Thinktank goes and hires a couple of global warming "skeptics" for $50K/year. They produce writings and speakings, which the thinktank personnel shop around to appropriate outlets for minimal fees. Op-Eds are distributed to newspapers. Pre-edited 5-minute segments are distributed to TV news programs. The media outlets are happy to receive ready-to-publish content for cheap.
You the viewer receive all this information against global warming from a "neutral, non-partisan" thinktank. You are likely to believe it. The name of the CEO's oil and gas corporation is never mentioned.
Money laundering is taking money from illegal sources and turning it into clean, usable money. Thinktanks are engaged in the practice of idea laundering.
2. This is mostly how Gartner, Forrester, et. al. work.
- how much you can make working for a think tank
- what kind of skills you need, specifically. for example, if you're doing research, i suppose PhD credential would be necessary
- what made you decide to leave the industry
- Skills: PhDs are not required-you will find more JDs in the fold than one might expect. These shops are often very small and run by older guard and don't have access to HN-audiences, so they are not technically advanced or pay exorbitant rates for graphic design and web presence (arbitrage alert). But what they are good at is proposing ways to change rules. Politicians, rarely, rarely, write laws-this community does. Politicians pull language from us and write bills. Then there office turns those bills into legal language.
So the skills you would need to support those outcomes at any level IMO: Statistics, hitting the phones and a business development acumen. You can be the smartest person in the room, but if you can't move people to do something (hint: statistics is not 'it') you will be like those people who build the perfect product that no one buys. There needs to be an MVP for policy. Too many perfect bills, too few changes in our lives.
-Why I left: I have a very impatient mind. Well sort of impatient-I did work in the field for seven years. I realized that the field adapts to politiking in ways I was uncomfortable with and without a lot of what we would call 'validation.' Ideas would be dropped wholesale given regime change or funding-which was not connected to reality. I worked at an org that was 'policy effective' they knew how to resist such changes (i.e. funding) and hired smart people. But I realize I was the only talking about rapid iteration, validation and business development-which got me strange looks. I've always loved coding, and wanted to start a social enterprise-so I walked out and am doing just that.
If I were giving tips to me in my twenties I would say:
Steer clear of small shops that don't want to support projects in the field. If they think small does not equal nimble (i.e. they just want to put out reports or convene meetings), its not worth your time. In fact if someone tells you they want to convene a meeting-always follow up with...then what? If its another meeting...head for the hills. Meetings are important but if all they do is create additional meetings-you know you are dealing with the old guard and change will be slow.
Think tanks are all wishing to become, at least in part, communications firms. Too many organization's chasing too few minutes in the day to influence you-message inflation. If your organization begins to show signs of leaping into the bubble, leave.
Work on policy that can be practised. Some might think that means work at a large scale. Wrong. Find a shop willing to test its ideas in the wild-you will not regret this policy entrepreneurship experience.
From what I've seen a Think Tank basically acts like an academic research group, but does commissioned research when possible. Getting started is a bit of chicken and egg thing, but once you're rolling you're kicking out research which seems to entice private companies into wanting to know more or use your tools.
With Web Ecology Project, we started off doing research on Twitter stuff, happened to grab every tweet out there on the Iran Election in 2009, self published a paper, and then boom. Tons of people wanted our data, expertise, analysis, etc. We weren't ready for this business-like shift, so we somewhat self-imploded for being able to run with it business-wise, but we're still doing research.
Most think tanks have a bias, and have their "findings" used as justifications.
Besides commissioned reports:
Expensive periodicals: informing an elite of little known new developments in a field of interest. For example, one article might be a survey of recent research in microprocessor fabrication written for an audience of investment bankers and CEOs.
Expensive membership libraries: Over time, some tanks accumulate extensive libraries of reports, many of which remain useful long after they're written. You can buy one-off copies or buy memberships.
Elite Conferences: Some run invitation-only conferences.
Public speaking, article publishing: self explanatory.
Lobbying: self explanatory.
Being a social butterfly: This requires some explanation because generally money does not change hands. In some cases, the reason the tank is able to do the kind of research is because it "knows all the right people" (and knows the diplomacy of how to speak with them without raising too many legal or social problems). Thus, a report might just come from looking up lots of open source stuff and synthesizing ... or it might come in part from having a lot of conversations with a related elite (who, normally, are barred or just would not speak directly with one another on the matter). As the diplomat, spreading around selected information while protecting sources, etc., they can help elites in industry and government to be "situationally aware" in ways that the general public can not.
Nobody pays them for that but the social butterfly role helps to reinforce the "brand" of the more serious tanks, and so when people are ready to spend on something, they have some reason to think of the tank.
I imagine that these days there are innovations I haven't seen yet (but that must be there) like "hidden" social networks, and such.
Usually they exist to analyse details and implications of policy decisions proposed or opposed by individuals and organisations that fund them.
Some member companies will pay, partially or fully, for their memberships with services rendered; which means the think tanks have ready access to good and plentiful legal representation & financial advice/management, which must help lower costs quite a lot.
This is a function that Universities used to perform.