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Think Tanks and Academic Entrepreneurs in the Production of Knowledge

Importance of the topic

In the conditions of globalisation and the knowledge-based economy, governments face a general challenge of introducing specialist knowledge into policy decision making. Until recently the university has been considered as the main centre for knowledge production. But an increasing number of autonomous public policy research institutions identified as “think tanks” (TTs) also fill lacunas in the current system of knowledge (Finnegan R., 2005; Hart P. 2006; McGann J. G., 2002; Robert C., Vauchez A., 2010). Research in universities is often motivated by theoretical and methodological issues only remotely connected to real policy difficulties. Therefore, a fundamental role of TTs is to build a bridge between academic thought and practical application, between the academic universe and the sphere of government (Haass R. N. 2002; McGann J., 2011; Ritter W., 2009; Traub-Merz R., 2011). And while universities have often been represented as being occupied with the unselfish aspiration to knowledge, TTs are a type of research institution explicitly striving for policy influence (Stone D., 2001).

Although the European Union (EU) strives to become the most globally competitive knowledge-based society since the adoption of the Lisbon Strategy, the EU’s TTs have retained a comparatively moderate presence in policy-making in comparison with those in the United States. Due to the enlargement of the policy environment in scale, decision-makers increasingly require timely expert knowledge, new ideas and policy solutions (Sherrington P., 2000; Ullrich H., 2004). Taking into account the growing complexity of the EU policy process, the amount and activity of the EU TTs will continually increase. Therefore, there is a heightened necessity of academic research of the theme of the EU TTs (Ullrich H., 2004). 

Due to the institutional dissimilarities of the European TTs, their real impact on processes of decision-making is difficult to evaluate, as well as to rank them (BEPA, 2012; Ritter W., 2009; Ullrich H., 2004). Additional complexity of the study of the EU’s TTs consists in use of formal and informal networks, often international ones, between different categories of TTs in the EU as well as from other countries (Ullrich H., 2004). In spite of existence of methodological difficulties in assessing the empirical influence of TTs, some academic studies have shown a potentially great importance of TTs in assisting the elaboration of public policies, in fostering democratic debates concerning processes of the EU decision making, and in furthering the EU diplomatic endeavours (Boucher S., 2004).

Aim of the project

With this regard, this study aims at analysing the strategies used by EU-based TTs to influence the EU policy-making process with a particular focus on the role of TT networks and researchers as political entrepreneurs and their expertise in specific issue area.

The conceptual framework for this research takes an institutional approach and more specifically follows network concepts.  The changing influence of TTs could be related to the type of their cooperation in policy networks. The advocacy coalition concept pays special attention to a long-range education role of analysis in changing policy orthodoxies, and outlines the importance of opinions and values as a disregarded policy-making component. Discourse coalition affirms the possible independent influence of ideas on politics. The epistemic community model concentrates on the particular importance of the experts in the policy-making process. The TT researchers act as policy entrepreneurs by fostering ideas and propelling them higher on the public action plan, and by preparing players in the political system for new ideas (Bentham J., 2006; Ladi S., 1999; Normand R., 2010; Stone D., Denham A., 2004; Ullrich, H., 2004).

The research will focus on three categories of TTs according to the EU TT typology (Ulrich H., 2004): Brussels-based EU TTs; EU-oriented TTs in a few member-states (France, the United Kingdom, Slovenia). As far as university-based research institutes, we propose to study them within a category of member-state TTs. As a specific issue area of the expertise of researchers, we will concentrate on higher education, taking into account that this study is implemented in the framework of the UNIKE project studying the changing roles of universities in emerging global knowledge-based economies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific Rim.

Therefore, the research topic is very important in the field of European studies, as well as in political and educational sciences and this thesis could contribute to the existing and future scientific works concerning this question.

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Revised 28.09.2015