Garbage Cans, Recycling Bins or Think Tanks? Three Myths about Policy Institutes

Diane Stone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

155 Citations (Scopus)


The phrase ‘think tank’ has become ubiquitous – overworked and underspecified – in the political lexicon. It is entrenched in scholarly discussions of public policy as well as in the ‘policy wonk’ of journalists, lobbyists and spin-doctors. This does not mean that there is an agreed definition of think tank or consensual understanding of their roles and functions. Nevertheless, the majority of organizations with this label undertake policy research of some kind. The idea of think tanks as a research communication ‘bridge’ presupposes that there are discernible boundaries between (social) science and policy. This paper will investigate some of these boundaries. The frontiers are not only organizational and legal; they also exist in how the ‘public interest’ is conceived by these bodies and their financiers. Moreover, the social interactions and exchanges involved in ‘bridging’, themselves muddy the conception of ‘boundary’, allowing for analysis to go beyond the dualism imposed in seeing science on one side of the bridge, and the state on the other, to address the complex relations between experts and public policy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-278
Number of pages20
JournalPublic Administration
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes


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