Think Tanks as Policy Brokers in Partially Organized Fields: The Case of World Economic Forum

Christina Garsten, Adrienne Sörbom

    Research output: Book/ReportReportResearch


    As has been noted in research on think tanks it is difficult to describe what a think tank is, and to pinpoint what it is in think tank activities that generates powerful relationships towards other actors. This is even more the case when talking of transnational think tanks.
    In this report we give a theoretical account of how relationships organized by transnational think tanks may be analyzed. In the report we are drawing on empirical findings from the World Economic Forum (WEF), seen as a transnational think tank addressing a non-national audience. We are suggesting that think-tank experts are engaged in the brokerage of ideas and knowledge, implying an intermediary activity, wherein ideas are translated, shaped and formatted. Operating at the interfaces of various actors, think-tank experts formulate and negotiate ideas with and among actors, encouraging them to adopt and use those ideas.
    The main argument in the report is that this brokerage can be seen to generate ‘partially organized fields’. The think tank organizes other actors not by constructing a complete organization, but by establishing and maintaining a decided network, drawing upon such organizational elements as membership, monitoring and sanctions. This allows think tanks to maintain a degree of flexibility, whilst gaining control of valuable resources.
    In the case of the WEF the report show that the combination of a small core of complete organization with a larger environment of only partial organizing essentially allows the WEF to be bigger than they actually are. The decided networks, i.e. the partnerships, the working groups, and the communities, significantly extends the reach of the WEF, allowing it to reach across organizational boundaries.
    We suggest that this form of organizing is the prime way for transnational think tanks to organize outside themselves, thereby exerting political influence. The potential influence it may exert resides in its influence over the shaping of agendas in other organizations, the formulation of pressing political issues, and by mobilizing actors in their decided networks to carry the issues further, on other organizational platforms and with other organizational mandates.
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationStockholm
    PublisherStockholms centrum för forskning om offentlig sektor
    Number of pages19
    ISBN (Print)9789189658837
    Publication statusPublished - 2014
    SeriesScores rapportserier

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