Think tank staff by Twitter following 201-250

Name Think tank Twitter followers
201.        Jude Goddard Centre for Innovation in Health Management 264
201.        Mark Gamsu Centre for Welfare Reform 264
201.        Sian Herbert Overseas Development Institute 264
201.        Ed Mayo ResPublica 264
205.        Josh Stott Joseph Rowntree Foundation 260
206.        Sara Pantuliano Overseas Development Institute 258
207.        Jonathan Clifton IPPR 254
208.        Rachael Jolley British Futures 253
209.        Joe Hallgarten IPPR 232
210.        Simon Less Policy Exchange 225
211.        Tracey Jane Robbins Joseph Rowntree Foundation 224
212.        Barry Quirk Institute for Government 222
213.        Abie Longstaff The Police Foundation 219
214.        Neil Lee Work Foundation 218
215.        Floyd Millen Centre for Welfare Reform 215
215.        Liz Carolan Institute for Government 215
217.        Michael Croft Centre for Welfare Reform 211
217.        Omar Khan Runnymede Trust 211
219.        Stephen Bevan Work Foundation 210
220.        Sam Tomlin Sports Think Tank 207
221.        David Stuckler Chatham House 206
222.        Jess Tyrrell Demos 204
223.        Harriet Crawford Centre for Social Justice 203
224.        Markus Weimer Chatham House 199
224.        David Boyle nef 199
226.        Henneke Sharif Demos 197
227.        Charlie Tims Demos 194
227.        Jamie Young RSA 194
227.        Jo Maybin The King’s Fund 194
230.        Julia Slay nef 193
231.        Jason Mosley Chatham House 192
232.        Laura Bradley IPPR 191
233.        Robin Millar Centre for Social Justice 189
233.        Nick Spencer Theos Think Tank 189
235.        Alex Glennie IPPR 188
236.        Chris Gilson LSE Public Policy Group 186
237.        Howard Reed Demos 185
237.        Tara Majumdar Reform 185
239.        Eugene Grant Demos 183
240.        Catherine Haddon Institute for Government 181
241.        Jonathan McClory Institute for Government 180
242.        Tony Stoller Joseph Rowntree Foundation 179
243.        Sarah Isal Runnymede Trust 178
243.        Kippy Joseph Young Foundation 178
245.        Caroline Julian ResPublica 177
246.        Kerry Brown Chatham House 175
247.        Aniol Esteban nef 174
248.        Duncan Edwards Institute of Development Studies 173
248.        Jules Peck ResPublica 173
250.        Karen Sosa Policy Exchange 171

Think tank staff by Twitter following 251-306

Here’s a list of individual think tank staffers according to their Twitter following, starting with the 300th most-followed person down to the 251st (numbered 252nd though, since there’s a tie at 250th).

We’ll publish numbers 201-250 on Friday 30th March, 151-200 on Monday 2nd April, 101-150 on Wednesday 4th April, 51-100 on Friday 6th April, and finally 1-50 on Monday 9th April.

We’ve focused on the ‘top 40’ most well-known UK think tanks (as in a previous post), i.e. those organisations that present themselves as ‘think tanks’, then used the publicly available staff lists from their websites and checked to see whether these people have Twitter accounts. We’ve only included people who either identify themselves as working for a particular think tank on their Twitter feed and/or use their account to discuss issues that are obviously related to their work (in other words, we haven’t included people who use their account mainly for personal matters). We included fellows and associates because there is no consistent definition of think tank people and some think tanks effectively use this as an alternative staffing model. We didn’t include advisors or trustees.

Inevitably with such a large number of people (we’ve searched more than 1,100 think tank staff) there will be those we’ve missed, especially where there are many people with the same name who have Twitter accounts and it hasn’t been obvious which ‘John Smith’ is the one who works for a particular organisation. Apologies for any errors or omissions. We’d be happy to add you or your organisation to the list if you post a comment here or use the email contact form on the ‘Get involved‘ page.

