IUG student takes an inside look at international think tanks

Penn State SIA student Adam Banks worked on wide-ranging research on think tanks around the world with the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

School of International Affairs integrated undergraduate-graduate student Adam Banks didn’t travel too far from State College for his summer internship at the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania — but the work he was doing has important global implications for think tanks across the world.

As an intern at the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program led by noted researcher James McGann, Banks conducted wide-ranging research to support the Lauder Institute’s annual report analyzing and detailing the nature of think tanks from around the globe. Banks said this report serves multiple roles by serving as a popular industry publication among think tanks and by spreading wider public awareness about think tanks, which helps hold organizations accountable to the public.

“A lot of people may not give much thought to think tanks, but the research they conduct and how they influence policy is very important,” Banks said. “It’s very interesting to see the difference between partisan and nonpartisan think tanks, privately funded versus nonprofits, how this defines certain regions and how they care about policy—all of which, and more, our research captures.”

Banks worked on data collection on think tanks in the Middle East and North Africa, collecting and interpreting large amounts of data and looking at variables like funding sources, research interests, how they make use of media and communications, and how individual think tanks relate to others in the same region.

“The types of regimes in individual countries has a direct impact on the kind of policies being impacted by think thanks in a given country,” Banks said. “One conclusion of our research is that policy orientations of think tanks in democratic versus authoritarian nations are often totally different.”

In addition to his research role, Banks was the project leader for the institute’s web team, and served as the webmaster and completely rebuilt the gotothinktank.com website from the ground up after it was hacked and taken off the web several months prior. He also had the opportunity to network with leading figures from think tanks in Washington, D.C., and beyond during a trip to D.C. to various think tanks, and he attended a research symposium that capped off his busy summer.

“I certainly went into this experience knowing what think tanks were, but I think this internship helped open a lot of doors and expanded my understanding,” Banks said. “I didn’t realize it until my work this summer, but this internship helped me realize that, following my degree, I would be interested in doing contract work for a think tank and consider pursuing research as a career.”