Where are the the think tank bloggers?

Yesterday saw the annual Prospect Think Tank of the Year awards ceremony, an occasion the glittery red-carpetness of which those of us on the outside can only dare to dream. Congrats are due at the outset to the UK’s only liberal think tank, Centre Forum, for winning Pamphlet of the Year for Giles Wilkes’ report, A balancing act: fair solutions to a modern debt crisis, about which he wrote here on LDV.

Awards are usually a moment to take stock, which is what I’ve done today. Because one of the points that has struck me over the years I’ve been blogging is how generally poor think tanks have been about engaging seriously in any form of new media. There are, as ever, honourable exceptions, as the Fabian Society’s Sunder Katwala would be keen to note, having already blogged about the awards:

My blogging here for Next Left, along with Matthew Taylor’s at the RSA, got honourable mentions for the energetic use of new media in the pursuit of ideas, which at least suggested that the judges had also thought about how to ensure their messages might carry through the political blogosphere too.

But relative to the opportunities and resources think tanks have at their disposal they are more or less voiceless in the national blogging conversation. This is a shame, both for the blogging community – the political blogosphere is far too dominated by gossip and trivia, far too lacking in thought and ideas – and for the think tanks themselves, because they are losing the chance to influence debate among those who blog, and those who read blogs.

I looked at the websites of the winners of last night’s awards to try and discern the picture (incidentally, Prospect’s website announcing the winners didn’t actually link to their websites, so I had to Google each and every one):

Of the six winners, therefore, just two – Richard Reeves’ Demos and Centre Forum’s FreeThink – have an RSS-syndicated blog; of these, by the way, FreeThink is much better presented (for example, linking to other blogs and websites, and having a blog-roll). But, sadly, neither generates much comment or discussion.

It’s a shame that so many think tanks seem to be shy of entering into the blogosphere. Of course, blogging isn’t, and shouldn’t be, their raison d’etre – it’s a more immediate and often ephemeral form of writing than policy wonks aspire to. But the blogosphere presents a real opportunity for experts – whether from think tanks or indeed from academia – to enter the national debate in a way that is accessible and interesting.

So perhaps next year Prospect will introduce a new category? For best new media presence by a think tank, and reward those institutions that make active efforts to pour forth their intellectual juices across the political blogosphere.

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  • But if no-one comments on those TTs that have an RSS feed, why would the others bother?

    Congrats to Giles for a very well-deserved prize. This is a fantastically competitive award – there are 100s of pamphlets published each year – so to win is a real coup (CF’s first pamphlet of the year award, I think). The paper is also great – I would urge people to at least read the summary article he wrote for LDV. And his blog is first class – http://freethinkecon.wordpress.com/

  • Alasdair Murray 21st Oct '09 - 5:58pm

    Thanks for opening up this debate and for the interesting responses. CentreForum has been asking this question on an off for a couple of years and have tried a number of ways to make it work. We certainly don’t have all the answers and would love to hear any further thoughts you might have but here is my quick appraisal of the dilemma:
    1. Succesful blogs need a strong personality. This makes it difficutl for a think tank that draws on a wide range of different wonks with inevitably differing styles to build momentum.
    We are lucky that Giles wants to make it work and has developed his own excellent style. But this still leaves the problem of how other staff (and our external authors from time to time) can slot in.
    2. Resources: Most of our writing is research based and obviously takes time to do. This is fine if you are merely blogging about an existing research project but it is hard to find time to do anything extra quickly enough for the fast moving blogosphere.
    This would be ok if everyone blogged to fill in the inevitable gaps (but see problem 1). Or we need to do more straight opinion (avoiding the need to research so many facts) but that then raises the question of what is the value added over the many other blogs doing this?
    Anyway all thoughts welcome.
    Btw Stephen, Prospect has in previous years ran a new media award, which I think was last one by Demos. I don’t know why they dropped it – possibly not enought quality entries! Sunder katwala’s fabian blog got a verbal mention at least in this year’s awards.

  • James Crabtree 23rd Oct '09 - 6:13am

    Great post — speaking from Prospect, i just wanted to say that we did commend Sunder Katwala and Matthew Taylor at the RSA for their think-tank-blogging. Implied within that, i suppose, was the sense that most of the other tanks weren’t as good……

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