The number of Twitter followers obviously reflects when we did the research (over the past week and a half), so in quite a few cases there are likely to be small differences in the numbers, nonetheless this shouldn’t affect the rankings significantly.

We’ll do some reflections when we’ve posted the whole list, but your comments are welcome as we go.

Name Think tank Twitter followers
251.        Charles Levy Work Foundation 168
252.        Lewis Goodall IPPR 165
253.        Norma Curran Centre for Welfare Reform 164
253.        Louise Woodruff Joseph Rowntree Foundation 164
253.        Felicity Dennistoun Resolution Foundation 164
256.        Rupert Greenhalgh Centre for Local Economic Strategies 163
256.        Helen Burrows Demos 163
258.        Andrew Kakabadse Institute for Government 162
259.        Paul Bickley Theos Think Tank 157
260.        Zach Wilcox Centre for Cities 155
260.        Valerie Marcel Chatham House 155
262.        Ellie Howard Civitas 154
262.        Peter Harrington Demos 154
262.        Phil McCarvill IPPR 154
265.        Richard Wellings Institute of Economic Affairs 151
265.        Julia Day Institute of Development Studies 151
267.        Tris Lumley NPC 149
268.        Matthew Jackson Centre for Local Economic Strategies 144
269.        Kamaljeet Gill Runnymede Trust 141
270.        Alison Jarvis Joseph Rowntree Foundation 138
270.        Anne White LSE Public Policy Group 138
272.        Claudia Wood Demos 136
272.        Ty Goddard Education Foundation 136
274.        Nick Goodwin The King’s Fund 135
275.        Clare Yeowart NPC 130
276.        Terry Lynch Centre for Welfare Reform 129
276.        Christian Barnett Demos 129
278.        Benoit Gomis Chatham House 128
278.        Adam Fowles IPPR 128
280.        Graeme Henderson IPPR 126
280.        Nick Comer-Calder IPPR 126
282.        Cynthia Shanmugalingam Young Foundation 125
283.        Stephen Sloss Centre for Welfare Reform 121
284.        Simon Cramp Centre for Welfare Reform 120
284.        Dalibor Rohac Institute of Economic Affairs 120
286.        Katharine Knox Joseph Rowntree Foundation 118
286.        Andrew Sissons Work Foundation 118
288.        Faiza Shaheen nef 117
288.        Paul Zollinger-Read The King’s Fund 117
290.        Danielle Moran LSE Public Policy Group 116
291.        Rachel Tooby Centre for Cities 115
291.        Jonathan Birdwell Demos 115
291.        Tess Lanning IPPR 115
294.        Katie Schmuecker IPPR 114
294.        Henry Kippin RSA 114
296.        Jocelyn Cornwell The King’s Fund 113
297.        Peter Dale IPPR 111
298.        Richard Harrison Demos 109
299.        Peter Thomas Institute for Government 108
300.        Maha Azzam Chatham House 107
300.        Kate Blatchford Institute for Government 107
302.        Emily Darko Overseas Development Institute 106
303.        Lydia Prieg nef 103
304.        Angela Kail NPC 102
304.        Jenny Morgan Overseas Development Institute 102
306.        Marcus Fergusson Demos 99

Here’s our idea – let us know what you think

We’ve been working on this project for a few months now and here’s where we’ve got to. Below is something like a marketing description, but it also indicates the functionality we’re looking at for our proof-of-concept website. It’s still work-in-progress, but let us know what you think. (It won’t be called ‘New think tank’ of course, that’s just a stand-in name – suggestions for that are welcome as well).

[New think tank] connects people and organisations to improve social policy.

[New think tank] is a social network for the people and organisations who use and provide public and voluntary services. With the [New think tank] community, you can conduct policy and research work that’s credible, affordable, and timely.


