Heritage President Examines Future of U.S. Think Tanks in New Book


Heritage President Examines Future of U.S. Think Tanks in New Book

January 26th, 2021

Heritage President Kay Coles James contributed to a new book focused on the future of think tanks, and how they can best thrive in an evolving world.

The Heritage Foundation consistently ranks as one of the most impactful think tanks across the globe. A new book explores the future of think tanks and features contributions from two longtime Heritage leaders. 

Heritage Foundation President Kay C. James and Heritage founder Ed Feulner have essays in the book, offering their knowledge and insight on the role of think tanks and what trials and tribulations they will face in the coming years. 

Dr. James McGann, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, organized the project, which includes 25 authors from America’s top think tanks. The book is called “The Future of Think Tanks and Policy Advice in the United States.” 

“The future of think tanks poses many challenges to the sector, but with these obstacles come opportunities for the savviest competitors to distinguish themselves and leave profound impacts on civil society,” McGann writes. “To further an understanding of these challenges, it is vital to hear the perspectives and ideas of those currently in the midst of this changing landscape. For this purpose, presidents from top think tanks within the United States have contributed essays detailing their own experiences and expectations for their institutions and for the think tank community in a broader sense.” 

James offers her expertise and advice to other leaders about what’s at stake, particularly with increasing competition among policy organizations and rapidly changing technologies. 

“As think tanks look to the future,” James writes, “we must be committed to both preservation and progress—maintaining the strengths of original research and independence while developing new ways to meet the challenges of increased competition, new technologies, finding new donors, and maintaining relevance in an ever-changing world.” 

James continues by highlighting the essential role think tanks needed to play in American society. She writes: 

“As government becomes more intrusive in our daily lives, as politics becomes more polarized, as misleading information becomes more abundant in the marketplace of ideas, and as policymakers and the American public look more skeptically at the news media and social media as biased sources of information, think tanks can have an even greater impact in the debate over public policy, serving as the fact-based, unbiased truth-tellers that people can turn to for honest solutions to address the most pressing issues of the day. In doing so, think tanks aren’t just the problem solvers, but they can also become the uniters that this country so desperately needs.” 

She also explores the impact of COVID-19 on think tanks—both from an operational standpoint and being a policy leader. 

The book also features an essay by Ed Feulner, Heritage’s former president and founder. Feulner chronicles the origin of The Heritage Foundation and its growth into the trusted organization it is today.  

“In 1973, the year of Heritage’s founding, we were indeed a ‘small, unimportant and ignored organization,’” Feulner writes. “The question is, how did we change that in only a few years—to the point where President Reagan, shortly after taking office in 1981, was giving his staff copies of our first ‘Mandate for Leadership’ report and telling them to implement its recommendations? The short answer is that we redefined what it means to be a think tank. It required a new philosophy, a fresh outlook—one that we were determined to develop and implement.” 

Feulner also emphasized that Heritage was determined to release reports and hold events with the explicit intent to impact policymaking in Washington.  

This is not the first time the University of Pennsylvania has turned to Heritage to gain insight on achieving success for think tanks.  

In December, Heritage Vice President for Policy Promotion Bridgett Wagner spoke at the 2020 Global Think Tank Summit and 2020 North American Think Tank Summit to discuss how think tanks can best flourish in a world impacted by COVID-19. 

This month, Heritage’s Paul Winfree, director of the Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies and Richard F. Aster fellow, will speak at the Global Go To Think Tank Launch: Why Think Tanks Matter in Times of Crisis. Winfree served as executive director of the National Coronavirus Recovery Commission, helping to coordinate Heritage’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The book, “The Future of Think Tanks and Policy Advice in the United States,” is available for purchase here