How not to launch a think tank

There’s a tried and tested way to establish a new think tank.

Start with a guru – someone with a ‘hot’ new idea or philosophy, probably a well-known commentator, academic or policy generalist. Or a politician who needs their particular agenda to have an institutional home and some intellectual ballast.

Recruit a suitable selection of the great and the good to be your trustees. These will make you look serious, build the right political connections – and hopefully open-up some funding.

Get charitable status as an ‘educational research organisation’.

Get start-up funding. You’ll need a lot of it, since creating that crucial sense of intellectual momentum requires that you look like a fully formed outfit from day one (expert staff, a coherent research agenda, a nice logo and a slick website).

Attract attention. Be buzzy. Reinforce the impression that your guru has the ‘big idea’ whose time has come. Proclaim that your big idea can be applied remorselessly to every policy area you cover (but remember that you’re supposed to be an impartial truth-seeking research organisation, so be careful about being seen to advocate only one position).

In this project were going to try a different approach, starting with what our potential ‘customers’ (whether funders, project commissioners or audiences) might actually want and need. Perhaps you’re one of them. So tell us.

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