The [New think tank] community is made up of people who use and provide public services. They’ll help you understand what’s happening at the frontline, and to develop practical and popular proposals. This will help to give your organisation credible answers and a stronger profile.


Because it’s online, [New think tank] is a very cost-effective way to conduct policy and research work. Through [New think tank] you can share intelligence, recruit and work with partners, and even find funding for projects.


[New think tank] enables you to conduct policy and research work quickly and easily. You can instantly test out ideas for a new research project and invite people to participate in it, invite suggestions for a policy statement or consultation response, or source relevant case studies for a report or news story.

With [New think tank], you can develop and deliver a project from start to finish – you can even commission a new project in minutes. Here’s how:

Create a profile – for you or your organisation, then connect and communicate with others. Share news and publicise events. You can import your profile from other social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and even login using your profiles from these networks.

Test out ideas – post questions, start discussions and propose projects. The most popular ideas and projects get featured most prominently. You can also follow and comment using other social networks.

Conduct projects – start a project and invite others to participate. Create an open or invite-only forum and assemble a virtual project team. Post questions and surveys, or draft and edit reports collaboratively.

Find partners – recruit other organisations to partner with, or find funding for a project. Host forums to manage projects, store and share useful documents, and easily track project activity wherever you and your partners are.

Share findings – publish and promote your projects. Use the site as a hub to share your findings and recommendations. Automatically send updates to and from other social networks, and use the community to disseminate your work more widely.

Policymaking shouldn’t be a bully pulpit

How we treat other people often reflects how we are treated, and in many organisations this gets established at the top. Workplaces with assholic chief executives easily turn into environments where bullying, passive-aggressiveness and small ‘p’ politics are rife; once modeled by leaders, these behaviours can become permissible, even normalised. We increasingly recognise that these behaviours are bad for business. So why have we normalised these behaviours when it comes to how we develop and implement social policy? And is there a link between this and how people get treated at the frontline of public services?

I’ve written in the Guardian blog about the perverse ‘everyone hates us, we don’t care’ approach to policymaking, for which think tanks are partly responsible. Starting in the 1970s, a group of commentators associated with the new right think tanks began to characterise organised frontline workers and service users not just as ‘self-interested’ or ‘obstructive’ but as the underlying cause of the country’s problems. These groups, went the argument, effectively hold politicians to ransom until governments pay them off by spending more on public services. This only makes them stronger and turns the “collectivist ratchet” inexorably away from a free society. This situation had to be reversed.

As a result, not listening to frontline workers has almost become a badge of honour for politicians, as if there’s something suspect about a policy developed in partnership or supported by professionals (i.e. the people who are responsible for making it a success on the ground). Without the participation of the people who use and provide public services it’s not that surprising when social policy is poorly evidenced, badly designed and difficult to implement.

There’s something of the bully about this approach to policy development, a passive-aggressiveness. It’s the political equivalent of the boss who believes that low staff morale means that he (it’s almost always he) must be ‘doing something right‘ – a sentiment recently supported by the secretary of state for education (the person ultimately responsible for ensuring that schools are safe, respectful environments that foster learning, creativity and civility).

Policy should be contested, but this doesn’t mean it has to be mean, or that division and divisiveness make for better deliberation. Those who relish the ‘contest of ideas’ neglect that politics requires conciliation and compromise. Macho policymaking might make for tough headlines but rarely for good policy, and the type of people who compulsively need to win are invariably also losers.

Sadly, many think tanks in effect contribute to, rather than challenge, this assholic political culture. Our ideas are always right, theirs are always wrong. The other ‘side’ needs to be destroyed (rhetorically at least), because they are stupid/dangerous/evil. And if this is how (thought) leaders behave, is there a danger, as in the workplace, that the rest of us become infected by the same disease?

