalys, the Swedish think tank, was also shortlisted this year, and was commended by judges for doing “something a think tank should do, which is to take on the policy establishment and push through new ideas.”
But the winner of the EU economic and financial category this year was Bruegel, a think tank whose work on EU economic affairs has been exemplary. It has carried out rapid and authoritative work on the Eurozone crisis, work that has had a large impact on both policymakers and the media in the EU and beyond. The presentation of a paper in 2014 on the ECB’s quantitative easing programme with Mario Draghi, President of the ECB, was one of a series of remarkable achievements in the past 12 months by this outstanding organisation.
EU Social Policy Award
The Centre for European Policy Studies was picked out this year for being “hugely varied and comprehensive in their coverage.” The think tank is “influential”, said one judge who added that “their focus on labour mobility is very well argued and their push for an EU wide unemployment insurance is now being followed at Commission level.” Magma was also picked out this year, a Finnish think tank that features in the Think Tank awards rankings for the first time, and which gathered plaudits for its work on social issues and economics. It also benefits from strong connections with other institutions across Europe, which gives its work an impressive sense of scope.
But the winner this year was SNS, a Swedish think tank, for its work on welfare and the job market. “Its themes are consistent and also influential,” said one judge, who went on to note its especially strong work on the life chances of children and the overall breadth of the organisation’s influence and expertise.
EU Energy and the Environment Award
Bruegel made the shortlist for its work on energy this year, as did the Italian think tank Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei, which was praised for its scientific and economic work on climate change, and was described by one judge as having made “long-standing core contributions” to the European debate on the subject. Also impressive is the foundation’s conference and workshop series, which, along with its journal, was described as “clearly top-level”.
But the winner this year was the Centre for European Policy Studies, a think tank which has made a “huge mark on the EU landscape of energy and environmental issues,” according to one judge who also commented that it combined “strong policy analysis with deep engagement in the Brussels scene.” Its selection of topics was judged highly relevant, especially the work on smart cities. The establishment of the Carbon Market Forum added to the increasingly international profile of the work on energy and climate change.
EU international affairs
Fondation pour la recherche stratégique
The Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique appeared on the shortlist this year for its “strong record in encouraging debate on security challenges.” This French think tank has had a long-standing reputation for focussing on Africa and the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean has made its expertise “increasingly significant.” Open Europe was also picked out by judges who commented that it produced “the most reliable work on the British elections, European, Scottish and national.” It has been “at the heart of the political debate about Europe particularly in the UK,” said one judge, who also cited its papers on immigration, Brexit and benefits, all of which had “real influence.” The think tank has “taken big strides in influencing the wider European debate,” the judge continued, saying that “many of its papers have become essential reading.”
But the winner this year was the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank deemed by judges to have taken an “early and bold stand on Russia and Ukraine,” saying that “it understood that Russia’s actions marked the end of the post-Cold War Europe.” Its analysis explored ways to keep dialogue open with Moscow and as a result, it “stood out with its clear analysis and recommendations, and its influence on Europe’s leaders.”
UK THINK TANKS
Economic and Financial Award
Centre for Cities
The Centre for Cities has “clearly hit a bullseye,” according to one judge, saying that the returned government’s plans to devolve more power to city level institutions places the Centre’s work at the core of one of the most important debates in British policymaking. There is also an important international dimension to the development of cities, according to one judge, who said that the think tank “deserves to be one of the top ranked in this group of think tanks.
The Resolution Foundation was also praised by judges this year, one of whom noted that it has “embraced an impressive range of economic and social research topics, covered them in a thoroughly creditable way and engaged with the public, policy-makers, and with key thinkers and opinion formers.”
But the winner this year was an organisation judged to have had an outstanding year in the run up to the General Election and to have played a important role for the nation in “helping us to understand debt, deficits, Budgets and Autumn Statements.” The Institute for Fiscal Studies provided a steady stream of analysis and comment that was “to the point about complex and often unfathomable issues, navigating through choppy political waters. It fully deserves the accolade,” and won this award for a second year in a row.
