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Independent research for global prosperity


Views from the Center


The CGD authors (Clark and Roodman) of this paper use five quantitative measures to rank the public profile of think tanks: social media fans, incoming links, web traffic, media mentions, and scholarly citations.  They are careful and modest about the profile of CGD that emerges compared to other US-based think tanks and compared to other development think tanks.  They don’t want to appear to have given any edge to their own think tank home; they want readers to feel assured they didn’t cook the quantitative books in any way.

CGD does astonishingly well. Someone has to do some bragging, so here goes.

  1. Among 23 international development think tanks from around the world, adjusted for annual spending, CGD ranks second only to CATO, beating out the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Brookings and outstripping the two big development think tanks in the United Kingdom, ODI and IDS, by a big margin. See the figure from the paper below. Cato, a mostly libertarian think tank (and thus mostly right-wing in the US context) has many more “social media fans” and a much higher number of “media mentions” than any of the other think tanks in the international development category. (The quantitative measures cannot and do not distinguish between development topics and other topics the think tanks might study and opine about. You might be wondering why Cato is included among the 23 development think tanks in the first place; the reason is that the authors of the index used all the think tanks included in that category by McGann (2013) for which they could get sufficient data on their indicators. (See more on McGann’s index below.)

    Expense-adjusted scores for international development think tanks

  1. Among the 18 US-based think tanks of all types, adjusted for annual spending, CGD ranks fourth, behind Cato, the Pew Research Center, and the Center for New American Security (CNAS).  (I’m impressed by the CNAS score, since like CGD it is a relatively young think tank and works on a single topic.) See the figure below. CGD ranks ahead of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and well ahead, in this order, of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Center for American Progress, the Brookings Institution, the New America Foundation, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 

    Expense-adjusted scores for US think tanks

    In both cases the authors explain what might lie behind the relatively low rankings of some well-known and influential tanks. For example, CFR’s relatively low ranking might have to do with its focus on events for its members, which are not included in the index, and Brookings Institution’s relatively low ranking with both high public-profile speaker events and the production of white papers. Among the development think tanks, the Institute for Development Studies in the UK administers post-graduate degree programs, which make its “tank” budget relatively large relative to the measures of “tank” work included in the index.

  1. Finally, the Center for Global Development outranks all the US think tanks (again controlling for spending) on scholarly citations (see figure below).  This is particularly impressive (in my view) given that we are well known for our emphasis on the “do” part of our think-and-do tank.  Check out our immodest compilation of specific instances of impact and influence here.

    Scholarly citations/$ million of annual spending, US think tanks

Index and think tank aficionados will also want to read the authors’ useful explanation of how their index differs from the Global Go To Think Tank (GGTTT) rankings compiled by the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (McGann 2013).  One way is that the McGann index is based on perceptions.  It shouldn’t surprise you that I like Clark and Roodman’s use of objective measures better—and not just because of the results.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.