When people aren’t listened to, the result at the frontline of services is often low morale and stress, leading to disillusion and disengagement. In such circumstances, it’s no wonder that policy fails to achieve its objectives, which in turn encourages some policymakers to adopt an even more aggressive approach designed to defeat their ‘enemies’ at the frontline. Given this kind of thinking, and without taking away responsibility from anyone, should we really be surprised to discover bullying, abuse, and neglect at the frontline of services when these are the same behaviours we witness at the centre?

What think tanks can learn from experiments in open journalism

No sector or industry is immune from the ‘open revolution’ – from software development, scientific research and publishing, to how businesses innovate more generally. Here are three experiments in ‘open journalism’ which also suggest how think tanks could work more openly.

1. Open sourcing

The Guardian newspaper has embarked on a programme of open journalism. As Alan Rusbridger, the paper’s editor, has noted: “Journalists are not the only experts in the world.” ‘Open journalism’ is the Guardian’s name for the way in which it is attempting to involve its readership not just in commenting on stories, but contributing to and even determining its news agenda, as a way of creating a two-way relationship between journalists and readers.

As the Creative Review notes, this reflects the changing nature of media. Given the competition that has emerged from other forms of media, especially social media, newspapers are having to be less about relating ‘the story’ (as they see it) and more about acting as a platform for a topic to be explored by multiple participants, including readers, in real-time.

At the moment, this mainly means that reporters keep readers informed as they develop stories (usually via Twitter). Every morning the paper also posts its ‘news list’, the usually closely held plan of stories it is working on for the following day, partly in the hope that greater openness about the paper’s agenda will prompt information from readers. The Guardian has cited the death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 riots in London and the resignation of the defence minister Liam Fox as two examples where readers helped to substantiate stories.

2. Open editing

In February Wired magazine published an article about GitHub, a ‘version control’ website that allows programmers of open source software projects to upload code and share it with other developers but also keep track of who made what changes and to merge these changes together. What was interesting was that the writer used GitHub to invite and capture suggested edits and amendments to the article itself (the GitHub repository for the article can be found here).

GitHub was designed for software development rather than collaborative editing, but Wired’s experiment shows how mainstream media can engage informed readers to produce better written, better researched reports – a form of Wikipedia for journalism.

3. Open agenda-setting

OpenFile is a ‘community-powered’ news organisation which operates in seven Canadian cities. Its journalists cover stories which start out as suggestions from readers. OpenFile works with hundreds of freelance reporters across Canada; once its journalists are assigned to a story they collaborate with readers to deliver their reports, typically on local news and issues.

This is rather different from ‘citizen reporting’ (or ‘participatory journalism’ – see for example the Media Trust’s newsnet platform), since the main journalistic activity here is still being conducted by professional reporters. Nevertheless, this public direction of a news organisation represents a highly disruptive model – more like ‘media-as-a-service’ rather than the traditional industrial model of media production.

We’ve suggested here before that the business model behind think tanks is ripe for disruption. The reasons for this echo why traditional media is being disrupted by social media: high fixed costs; incumbents focusing on existing ‘high-end’ customers; over-specified, often expensive products; and limited use of cheap, commonplace ICT. Journalism is increasingly recognising the need to reinvent itself, including by experimenting with mass collaboration (as in the MPs expenses scandal) and even crowdfunding (though not yet at the level of individual stories). So what could think tanks learn from these kinds of experiments in open journalism?

At the conceptual level, think tanks could also try to create more of a two-way relationship with their customers and audiences. This would mean less telling people what ‘the story’ is, but instead acting more as facilitators who offer a platform for collaboration between interested parties in real-time, including the policy and decision-making audiences they want to influence. As we’ve suggested before, this is probably why think tanks such as Chatham House, which seek to act as ‘meeting places‘ for a range of experts rather than presenting themselves as the ‘only experts’, have been so successful and why audiences like them so much.

