Wrap-Up: This Week With 'Global Go-To' Expert James McGann

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Editor's Note: This is Part 6 of 6 Scheduled Posts

Sunday: Richard Nielsen's Full-Page Illustration

Monday: 'Global Go-To Think Tanks' Report -- An Introduction

Tuesday: Interview with James McGann -- What is a Think Tank?

Wednesday: Interview with James McGann -- RAND and West Coast Tanks

Thursday: Interview with James McGann -- International Tanks

Today: Wrap-Up and Reactions

Today is the conclusion of the TTLA conversation with Dr. James G. McGann. All week, we've been posting links, statistics, and the analysis of McGann regarding the report he and his team produced, "2008 The Global 'Go-To Think Tanks': The Leading Public Policy Research Organizations In The World."

We pick up the dialogue where we left off yesterday...

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TTLA: Let's hear now about what seems like a Herculean effort that went into compiling this report. You and your team of unpaid interns "? students, I'm assuming "? how many person hours went into the project?

JM: "The report itself, and the specific nomination and selection process, took six or eight months with about 30 interns. And leading up to that is years of creating a database and staying on top of it which is an endless process?"

TTLA: With 170 or so countries involved, how many languages do you have to keep up with?

JM: "Right, that's another big problem. If you send a survey out, in order to facilitate a return and have it in a native tongue, then the responses come back in native tongues and then you have to translate, which is a huge task. You don't have to worry about people running out and [creating a competing survey] "? that's for sure."

TTLA: What's been the response from the FP article, or otherwise, since the results were published?

JM: "Extraordinarily favorable, in that the intent is, from my standpoint, to make the public and others aware of the role and the impact these institutions play, both domestically and internationally. And then there is the institutional benefit, which I see on a regular basis, where people within the institution because of where they ranked have started a review process to understand why. I see that as very constructive. And those countries that do not have any of the top think tanks listed "? for instance one country had a major inquiry in their parliament about what they were going to do about it; from oil ministers to the prime minister who wanted to know what they should do in their country. That has really demonstrated to me the incredible utility of [the report]."

TTLA: What country was that?

JM: "Singapore. They used the study as the catalyst for the discussion."

TTLA: What about the UPenn program you direct? I saw the titles of some of the other papers you've put out, but what else should the readers out here know?

JM: "That it's constantly looking at the role of think tanks, and how to improve them. And also understanding the forces within political systems and how they affect civil society, and the role and space that think tanks have -- which is the other part of this example of governments pushing back at think tanks and NGOs. [It's] important to be vigilant about, and understand, both domestic and global trends. [Such as] these trends that I'm talking about in terms of phantom think tanks.

"The NGO pushbacks are sort of key things that most people are not aware of, that have broader implications than just for its impact on think tanks. It has an impact on all areas of civil society.

"My basic contention is that think tanks are the canaries in the mines. So if they can operate unencumbered and freely in a society, then it's a good bell-weather for all of the other non-governmental organizations "? and civil society itself "? in countries around the world."

This concludes this week's series. Thanks to Prof. McGann and his team. For more information on the "2008 The Global 'Go-To Think Tanks': The Leading Public Policy Research Organizations In The World," see the links out, statistics, and other information noted in last Monday's post.

Illustration copyright and courtesy Richard Nielsen, 2009

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