UK Social Policy Award
WINNER: Resolution Foundation
Reform was short-listed for its engaging choice of subject matter, including efficiency in schools, and was commended for presenting “coherent principles and approaches and concrete ideas that one could actually take forward.” 2020 Health was included on the short list this year, with the judges pointing to its “Imaginative approach to the effect of social circumstances, poverty and education on health, with implications for health policy—this is ground-breaking work.”
But the winner was the Resolution Foundation, which has stood out this year for its extremely high profile work during the election and for the impact of its research of the effect of policy on those in low paid work. Its ability to combine a sense of moral conviction with technical depth made it the outstanding entrant in this category this year.
UK Energy and the Environment Award
Adam Smith Institute
The work of Policy Exchange was picked out this year by judges who were impressed by its work on fuel efficiency, a sometimes overlooked part of the energy puzzle. Its work on fuel poverty was also strong. The Adam Smith Institute was also short listed by judges this year, who wee impressed by its work on the question of Britain’s Green Belts, a policy issue that is gaining in significance as pressure on housing stock increases.
But the winner this year was a think tank that enjoys excellent convening power, both domestically and internationally: the Institute for Public Policy Research.. It has conducted excellent work this year on the complexity of energy finance and on the shortcomings of wind power. The judges agreed this year that it was a worthy winner, even if some of its reports did have a somewhat “jargon-infused prose style.”
UK international Affairs Award
The Overseas Development Institute was shortlisted this year, and judges were especially impressed by the work of this think tank, whose work on the use of data to alleviate poverty was especially striking. Its work on the civilian victims of war and those at risk of sexual violence was both powerful and influential. The Royal United Services Institute was also short listed, and has conducted a wide-ranging work programme including on Trident and the intersection of this thorny defence issue with the politics of Scottish devolution. It has also produced strong analysis of the war against IS as well as on organised crime.
But the winner this year was a think tank which has had a very strong 12 months, setting out the economic case for Britain’s membership of the EU in a year of turmoil for Europe. Its stall of writers and analysts remains excellent producing often innovative output, such as its analysis of the economic relations between China and the EU. The Centre for European Reform was the worthy winner.
One to Watch Award
The award was this year given to a think tank that, in the judges’ view is growing in stature and influence through its deep engagement with the immigration debate. British Future has a nuanced approach and is gaining attention at both ends of the political spectrum.
UK Think Tank of the Year
And the winner of the UKThink Tank of the Year award, for its forensic economic analysis during the 2015 General Election campaign, is an organisation that for the first time in the history of these awards has won the think tank of the year accolade twice in a row. It has had an outstanding 12 months, and the judges were unanimous that the award should go to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
The judges were:
Diane Coyle, Professor of economics at the University of Manchester;
George Magnus, Senior Economic Adviser to UBS;
Nick Carn, founder of Carn Macro Advisors;
Alison Wolf, economist and professor of public sector management at King’s College;
AC Grayling, philosopher and Master of the New College of the Humanities;
Chris Huhne, Guardian columnist and former Cabinet Minister;
Gideon Rachman is Chief Foreign Affairs Commentator at the FT;
Lindsey Hilsum, International Editor, Channel 4 News;
Gillian Tett, US Managing Editor of the FT;
Paul Bledoe, Senior Fellow on energy and society at the German Marshall Fund and former Climate Change Advisor to President Clinton;
Diane Roberts, professor of English at Florida State University and commentator for National Public Radio;
Philip Bobbitt, author and Professor of Jurisprudence, Columbia Law School;
Dan Balz, Chief Correspondent at the Washington Post;
Wolfgang Münchau, columnist and Associate Editor of the FT, and president of Eurointelligence;
Philippe Legrain, former independent economic advisor to the President of the European Commission;
Vicky Pryce, author and former joint head of the UK Government Economic Service;
Michael Grubb, Professor of International Energy and Climate Change Policy at University College London;
Malcolm Grimston, Senior Research Fellow at Imperial College London;
Gavin Hewitt, BBC’s Europe Editor;
Christine Ockrent, former Editor-in-Chief of L’Express.