More practically, think tanks could consider:

  • sourcing ideas, information and contributions more frequently using social media;
  • experimenting with open and collaborative drafting, reviewing and editing of reports;
  • microtasking their research (as in the MPs expenses scandal);
  • inviting audiences to set their agendas;
  • attempting to crowdfund their projects and programmes openly and transparently.

Economic and cultural changes have forced traditional media to respond with these experiments in openness. Faced with similar challenges, what will think tanks do?

The top 40 think tanks by website popularity

Here’s the (updated) top 40 most well-known UK think tanks ranked by the popularity of their websites (according to The number in brackets is the global popularity ranking of the website.

  1. The RSA (115,276)
  2. Chatham House (184,918)
  3. The Overseas Development Institute (224,804)
  4. Adam Smith Institute (245,629)
  5. new economics foundation (258,708)
  6. Joseph Rowntree Foundation (402,928)
  7. The Institute of Development Studies (407,307)
  8. ResPublica (519,065)
  9. The Young Foundation (531,207)
  10. IPPR (545,712)
  11. The King’s Fund (549,430)
  12. Ekklesia (587,949)
  13. Open Europe (596,395)
  14. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (750,728)
  15. Institute for Economic Affairs (793,598)
  16. Civitas (802,873)
  17. Demos (818,733)
  18. The Work Foundation (1,378,491)
  19. Policy Exchange (1,387,435)
  20. New Philanthropy Capital (1,409,356)
  21. National Institute Economic Research (NIESR) (1,601,702)
  22. The Institute for Government (1,724,245)
  23. Centre for Local Economic Strategies (1,965,958)
  24. Social Market Foundation (1,995,554)
  25. Runnymede (2,140,813)
  26. The Fabian Society (2,163,876)
  27. Compass (2,248,832)
  28. Foreign Policy Centre (2,393,283)
  29. Centre for Cities (2,411,640)
  30. Resolution Foundation (2,728,050)
  31. Centre for Policy Studies (2,785,876)
  32. Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) (2,866,152)
  33. Involve (3,006,163)
  34. Centre for Social Justice (3,164,534)
  35. New Local Government Network (3,471,930)
  36. Transform Drug Policy Foundation (3,863,400)
  37. Theos Think Tank (4,128,032)
  38. Policy Studies Institute (4,183,046)
  39. Sports Think Tank (4,594,213)
  40. International Longevity Centre – UK (4,616,285)

And: British Future (4,778,818); CentreForum (6,598,451); Reform (6,676,968); The Smith Institute (11,194,237); Race on the Agenda (ROTA) (16,803,917); Politeia (no data); RAND Europe (no data – in this case because the site is part of the US ‘parent’).

For comparison:

  • If Conservative Home (125,821) was a think tank, it would be the second most popular think tank in the UK;
  • Left Foot Forward (260,894) would be the sixth most popular think tank;
  • And Mumsnet (10,158) would be the most popular think tank by a long way.

(The rank is calculated using a combination of average daily visitors and pageviews over the past 3 months. The site with the highest combination of visitors and pageviews is ranked #1. A more detailed methodological note on how Alexa calculates its traffic ranks can be found here).

And this development blog is ranked 5,247,212 .

The top 35 think tanks by Twitter followers

Here’s the  top 35 (well, 40 now since we’ve added a few as a result of updates) most well-known UK think tanks ranked by Twitter followers (this is only for the main organisational Twitter feed, i.e. it doesn’t include dedicated team or issue feeds, or individual feeds):

