Where are the the think tank bloggers?

by Stephen Tall on October 20, 2009

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.