Skip to Main Content

PPL 302: Political Context of Public Policy

What Are Think Tanks?

A think tank is "an organization, institute, corporation, or group that conducts research and engages in advocacy in public policy." (

Most are non-profit, but some are funded by governments, advocacy groups, or corporations, and may derive revenue from consulting or research work related to their projects. They can be non-partisan or partisan, so pay attention to the goals of the organization when using the information they generate. 

When using information from a think tank:

  • Consider the biases that think tanks may be bringing to the discussion. 
  • Learn about the think tank by looking at the major contributors and the staff. 
  • Use evaluative sites to better understand the point of view the think tank may have. 
  • Ideally, contrast policy statements from two think tanks with vastly different perspectives on the issue. 

Searching Think Tanks

  • Harvard Kennedy School Think Tank Search: A custom Google Search engine that searches more than 600 think tanks for policy reports.
  • Find Policy: Find policy reports from 17 leading think tanks in the areas of climate, economy, development, foreign policy, health care, and public policy. Use the tabs (at the top of the page) to search in any one of the subject areas.
  • Google NGO Search: Use this Google Custom Search Engine to search for current online documents, publications, and websites from nongovernmental organizations. 


Evaluating Think Tanks

There are many different methods that you can use to determine whether a source is credible. One great method you can use is called lateral reading. Lateral reading is a skill used by professional fact-checkers that helps them quickly review a source and determine whether that source is credible or not. This means instead of only staying on one webpage to determine if a source is credible, lateral reading encourages you to leave the webpage and use other webpages to decide if a source is credible or not.

When you only stay on one webpage, you can only see what that source is saying about themselves. A source might be presenting themselves in a way that is not entirely accurate. Reading vertically (only staying on one webpage) is very time-consuming and does not give you a full indication of the credibility of the source.

Instead, open multiple tabs in your browser to follow links found within the source and do supplemental searches on names, organizations or topics you find. These additional perspectives will help you to evaluate the original article and can end up saving you time.