  1. Chatham House (19,320)
  2. The RSA (18,597)
  3. new economics foundation (18,214)
  4. Joseph Rowntree Foundation (15,807)
  5. IPPR (14,324)
  6. Demos (14,220)
  7. The King’s Fund (13,462)
  8. The Overseas Development Institute (11,841)
  9. The Fabian Society (11,572)
  10. The Young Foundation (9,955)
  11. Adam Smith Institute (8,927)
  12. Open Europe (8,553)
  13. The Institute of Development Studies (7,863)
  14. New Philanthropy Capital (6,027)
  15. Compass (5,828)
  16. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (5,615)
  17. Policy Exchange (5,578)
  18. Transform Drug Policy Foundation (5,009)
  19. The Institute for Government (4,810)
  20. ResPublica (4,405)
  21. Ekklesia (3,359)
  22. Centre for Policy Studies (3,253)
  23. LGiU (3,185)
  24. The Work Foundation (3,143)
  25. Centre for Cities (2,927)
  26. Runnymede (2,439)
  27. Reform (2,357)
  28. New Local Government Network (2,307)
  29. International Longevity Centre – UK (1,969)
  30. Centre for Social Justice (1,881)
  31. Social Market Foundation (1,848)
  32. Resolution Foundation (1,718)
  33. The Institute for Economic Affairs (1,383)
  34. Centre for Local Economic Strategies (1,362)
  35. CentreForum (1,140)
  36. British Future (1,089)
  37. Civitas (657)
  38. Policy Studies Institute (328)
  39. Politeia (52)
  40. RAND Europe (1).

(The last one is odd – you have to request to be a follower. I’m not sure that RAND, despite their other considerable capabilities, really get social media.)

For the sake of comparison:

  • UK Uncut (40,082)
  • Mumsnet (23,405)
  • 38 Degrees (12,500)
  • Lady Gaga (20,860,123).

869, if you’re asking.

Not asking for permission

Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, is to act as an unpaid adviser to the UK government to support its “agenda to open up policy-making to the public.” His ideas on how technology could be used to give the public a greater say in policymaking might be very valuable, and government should certainly try to create better platforms for public participation. But let’s recognise that the main barrier isn’t technological. It’s political.

One of the ideas behind this project is that policymaking would be better (i.e. higher quality) if it engaged and involved more of the people with practical experience of the issues at hand (in the case of social policy, this especially means frontline public service practitioners and service users). But such is the widespread scepticism about government consultations that it seems unlikely that government (or the Government) will be successful in attracting many more members of the public to respond to such exercises, whatever technology it employs. Perhaps it will be possible over time to shift this scepticism, but trust (and so willingness to participate) can also be destroyed virtually overnight when any government is seen to ignore majority or professional opinion (as in the case of the NHS reforms).

It’s good that the Government is considering what ‘all this’ (wikis, social media etc) means for policymaking. But I’m not sure that what we want  are savvier forms of government-sponsored engagement. I think what we want most of all is for government to listen when we do express a view, through whatever means. A wiki could be a great way to develop policy collaboratively and transparently. But if government wanted to more accurately and faithfully reflect and respond to public or practitioner opinion, then it wouldn’t need a wiki to do it.

We can recognise that government is difficult, that there are lots of conflicting and competing interests that act on policymaking, that there are times when policymakers actually think that much of the public is ‘wrong’ on an issue, and that politics – which is to say party political interests – is often the defining factor in decision-making. This means that the challenge isn’t ultimately about finding the right methods for participation, however important this is, so much as developing the right mindset about policy and politics.

Part of this challenge is that government is somewhat inevitably attached to a ‘consultation mindset’, where it sets out certain times and ways in which ‘we’ (by which it typically means respectable and ‘responsible’ organisations) are asked for their views on a specific proposal. But social media is not about asking for, or being granted, permission to voice your opinion. It’s about taking that ‘permission’ for granted (which is to say, not asking at all). Spartacus didn’t ask for permission. Neither did Occupy the SEC. If the Government really wants to explore how technology can be used to give the public a greater say in policymaking, why not just give a bit of money to 38 Degrees and a few other organisations and see what happens?

This makes me think that we don’t so much need better ways in which government can invite us to register our views (which it may or may not subsequently listen to anyway). Rather what need are powerful platforms that we own, that are ours. No-one needs official authorisation, or that much money really, to experiment with various kinds of platform to support collaboration around how policy could be improved. We could and should do it right now if we want to. In fact, we are.

