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As CGD begins its 13th year, we are asking ourselves: can a think tank become established without becoming establishment? Buying our own headquarters also gave us an excuse to look back at what we think we have learned since the Center was created in 2001. We hope our new essay, Building a Think and Do Tank, will interest CGD’s friends and supporters (and critics!), and that it might be useful to others in the research and policy business, including groups like the Think Tank Initiative that seek to support the emergence of effective think tanks in developing countries.
In writing this little essay, we’ve tried to abide by one of our unofficial mottos: “We take our work seriously, but not ourselves.” We probably failed: in trying to be comprehensive, our list feels a bit ponderous and self-important. Anyway it’s done and we’re sharing it with the hope of providing a bit of a window into how we operate—and why we love the House-that-Nancy-and-Ed-Built. Here’s our list:
Start fresh to stay fresh
Articulate an inspiring mission and aim for results
Start with flexible money—but not too much
Hire great people and give them plenty of freedom and responsibility
In 2013, our CGD colleagues Julia Clark and David Roodman designed a low-cost quantitative approach to rank US and international development think tanks by the strength of their public profile. Think tanks trade in ideas and ideas need to be noticed to be adopted. Thus, think tanks’ ability to garner public attention is likely to be a good marker of their influence and potential for impact.
When my children were young we sometimes played a game at the Thanksgiving table: each diner wrote on a slip of paper something for which she or he was grateful, folded it and placed it in a basket. We then passed the basket and took turns picking one, reading it out loud and guessing who wrote it. I often wrote: "I am grateful to have meaningful work" and when it came time to explain I would say that I felt very lucky to work at CGD and to have what was for me the very best job in the world.