RAND and West Coast Think Tanks

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In the fourth segment of their six part conversation, TTLA and James McGann take a look at the West Coast's think tanks.

TTLA: By this blog's reading of this survey, RAND was the far-and-away winner on the west coast, and certainly in the Los Angeles area. [See footnote++] If that's so, what are some of the factors that make RAND so highly regarded, and has that always been the case?

Jim McGann: "If you look at the evolution of think tanks, with those that have made the top 25 list, those are institutions that tend to have created an institutional model where the range of products are of high quality, are reliable, are accessible - and certainly, RAND fits that bill.

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"Both domestically and internationally, one of the interesting things about the study is that places like RAND and Brookings and the American Enterprise Institute, those are recognized globally. U.S. think tanks are widely recognized; if you mention the names of any of the ones I just listed, they are known worldwide. That's not the case, for instance, with European think tanks, or think tanks in other regions.

"Part of that has to do with our position in the world, and part of it has to do with the prominence that these institutions have achieved around the world, and part of it goes with what RAND is doing, and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is doing -- creating this global reach in terms of its programs, and greater credibly in terms of key regions of the world."

TTLA: So although RAND is headquartered in Santa Monica, it isn't considered strictly a "west coast" think tank by the survey's respondents?

JM: "No, not at all. [RAND] has a Washington office - but clearly it's a real testimony to of its success, to its quality and effectiveness - that it's located [2,500] miles away from the nation's capitol and the bureaucracy and it's still a leading institution which is widely consulted by the legislative and executive branches."

TTLA: With the global think tank capitol, D.C, [See footnote**] being thousands of miles away, and with London being a couple thousand more miles away, are other west coast tanks, with the exception of Hoover, considered relevant by your respondents?

JM: "They don't have the name recognition. There are those who... have effectiveness within the state. Outside the state they tend not to be as have a national or global constituency like RAND or Hoover."

TTLA: This is probably a 'west coast bias question' I'm about to ask, but do you think that because a lot of the respondents are probably lunching together on K Street or wherever --. Let me start the question over. Does the fact that other tanks are not on the list inherently mean they are not doing good work?

JM: "They are just not as well known. And I think the institutions then tend to probe sort into why that is so. I think that itself is a useful function of this exercise. So people know where they are on the list and how. And its not just created by a Washington bias - those that are doing the ratings are in every think tank in the U.S. It's a national and international peer assessment in which the experts are distributed around the world.... So the bias that you seem to infer is not present."

TTLA: Forgive me. I trust your methodology....

JM: "There are a number of [California think tanks] on the list."

TTLA: Hoover scored very highly, I see. [See footnote##] The Pacific Research Institute [See footnote^^] up in San Francisco was nominated.

TTLA: Do you have a sense that any of the Central American or Asian tanks that are on the list affect policy affect policy here?

JM: "...I do see that there are those who are aware of the need for providing analysis and reaching U.S. policymakers, but I don't think it's at the level that occurs on the U.S. side."

COMING THURSDAY: McGann on International Tanks.

James McGann Week on TTLA:>

Illustration copyright and courtesy Richard Nielsen, 2009.


++Note: According to the survey results, RAND, based in Santa Monica, collected the following honors: Fourth-place overall in the general U.S. rankings, 4th place in "International Development," third in "Health Policy," tied for tenth in "Environmental Policy," ninth in "Security and International Affairs," fifth in "Domestic Economic Policy," fifth in "Social Policy," and third in "Outstanding Policy Oriented - Public Policy Research Program."

** Note: According to McGAnn and his interns' research, there are 374 tanks based in Washington D.C. This compares to 283 total in the U.K. - the country with the second-highest number of institutions after the U.S.

Also, Massachusetts finished a distant second among the U.S. states (and districts), with 175 tanks. California was close behind, with 171.

##Note: Hoover Institute, in Palo Alto, tied for tenth-place overall in the general U.S. rankings. Hoover also finished ninth in the "Domestic Economic Policy Think Tanks" category, and tied for tenth in "Social Policy Think Tanks."

^^ Note: Pacific Research Institute, in San Francisco, was among the 407 think tanks, out of 5,465 globally, that was nominated to be eligible for the best-of lists.

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