What it is (nearly)

I had a conversation today about this project where I spent a fair bit of the time explaining what it isn’t. For example:

  • It isn’t a think tank, commonly understood, because it won’t have the infrastructure or staffing or resources associated with think tanks (indeed this is a critical part of the business model);
  • It isn’t a competitor to existing think tanks, because we’re looking mainly at a market that doesn’t commission research at the moment;
  • It isn’t a research supplier as such, because the point of our approach is that charities and other provider organisations often have much of what they need in order to conduct policy work already (credibility, experience and expertise, relationships to stakeholders etc).

I don’t mind having to take this ‘isn’t’ approach – though it does make what we’re doing sound more negative than I’d like – but obviously it begs the question of what this is.

One of the difficulties with innovation (if I can call this an ‘innovation’) is describing what you’re doing in a simple, easily-graspable way for others, when by definition it’s something new, and at the same time as you’re still exploring for yourself and potential customers what the ‘is’ is. This is why you find yourself using more ‘isn’ts’ than you’d like (and hedging these often makes it even murkier: “Well, not exactly, it isn’t quite like so-and-so…” etc etc).

One way that anyone developing anything ‘new’ tries to get around this is to compare their ‘it’ to some existing products and services (‘it’s like x but for y’). Or they cite examples of things we’d all like more of and then suggest that their product or service will produce these things more cheaply and easily. We’ve done both of these at various times here. We’ve suggested that it’s like ‘Sourceforge [but] for social policy‘ and that we’d like what we’re doing here to support the production of many more user-led Spartacus-like reports.

Both of these approaches keep some of your options open – but only for a while. (And after all, what does it really mean to claim, as thousands of entrepreneurs must have done over the past few years, that they’re developing ‘the new Facebook, but for [insert niche but potentially profitable audience here]’? And if it’s so much like Facebook, minus of course the hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in functionality that Facebook and its investors have made, then why wouldn’t your target audience just use Facebook instead?)

Inevitably you begin to approach the point when you have to say ‘this is what it is’, in order to give potential partners enough to provide you with an honest response about whether it meets a real need they have – in short whether they’re in or not. But you resist this because you also have to give something up: the idea that your project appeals to everyone or could ever appeal to everyone. Promise and potential (which are nice things that everyone can buy into) has to give way to practical appeal (which of course means a much smaller audience of actual buyers). In this sense, the more you define what it is, the more you make it something that isn’t for some (probably most) of your potential audience.

We’re getting nearer to this point – but we’re not there quite yet.


“[Our] work combines a radical, civic philosophy with the latest insights in social and economic policy analysis to produce original, implementable solutions. We would like to foster new approaches to economic inequality, investment and group behaviour, so that the benefits of capital, trade and entrepreneurship are open to all. Our work is based on the premise that human relationships should once more be the centre and meaning of an associative society, and that we need to recover the language and practice of the common good. Consequently our ideas seek to strengthen the links between local individuals, organisations and communities that create social capital.”

I’m a fairly educated guy, but I have no idea what this means. I’ve used this kind of wonk-speak myself in the past – especially when I was a post-graduate – but developing better policy depends on using grown-up language.

As George Orwell argued in Politics and the English Language, there’s a link between the health of our politics and the clarity of our language, and vice versa. As Orwell noted: “[Our language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

Orwell’s point was that truth in politics is closely connected to truth in language. As he wrote: “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.” Inflated style in particular is often a clue that the author is trying to obscure the reality of a situation. If think tanks are going to influence public culture – which is even more ambitious than informing public policy – then they should speak in plain English.

The way we use language will be critical to our work to develop a new kind of think tank – one based on the practical insight and expertise of the people who use and provide public services everyday. It might not always be a comfortable experience, but working closely with practitioners and the public should help us stay away from the wonk-speak – and keep us honest.