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Think Tank Awards 2019—the full results

All the winners from our most competitive field yet

By Alex Dean   October 2019

the crowd gathers before the awards in parliament’s Churchill Room

The 21st century is riven with daunting challenges. The uncertainty over Brexit and the wildly unpredictable man in the White House loom large for the moment. But in the background are issues that we’ll be grappling with for far longer: the rise of China; a fast-aging society; robots transforming the world of work.

In the face of all this, public policy has to evolve, which makes think tanks more important than ever. On 17th July Prospect held its annual awards in the heart of parliament, to honour the work they do. Many of them are grappling with deep tides of technology, demography and inequality as well as the frail condition of liberal democracy. Even more are working on climate change. It is a problem we’ve known about for decades, but one which striking schoolchildren have put firmly at the top of the agenda.

This challenge knows no national boundaries, and indeed Prospect took submissions from around the world, from think tanks of every variety. They were judged by leading scholars, journalists, lawyers and politicians from across the spectrum, including former foreign secretaries David Miliband and Malcolm Rifkind. Where the competition for first place was extremely close we applied tie-break criteria, giving an edge to those doing the most to train the next generation of researchers and demonstrating exemplary transparency in funding.

US and the rest of the world

Beginning with US entries in the Science, Health, Environment and Energy category, we had two runners-up: Climate Interactive, which judges noted had devised a modelling tool which “other leading organisations are [now] using… to visualise the impact of climate change.” Equally impressive was RAND, which helped frame the debate on American healthcare and grabbed the attention of Bernie Sanders. There could only be one winner, however, and this year it was Canada’s International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). The institute’s unique work examined the potential for future conflict over the minerals needed to produce green energy. Originality set them apart.

In Economic and Financial Affairs, the climate crisis again featured. Resources for the Future published, in the words of one judge, “serious analysis that produces (appropriately enough) light, rather than heat.” The runner-up was the International Institute for Sustainable Development, for its investigation of Canada’s growth model. But the Peterson Institute for International Economics stole the show. This repeat winner offered “powerful analysis,” especially of the costs of the US-China trade war.

Prospect editor Tom Clark presents an Economics and Finance Award to Steve Freidheim of the Peterson Institute

In Foreign Affairs, Mitvim: The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies was commended. The United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney was praised for “serious” analysis of the Chinese threat to Australian security. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace submitted two entries; the second was runner-up, with its historically-grounded study of violence in society. The winner, though, picking up its second award, was the IISD, for an unusual study of the lucrative private contacts undertaken by judges on the International Court of Justice. This had immediate impact, leading to the prohibition of most such contracts from now on.

In Social Policy, meanwhile, New America was commended for its work on education and skills. The Carnegie Middle East Centre was runner-up, with the judges particularly enjoying the impressive “Arab Horizons” report. The winner, though, was Prospect’s “One to Watch” from the 2018 awards—the Brazil-based Instituto Igarapé, whose entry on how to prevent police violence struck the judges as exceptionally “intelligent and practical.”

European Union

In the European Science, Health, Environment and Energy category, The Bonn International Centre for Conversion was mentioned in dispatches for work on energy challenges facing the Middle East and North Africa. In close second place was the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies, for impressively cross-disciplinary work linking climate, energy, industrial and economic policy. The winner, by a whisker, was Norway’s Fridtjof Nansen Institute. It combined natural science with an understanding of the political environment to suggest policies in fields like “ocean governance,” drawing on the wisdom of everyone from marine biologists to international lawyers.

In Economics and Finance, Sweden’s SNS, Centre for Business and Policy Studies, was praised for grappling with the challenge of aging societies and the implications for pensions. The runner-up was Transparency International, for an “original” study of “golden visas,” granted to people investing in a country. Only one think tank could triumph, however, and that was Bruegel, for “clear and fluent assessments” of the most pressing economic and financial challenges facing Europe and its institutions. As the multilateral system is under strain, this struck our judges as especially timely.

Louise Marie Hurel from Instituto Igarapé poses with their Social Policy Award

In Foreign Affairs, the Centre for European Policy Studies was picked out for “excellent” research on the EU’s relationship with China and the western Balkans. Carnegie Europe came second with good work on overlooked regions of geostrategic importance. First place, however, went to another think tank to submit two entries. The first displayed “extremely policy-oriented” material on nuclear deterrence, migration in the Med and more. This winner was the European Council on Foreign Relations.

In Social Policy, the Bonn Centre for International Conversion impressed with its research on conflict resolution. In second place was The Centre for European Policy Studies, which was again praised, this time for “timely and interesting” research on employment in the digital age. First place, however, went to SNS, for excellent work on the divisions between different communities and how to bridge them. One judge said the entry “struck me as perfectly illustrating the role of a think tank.” High praise indeed.

United Kingdom

Then it was time to bring it all back home. In Science, Health, Environment and Energy, there was a wealth of strong submissions. Green Alliance impressed on the impact of Brexit on climate policy, while Bright Blue emphasised “the local and regional relevance of what can seem like an abstract debate.” In close second place was the Institute for Government (IFG), which illuminated how ministers can draw on academic expertise. But the winner was the IPPR, for an invaluable programme on a climate crisis now entering a “new domain of risk.” Its work had “a significant impact” with politicians, the public and the media.

In Economics and Finance, UK in a Changing Europe was producing timely work, including on the meaning of “WTO terms.” The Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) offered unique research on money laundering. In second place was the IFG, whose procurement study seriously impressed. Victory, though, went to some highly authoritative number-crunching on education and, following the 70th anniversary of the creation of the NHS, also health. After a rare year without a trophy in 2018, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) emerged on top for that.

In the busy category of UK Foreign Affairs, the IFG was yet again commended for “real expertise” in the Brexit debate. Policy Exchange stood out for remarkable convening power. Rusi was praised for a “super” set of studies on a range of topics, while the Overseas Development Institute had done stellar work on Afghanistan—including interviewing Taliban fighters. Our runner-up was the Centre for European Reform, for “serious yet accessible reports” on the great questions confronting Britain and the continent. But the top prize went to UK in a Changing Europe, which had conducted exceptional analysis of the Brexit impasse—particularly on the crucial Irish dimension—while taking the trouble to translate research into other languages.

Our final category, UK Social Policy, was hotly contested. Demos did rigorous work, using surveys and focus groups, on the sometimes surprising role of nostalgia in our politics. In joint second were the IFS, this time specifically for its education material, and—again—the IFG, whose public service “performance tracker” won admiration. The winner, however, was the Centre for Social Justice, for excellent work on school exclusions and supporting children who fall out of mainstream education, pulling that vital issue up the agenda.

One to Watch

Each year, Prospect nominates a think tank on the up. For 2019 we chose an organisation which impressed on many fronts, but especially on the defining crisis of our times—the climate emergency. That organisation is the IISD. From international courts to scarce minerals, its entry was unusual in the very best way.

Think Tank of the Year

Prospect’s think tank of the year demonstrated authority across the breadth of public policy. It had an inside track with Whitehall officials who are under such pressure today. Moreover, it shone a bright light on parliament, the scarcely understood body at the heart of our constitution, whose arcane procedures have taken centre-stage with Brexit. That organisation was the IFG.

Joanna Arnold, Vuelio’s chief executive, presents Bronwen Maddox, Director of the IFG, with the award for Think Tank of the Year


The Awards were supported by Vuelio

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