Think tanks are wonderful idea generators. Based on their independent research, rigorous analysis and thoughtful approach to policy, many stand out for being a resource for thousands of policymakers, elected officials, corporate leaders and others who are impacted by policy work. In other words, everyone is impacted in some way with how think tanks work and influence policy.
According to publish reports, there are nearly 6,000 think tanks in approximately 170 countries. In the United States, long considered the nexus of think tanks, they have been around for over 100 years.
The University of Pennsylvania states that there are 1,777 think tanks in the United States, with more than half being founded since 1991. The vast majority of think tanks either reside in the United States or have a major presence, which speaks to the United States being the epicenter of thought and ideas.
But what about Black think tanks? What about the prominence of them and acknowledging their contribution to the intellectual space with regard to Black experience specifically, but to all of a society generally.
Black think tanks do not register into the thousands, with the most prominent being the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. Being the most prominent, one would think that in the age of an African-American president, there would have been rise of many more. Sadly, that has not been the case.
Even with the historic nature of a Black president aside, with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the growing despair of economic uncertainty between the top 1 percent and the rest, there is a need for original Black thought on everything from early childhood education, health disparities, education funding and so much more.
Sure, there are some think tanks that have a specialty on “urban” issues or perhaps on “communities of color,” but there is so much more room for so much more.
Most think thanks across the country fall into broad categories or policy areas: academic, which have strong academic rigor that often have some qualitative analytical research to back up its findings, (think Joint Center), contract research that often is more transactional and works for businesses. There are think tanks that have an advocacy mission statement and they tend to be more transparent about their political leanings (think NAACP) and then there are policy research think tanks that use metrics for making policy recommendations.
All of these kinds of think tanks are needed, but there is not enough in and for the Black community. This is where historically Black colleges and universities can play a role from a research point of view. Black businesses should request information from think tanks to assist them in their marketing and advocacy organizations should be asking for more data to assist them in their efforts.
In other words, the time for more evidenced-based data — more data that yields results and helps guide the conversation. To help advance the conversation and to have data drive conversations as opposed to emotion. For far too long, we in the Black community have not had the data to help us make informed decisions because the traditional think tanks did not speak to our community, and if they did, we did not trust the source.
This time around, we can do better, as a community, to make a change. With organizations such as the Joint Center and hopefully soon others out there that start from the ground up; we can have data-driven organizations that are for, and by, the people.