What is a Successful Think Thank?

At Fores, encouraged by our board, we have felt the need to clarify and quantify our results, striving to answer “How efficient are we?”, “How do we become more relevant?” and “Can we be more cost-effective?”, while at the same time jealously safeguarding the uniqueness of being a think tank. Thus we ask ourselves – what is a successful think thank and how do we measure our performances?

Quantifying the results of the think tank’s work is often solved by reporting activities such as conferences held, politicians met or publications launched. When pressed to deliver “real” short term results, the think tank risks falling into the trap of being too close to policy or to mimic the work of consultants or lobbyists. On the other hand, not focusing on results may result in inefficiency and complacency, and may lead to funders withdrawing their support.

When asking fellow think tanks, both within our Nordic network and within ELF, we didn’t find anyone performing much better in terms of measuring think tank success. Instead, we found many others who are, similar to ourselves, discussing this and trying to come up with answers – as well as others who have largely stuck their head in the sand but agree that a better answer should be developed.

This report is written by Mattias Goldmann and Andreas Bergström, Director and Deputy Director at the think tank Fores. It builds on experiences from several ELF members and from evaluations of think tanks outside the liberal sphere. Although there is no evaluation model that fits every organisation, the examples, general advice and questionnaires in this report should provide useful inspiration.


Andreas Bergström, Deputy Director at Fores och chef for the program Economic Reforms and Entrepreneurship
Mattias Goldmann, CEO at Fores


Andreas Bergström
Deputy Director, Fores