Government think tanks have several benefits over external think tanks, including their strong understanding of government programs and priorities (which helps them to tailor advice to actual needs) and an ability to coordinate across government departments. Government think tanks have several benefits over external think tanks, including their strong understanding of government programs and priorities (which helps them to tailor advice to actual needs) and an ability to coordinate across government departments. There is no single ‘best fit government think tank model’, however the models described in this paper show that a clear mandate with a clear reporting structure defined from the outset is important for sustainability. Government think tanks carry the risk of becoming ‘briefing machines’ focused solely on reacting to requests, rather than producing analysis and strategy that help inform policy. Long-term focus helps to create an institutional identity and credibility. While the primary purpose of government think tanks is to provide policy analysis to senior policy makers, government think tanks can develop communication strategies to also inform also the public of their findings. This can help to generate public support for policy change.
The relevance of this working paper for Indonesia is that it responds to the demand to explore and document different government think tanks model as Bappenas is designing the development of its own think tank function within the Government of Indonesia. Interesting points that have emerged after looking at various government think tanks models are: a. a clear mandate with a clear reporting structure should be developed from the outset and should include also making decisions about the think tank’s level of independence. b. the evidence suggests that the most successful government think tanks have a strong legal basis underpinning their creation such as constitutional clauses, national laws or Presidential decrees. This basis provides the think tanks with a degree of certainty, prestige and independence. c. clear governance mechanisms matter and involve governance oversight mechanisms that typically include a board of trustees to set policy directions and the research agenda and an advisory council to provide technical guidance and help translate the research agenda. d. a clear demand from the highest level of government is critical and may mean senior government leadership in some government think tank models. e. successful government think tanks are able to strike a balance between being responsive to the briefing need of the day and an explicit long-term policy research focus which helps to create an institutional identity, higher quality work, stronger reputation, and attracts higher quality staff. f. a clear decision on whether to have an audience beyond government. While the primary purpose of the majority of work can be for senior policy makers, several models also communicated their findings to the public, undertaking a convening and communications role. g. it is important to develop a system that supports the monitoring and evaluation of the think tank’s impact on policy influence.