How well-known are think-tanks?

I received a letter today from John Roskam, executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs, outlining the organisation’s recent successes (and it has indeed flourished under his leadership).

He included with the letter what I think is the first ever survey of think-tank name recognition. Though as John points out in the letter the rather generic name of the IPA may cause its numbers to be overstated a little (there are so many institutes around that I have trouble keeping track of them myself) I’m still impressed by the result.

Even the 21% for the Grattan Institute is pretty good, given that it is relatively new.

There was no question about my employer the Centre for Independent Studies, though in my experience people frequently get think-tanks confused. I regularly get people who are under the impression that I work for the IPA or even occasionally Gerard Henderson’s Sydney Institute.

10 thoughts on “How well-known are think-tanks?

  1. Hi Andrew –
    Yes, I got the same letter. Apparently they didn’t ask anyone to name any think-tanks, they just asked if they recognised the names they read out – which might give relative levels of recognition (or something) between the options but I would have thought would be useless for absolute levels of recognition. Is there any literature comparing the two methods?


  2. It would be interesting to see the numbers for the Lowy Institute too. It’s done well in just a few years, already seeming to outstrip longer running places like ASPI. And the Australia Institute given Clive Hamilton’s public status.

    Although hard to draw the line. Just the other day I heard a professor I know well, described as the head of a labor market institute at the Uni. Likely it’s just him & maybe a casual research assistant rather than an actual organisation.


  3. The actual description was ‘Australian public policy organisation’. But I think a ‘top of mind’ question like Charles suggests is quite different to a ‘have you heard of’ question. Everyone stores information at the back of their minds that they can recall with a specific prompt, but would not necessarily mention in the top few with a general question.


  4. Is penetration what is most important to the IPA? The seem to be the most regular posters on the Drum and take up plenty of opportunities on the ABC time Slots (e.g. Breakfast Show, Q&A this week, the Drum, etc).
    I wish I hadn’t heard of them, they rarely add anything unexpected to the debate.

    But saying that penetration is hard, and if that is the measure of success then well done.


  5. Maybe a better approach would be to ask whether you remember the name of anyone who works there or a piece of research the think tank has produced.


  6. Think-tanks never know how to really measure their performance. Ultimately they want to influence policy and the climate of ideas, but there are rarely any straight lines from one thinker, book, paper or organisation to the way things are today. Media appearances/name recognition are a rough guide to capacity to get messages to a general audience; whether they are persuaded is of course quite another matter.


  7. Is name recognition necessarily a good thing? If someone asked me whether I’d heard of Ivan Milat, I’d say yes ….


  8. We have overlapping worldviews, but there is an informal division of issue labour so we say the same thing much less than a casual observer might think.


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