The winners of Prospect's 2012 Think Tank of the Year Awardsby / July 11, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Peter Mandelson presents the Global Think Tank of the Year Award to Guntram Wolff, the deputy director of Bruegel. See below for the full list of winners – more pictures can be found on our Facebook page
The last 12 months have been marked by global instability. The debate over austerity has consumed Britain, the rest of Europe, the United States and Japan—are cuts or spending the answer to a stuttering recovery? And how do elected politicians persuade voters to back painful changes? Can democracy cope with the age of austerity?
Last summer, Britain saw the worst riots since the 1980s. The crisis in the eurozone has threatened to plunge Europe into a lost decade. Meanwhile, the consequences of the Arab Spring are still unclear. Elections in Egypt have changed the political character of a cornerstone of the Middle East while the violence in Syria shows no sign of abating.
Think tanks, then, have had no shortage of subjects. The Prospect Think Tank of the Year Awards, now in their 12th year, set out to give credit to organisations that have led the debate among the public and government. The judges look for originality and rigour of research and argument, for selection of topics of importance, and for influence. To reflect the breadth of subjects, we have extended the number of categories, and expanded the opportunities for those based outside the UK to enter. The number of entries again reached a record.
The awards were presented on 10th July, at the Royal Society, by Lord Mandelson, who said that political parties badly needed to reassess their plans for dealing with the problems their countries faced. Graham van’t Hoff, chairman of Shell UK, in opening remarks, stressed the importance for fresh independent thinking on policy and the role of think tanks in providing it.
Bronwen Maddox, editor of Prospect, chaired the panel, which included Baroness Vadera of Holland Park, consultant and former government minister; Richard Lambert, chancellor of the University of Warwick, former editor of the Financial Times and member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee; Nader Mousavizadeh, chief executive of Oxford Analytica and former special assistant to Kofi Annan, the former secretary-general of the United Nations; and James Elwes, deputy editor of Prospect and former editor of Financial World.
North American Think Tank of the Year
In this category, the judges nominated three organisations. In third place was the Brookings Institution, commended for success in grappling with “the big picture” and for work in combatting anti-Chinese sentiment in Congress. In second place was the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), a smaller organisation that analyses the military component of the federal budget. As the CSBA points out, significant cuts in healthcare and pensions have remained elusive, but when “something has to give,” the military budget, the world’s largest, has been a comparatively soft target, and the think tank has anticipated the detail of those reforms.
However, the winner of the North American Think Tank of the Year award was the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The judges agreed that its recent work on the Middle East had been outstanding and that it had succeeded in gathering together a strong roster of scholars. Judges gave particular note to its report “The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir,” by Seyed Hossein Mousavian. Its output was credited with being free of ideological bias, which lent it intellectual consistency.
European Think Tank of the Year (excluding Britain)
The judges praised the Centre for Political Studies, based in Copenhagen; a newcomer, the organisation has built a strong reputation and influence. The Polish Sobieski Institute was also a strong entrant, while the Madrid-based Fundación IDEAS, founded by José Zapatero when president, has managed to persuade high-profile economists to contribute to its publications.
However, in third place, the judges chose The Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), whose work has been influential in the debate over renewing the Turkish constitution. The development of think tanks and public policy debate in Turkey is to be encouraged. In second place is the Institute of Modern Politics, based in Sofia, a think tank focused on constitutional and political reform in Bulgaria. Its harsh analysis of the Bulgarian government and security services and of corruption in the courts and politics is not only valuable but brave. The judges felt that attempts to strengthen democracy and the rule of law across southeastern Europe have even more value than in the past, in the light of the Greek turmoil.
But the winner of the European Think Tank of the Year award this year was Bruegel. The judges agreed that the Brussels-based think tank has been a constant source of excellent and prescient analysis of the eurozone crisis and had attained the position of being the “go-to” organisation on one of the events shaping policy across the world. Its papers on European banking union and the relations between euro and non-euro European countries have been highly influential; the second of those was presented at Ecofin, the regular meeting of European Union finance ministers. The judges agreed that in a year when the eurozone crisis had reached a new level of intensity, Bruegel had remained an invaluable source of analysis.
Think tanks based in the UK
In the energy and the environment category, the judges felt that submissions had been underwhelming—surprising in light of the debate on nuclear energy policy, the use of “fracking” to release gas reserves, the cost of wind power and the lack of a clear government policy on global warming. Although there were many entrants in this field, the judges decided to give only two awards.
The runner-up was ResPublica, for its analysis of the potential benefits of local energy production. Marrying localism with energy policy is ingenious and some of the recommendations to government were sophisticated—even practical. However, this year’s winner was Chatham House for its work on Saudi energy consumption and the recommendation that the kingdom reduce energy use, in its December 2011 report “Burning Oil to Keep Cool: The Hidden Energy Crisis in Saudi Arabia,” which was influential in that country and the region. (Two judges are trustees of an entrant, Chatham House, and recused themselves from the decision.)
In the economic and financial category the judges found difficulty in identifying a think tank that had “thought big” on the global economy. Despite this, there was still much good work this year by British think tanks. The Centre for Policy Studies was noted, despite its opposition to taxes on high value property, which several judges felt had put it on the wrong side of the argument. The Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation retains its good reputation for scrutinising regulations and for roundtables, and Policy Exchange produced strong analysis, although tending towards the micro level. The Centre for European Reform has gained a strong reputation for its coverage of European economic affairs, especially because of the work of Simon Tilford, who has offered consistent clarity on Germany’s role in the eurozone crisis.
