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How a think tank can influence events

Although that was the title of the speech I delivered in Paris (and in French!) the first part was about what a think tank should not do.  It is not, and should not behave like, a political party.  It does not stand for election, take decisions, or implement legislation.  It tries instead to advise those who might listen.

It is not like a business, in that people do not buy its product.  It should develop and explain its ideas, and seek support from anyone who approves of what it does.  It should not be a lobbyist for particular businesses or sectors, or its ideas will be discounted as representing only a commercial interest rather than the public good.  A think tank should not solicit funds by offering to introduce lobbyists to ministers.

It should not tie itself to any particular politicians, because politicians go down as well as up, and some have quite short sell-by dates.  While closeness to a politician might bring immediate attention, it is not a formula for long-term influence.  A think tank should beware of depending on public funds, local, national or European, or it will find itself serving the interests of its paymasters.

What should it do?  My answer was that it should be independent and seek to influence events by influencing thinking.  One that can change the intellectual climate can ultimately change the policies that result from that climate.  I’m not sure what my Parisian audience made of this, but they said they liked my book, Think Tank.

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