As has been noted in research on think tanks it is difficult to describe what a think tank is, and to pinpoint what it is in think tank activities that generates powerful relationships towards other actors (Ricci 1993). This is even more the case when talking of international think tanks. In this paper we give a theoretical account of how these relationships organized by international think tanks may be analyzed.
Think tanks are often established as non-profit organizations, and hence part of civil society. But because corporations and private foundations often fund them they operate across organizations and organizational spheres, as ‘boundary-spanning organizations’ (cf. Medvetz 2012). In the cross-boundary environment established by think tanks, ideas are disseminated to other actors: governments, authorities, the media and the public.
Drawing on empirical findings from the World Economic Forum (WEF), seen as a think tank like organization, we suggest that think-tank experts are engaged in the brokerage of ideas and knowledge, implying an intermediary activity, wherein ideas are translated, shaped and formatted (c.f. Smith 1991; Ingold & Varone 2012). Operating at the interfaces of various actors, think-tank experts formulate and negotiate ideas with and among actors, encouraging them to adopt and use those ideas (cf. Mosse 1985; Wedel 2009).
This brokerage can be seen to generate ‘partially organized fields’ (cf. Ahrne & Brunsson 2011). It organizes other actors not by constructing a complete organization, but by establishing and maintaining a decided network and drawing upon such organizational elements as membership, monitoring and resources. This allows the think tanks to maintain a degree of flexibility, whilst gaining control of valuable resources.
The WEF is a not-for profit organization, based in Geneva Switzerland. It was founded in 1971 by Professor Klaus Schwab. Today the organization has approximately 500 employees, financed by the organization’s 1000 members, coming from the largest corporations in the world. WEF is most known for its annual meeting in Davos, but it hosts a vast number of private meetings around the world, and has built a world wide network of people and organizations coming from many parts of society, such as corporations, churches, NGOs as well as national and international authorities.
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