7 Influential Think Tanks Affecting Public Policy

Local, state, and national legislators address some of society's most pressing problems, but they don't do it alone. There are also organizations that work to analyze the social issues that create obstacles for building a more perfect world, while striving to create workable solutions. In no particular order, here are some groups pondering ways to change laws to improve life on earth, and help put those ideas into action.

#1 in our overview is Penang Institute, based in George Town, Malaysia. The Institute seeks to secure the eponymous state's reputation as an intellectual hub and as the culture capital of the country. It releases briefs and magazines, and puts on events such as book launches, public literature seminars, and an annual literary festival.

The Institute contributes during times of crisis by publishing papers on the local situation, and analyzing how regional issues relate to events and initiatives undertaken in other parts of the world. This is in keeping with the organization's interest in enhancing how Penang's reputation is perceived throughout ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Our #2 is Libertas Institute in Lehi, Utah, which labors to build a freer society by creating educational resources and effecting changes to the law. Working with partner organizations or directly with like-minded lawmakers, Libertas provides model legislation, ghost-written material, research, talking points, and strategic advice to implement its proposals. Its policy work is primarily focused on reforming state and local laws in Utah.

Among the group's initiatives are empowering people to protect their DNA and digital data from unwarranted searches, and holding governments accountable for causing individual harm. Libertas also installs what it calls "regulatory sandboxes," which help governments test how businesses react to new legal frameworks. Additionally, it creates educational materials for kids such as a free market curriculum and the "Tuttle Twins" children's books.

The #3 on our list is E 3 G, which stands for Third Generation Environmentalism. This group is focused on translating climate politics, economics, and policies into meaningful action. With offices in Brussels, Berlin, London, and Washington, DC, the organization describes itself as European, with a global outlook.

E 3 G believes the greatest barriers to achieving a climate-safe world are political and institutional, rather than financial or technological. The group also holds that various longtime practices of production, transport, governance, and regulation will need to change if humanity is to achieve net-zero emissions, which itself is necessary to attain security and prosperity for an interdependent world.

Appearing at #4 is the Paulson Institute. An independent, non-partisan think tank, it's dedicated to fostering a US-China relationship that serves to maintain global order in a rapidly changing world. The organization has offices in Chicago, Beijing, and Washington, and is named for its founder, Henry Paulson, the former head of Goldman Sachs and then Secretary of the Treasury under George W. Bush.

The Institute's efforts are based on the idea that economic growth need not come at the expense of environmental protection. Internal groups at Paulson include the Green Finance Center, which works to support China's transition to renewable energy, and MarcoPolo, which provides commentary and research on the economy, technology, and politics of the Middle Kingdom.

Our #5 entry is the Brussels-based Migration Policy Group, which describes itself as an independent European think-and-do-tank. With a focus on opposing discrimination and promoting integration of migrants, MPG gathers, analyzes, and shares information and provides knowledge to international organizations, civil society, and national governments.

The group aims to create a critical mass of like-minded people who can set policy agendas around the values of diversity, equality, and the rule of law. MPG has helped mobilize non-governmental organizations to advocate for migrant entrepreneurship and against criminalizing humanitarian assistance. It has also participated in efforts to increase voter registration of non-Belgians in Brussels.

Coming in at #6 is Per Capita, a progressive organization working to build a new vision for Australia based on fairness, shared prosperity, community, and social justice. The Melbourne-based group undertakes research and offers potential solutions for reducing inequality, some of which have subsequently been adopted by the government.

Per Capita's research philosophy is to engage in applied policy development, rather than the more abstract, theoretical approaches of academia. The organization asserts that its audience is the interested public, not just experts. The group wishes to engage all Australians who want to see rigorous thinking and evidence-based analysis applied to the issues facing the country's future.

Finally, at #7 is New York City's Roosevelt Institute, which works to reform American democracy and the economy. Focusing on corporate and public power, labor and wages, and the realities of race and gender inequality, the organization advances progressive ideology in the tradition of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

The Institute works with people who highlight and propose ways to fix troubling patterns in American political economy. One example is the Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, who is R.I.'s chief economist. Stiglitz gives talks and writes briefs and editorials arguing for progressive taxation, government relief programs, and other strategies for bringing about a more equitable society.