Want to work for a Think Tank? Here’s a list!

Photo by  Marija Zaric

Photo by Marija Zaric

The primary focus of a think tank is to improve government policy. Think tanks generate policy-orientated research, analysis, and advice on domestic and international issues, which enable policy-makers and the public to make informed decisions about public policy issues.  As a result, think tanks are a bridge between academia and policy-making and represent various global challenges that play a critical role to international relations.

Most policy institutes are non-profit organisations that are exempt from tax. Others are funded by governments, advocacy groups, or corporations, deriving revenue from consulting or research work related to their projects. Elected officials and policy-makers, both in the developed and developing world, need understandable, reliable, accessible, and useful information about the societies they have to govern, as well as researched policy alternatives that express likely costs and consequences. By analysing risk, developing and promoting policy solutions, particularly in times of extreme disruption and change, they represent a unique opportunity to shape strategies, best practices and opportunities to test out solutions to challenges.   

Working for a think tank is an exciting prospect. If you are interested in policy research, research communications, policy influence, or managing the development of new ideas, the list below may inspire your new job hunt. The list is organised by policy areas.  

Foreign Policy and International Affairs Think Tanks 

  • Brookings Institute – The Brookings Institute is the first think tank to be founded in the United States, and its studies are widely cited by the media. Since its foundation in 1916, Brookings has influenced and contributed to the creation of historic phenomena’s such as the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, the Congressional Budget Office, and various policies of deregulation, broad-based tax reform, welfare reform, and foreign aid. To keep up with its widespread influence, Brookings conducts research and education in a number of social sciences, including economics, metropolitan policy, governance, foreign policy, and global economy and development.

  • Cato Institute - Founded in 1974, Cato Institute moved to Washington DC in 1981 in an attempt to become more influential. Today, Cato is a multi-billion, multi-issue organisation consisting of more than 200 faculty and staff members. Cato’s mission is to “broaden the parameters of public policy debate to allow consideration of the traditional American principles of limited government, individual liberty, free markets, and peace.” To achieve this mission, Cato publishes numerous policy studies, briefs, books, and periodicals, including the peer-reviewed Cato Journal.

  • Council on Foreign Relations – Founded in 1921, the Council on Foreign Relations is a United States nonprofit think tank specialising in US foreign policy and international affairs. Its membership, which numbers 4,900, has included senior politicians, more than a dozen Secretary of States, CIA directors, bankers, lawyers, professors, and senior media figures. CFR meetings convene government officials, global business leaders and prominent members of the intelligence and foreign-policy community to discuss international issues. CFR publishes the bi-monthly journal Foreign Affairs, and runs the David Rockefeller Studies Program, which influences foreign policy by making recommendations to the presidential administration and diplomatic community, testifying before Congress, interacting with the media, and publishing on foreign policy issues.

  • Institut français des relations internationales – This think tank is the leading independent research and debate institution in France, dedicated to the analysis of international issues and global governance. The institute brings together a multinational team of 50 collaborators, including 30 permanent professional researchers divided into 10 research units around regional departments and cross-cutting issues. Ifri’s policy-oriented research strives to illuminate international events and put them into perspective. It is primarily useful for political and economic decision-makers, as well as academics, opinion leaders, and civil society representatives.

  • Royal Institute of International Affairs - Chatham House is a nonprofit and non-governmental organisation that aims to promote debate on significant developments in international affairs and policy responses. Their independent research and analysis on global, regional and country-specific challenges is intended to offer new ideas to decision makers on how issues can be tackled as short and long term solutions. Chatham House is routinely used as a source of information for media organisations, seeking background or experts upon matters involving major international issues.

Security, Peace and Defense Think Tanks

  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace – Carnegie is a unique global network of policy research centers in Russia, China, Europe, the Middle East, India, and the United States. Dating back more than a century, its mission is to advance peace through analysis and development of fresh policy ideas and direct engagement and collaboration with decision makers in government, business, and civil society.

  • Center for Strategic and International Studies – CSIS is one of the world’s preeminent international policy institutions focused on defense and security; regional study; and transnational challenges ranging from energy and trade to global development and economic integration. For the past 8 years consecutively, CSIS has been named the world’s number one think tank for defense and national security by the University of Pennsylvania’s “Go To Think Tank Index.”

  • International Peace Institute – IPI is an independent, international nonprofit think tank dedicated to managing risk and building resilience to promote peace, security, and sustainable development. To achieve its purpose, IPI employs a mix of policy research, strategic analysis, publishing, and convening. With staff from more than 20 countries and a broad range of academic fields, IPI has offices facing United Nations headquarters in New York and offices in Vienna and Manama.

  • RAND Corporation (RAND) - RAND is a research organisation that develops solutions to public policy challenges to “help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous”. The company has grown to assist governments, international organisations, private companies and foundations, with a host of defense and nondefense issues.

International Economics Policy Think Tanks

  • The Adam Smith Institute – This British agency is one of the world's leading think tanks, recognised as the best domestic and international economic policy think-tank in the UK and ranked second in the world among Independent Think Tanks by the University of Pennsylvania. Independent, nonprofit and non-partisan, the institute works to promote free market, neoliberal ideas through research, publishing, media outreach, and education. Today, the institute is at the forefront of making the case for free markets and a free society in the UK.

  • Peterson Institute for International Economics - PIIE is a private, nonpartisan nonprofit institution committed to rigorous, intellectually open, and in depth study and discussion of international economic policy. Its purpose is to identify and analyse important issues to make globalisation beneficial and sustainable, and to develop and communicate practical new approaches for dealing with challenges confronting the global economy. Its audience includes government officials and legislators, business and labor leaders, management and staff at international organisations, university-based scholars and their students, experts at other research institutions and nongovernmental organisations, the media, and the public at large.

  • Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies – The Vienna Institute is one of the principle centers for research on Central, East and Southeast Europe with more than 40 years of experience. Over the years, the institute has broadened its expertise and increased its regional coverage to European integration. At present, their thematic work is focused on macroeconomic developments and structural change, international economics, labour markets and social issues, as well as on selected issues related to sectoral and regional economic developments.


Environmental and Energy Resources Think Tanks

  • International Institute for Environment and Development – IIED is an independent research organisation that aims to deliver positive change on a global scale. IIED is one of a small group of independent, nonprofit organisations that has provided core concepts and methods for thinking about sustainability and social change. IIED mainly works through partnership with like-minded organisations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, focusing on: natural resources, climate change, human settlements, sustainable markets, and governance.

  • Stockholm Environment Institute - SEI a nonprofit, independent research and policy institute specialising in sustainable development and environmental issues. SEI works on climate change, energy systems, water resources, air quality, land-use, sanitation, food security, and trade issues with the aim to shift policy and practice towards sustainability. SEI wants to support decision-making and induce change towards sustainable development around the world by providing knowledge that bridges science and policy in the field of environment and development.

  • World Resources Institute – Established in 1982, WRI is a global research nonprofit organisation with funding from the MacArthur Foundation. They maintain offices in the United States, China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia. The organisation’s mission is to promote environmental sustainability, economic opportunity, and human health and well-being. WRI partners with local and national governments, private companies, publicly held corporations, and other nonprofits, and offers services including global climate change issues, sustainable markets, ecosystem protection, and environmentally responsible governance services. WRI’s activities are focused on seven areas: food, forests, water, energy, cities, climate and ocean.