However, in third place was Reform Scotland, a small think tank that has set itself at the most important economic and fiscal questions in the Scottish devolution debate. Its papers on energy were thoughtful and its suggestions have been influential in Holyrood. Second was the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), which this year, the judges said, staged a strong comeback, having lost direction when Labour lost power. The institute’s work on globalisation (which one judge described as “very Peter Mandelson,” noting his role in chairing one project) and its reports on how to foster growth showed that the IPPR, which had tended to focus on social policy, is a strong newcomer to economic analysis. However, the winner this year was the Social Market Foundation, for its analysis of growth and its commentary on the budget, captured in its memorable report “Osborne’s Choice,” written by Ian Mulheirn (and which included a contribution from Richard Lambert, one of the judges).
In the Social Policy category, it was striking how little commentary think tanks had generated on last summer’s riots. There was plenty outside the world of think tanks, such as the research from the Riots Communities and Victims Panel report was noted for its research, as was the “Reading the Riots” report, by the London School of Economics and the Guardian. The judges chose, also, to give a special commendation to “The Riots,” a play by Gillian Slovo commissioned by the Tricycle Theatre, based on many interviews. The panel thought it had dealt with social breakdown with a degree of insightfulness from which think tanks might learn.
Setting aside riots coverage, however, the judges gave third place to the IPPR, commended for its work on student migration. Demos (now led by David Goodhart, Prospect’s editor at large) was in second place; the judges were especially impressed by the work carried out by its Commission on Assisted Dying. But the winner this year was the Resolution Foundation. The foundation’s focus on the living standards of low-to-middle income families culminated in its report, “The Essential Guide to Squeezed Britain,” which was detailed and perceptive, while still having what one judged described as a “read me” quality. The report received widespread media attention and this, combined with other output, has given the foundation new impact. (The Resolution Foundation is backed by a shareholder of Prospect and judges from Prospect recused themselves from the decision.)
The International Affairs award provoked much debate among the judges. The Royal United Services Institute was cited for its work on national security. The institute has been much occupied by Britain’s shrinking military forces, and the impact on Britain’s standing in the world. In second place was Chatham House. Its work on Europe-China relations and analysis of political conditions in Egypt and the Middle East more broadly has been very good. The judges also cited one report, “Right Response,” on the rise of populist extremist groups, as especially strong.
In first place, however, was Open Europe. The judges questioned whether its analysis gave way at times to ideology. However, they cited its work on the EU budget and the Common Agricultural Policy for its astute recommendations that more be spent on the weaker countries and on research and development. It has produced steady, perceptive commentary on the eurozone, particularly in a prescient report on Spanish banks in April, and a warning of the costs of a Greek exit from the euro. Its work on preserving the freedom of movement of EU citizens in an era of public hostility to immigration was well timed, as was its “Trading Places” report on Britain’s trade relationship with the rest of the EU. The think tank had made the most of public unease about the future of Europe to thrust itself to the fore.
In the One to Watch category, the judges cited the newly established Centre for London, itself supported by Demos, which analyses the challenges faced by the capital. But the winner this year is Reform Scotland, whose work has taken on more influence with the devolution debate. Output has covered crime, the restructuring of local government and also energy policy, which the judges thought strong.
This winner of this year’s Publication of the Year was The Resolution Foundation, for its report, “The Essential Guide to Squeezed Britain.” The report sets out in clear language and in a visually engaging way the crisis faced in households with an average net income of £20,500 per year. The report concentrated on this large, financially stressed part of British society which has been comparatively ignored. The judges gave it credit for originality and rigour, while the impact of the work was considerable, gaining widespread attention with its conclusion that household finances will not improve until 2020.
British Think Tank of the Year
IPPR, Demos, Chatham House and the Centre for London were all considered, but the winner this year was the Social Market Foundation, which combined intellectual rigour with an excellent record of attracting big names for its events and publications. In the economic debate it has provided an intellectual middle ground for members of both sides of the coalition. The judges cited its analysis of the labour market, with its publication “Will the Work Programme Work?” and again, “Osborne’s Choice,” which they felt had been particularly influential.
Global Think Tank of the Year
The eurozone crisis has been the dominant policy concern of the last 12 months and the threat of a disorderly collapse of the euro has hung over the global economy. If the collapse of a moderately sized trading house like Lehman Brothers could cause the global economy to go into freefall, then the consequences of the sudden failure of the euro would be an order of magnitude worse.
It was this consideration that drew the judges back to the most sophisticated analysis of the eurozone crisis and once more to Bruegel, which was unanimously chosen as the winner of the award for the global think tank of the year.
Global Think Tank of the Year
Think Tank of the Year
Winner: Social Market Foundation
Publication of the Year
Resolution Foundation, “The Essential Guide to Squeezed Britain”
One to watch
Winner: Reform Scotland
Winner: Open Europe
Runner-up: Chatham House
Winner: Resolution Foundation
Energy and the Environment
Winner: Chatham House
Economic & Financial policy
Winner: Social Market Foundation
Commended: Reform Scotland
Think Tank of the Year
Winner: Carnegie Endowment
Commended: Brookings Institution
Europe (excluding UK)
Think Tank of the Year
Winner: Bruegel (Brussels)
Runner-up: The Institute of Modern Politics (Bulgaria)
Commended: TEPAV (Turkey)
The Prospect Think Tank Awards were supported by Shell