The brains brigade

Can't come up with any inspired notions of your own? Don't fret - there's a wonk out there to do the mind-work for you. Ed Caesar navigates the tranquil waters of Britain's top 20 think tanks
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Founded in 1993, Demos rose contemporaneously with New Labour, yet remains independent and innovative. Previous wheezes include Cool Britannia, The Adaptive State, and Disorganisation. Current buzz: The Pro-Am Revolution - allegedly breaking down the boundaries between "professionals and tinkerers".

Adam Smith Institute

Has been challenging big government and promoting personal freedom since 1977. Current buzz: Flat Tax - that is, everyone pays the same rate of tax, apart from the very lowest earners, who pay none. The public purse saves billions because it's so simple to administer.


Begotten by Sir Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher in 1974 but now chaired by Lord Blackwell and directed by Ruth Lea, the CPS still preaches and adapts the gospel of economic liberalism. Current buzz: vouchers for hospitals and schools.


Set up five years ago by Dr David Green, Civitas seeks a better division between government and civil society, and focuses its research on health, welfare, education and the family. Current buzz: Free Exit from the EU. Civitas argues that, if Britain did leave Europe, there would be no net loss of jobs.

Fabian Society

Founded by George Bernard Shaw and friends in 1884 with a brief to "imagine things that never were and ask 'why not?'" Now a de-facto arm of the Labour Party. Past triumphs arguably include turning the Welfare State, the National Health Service and equal rights for women from blue-sky thoughts into social and political reality. Current buzz: Equal Life Chances - every child having the same chances, regardless of the circumstances of their birth.

Conflicts Forum

UK-based International think tank led by the Middle East expert Alistair Crooke, whose goal is to improve understanding between Islam and the West. Current buzz: "Dismantling the prevailing Western orthodoxy of Islamism as an ideology that is hostile to the agenda for global democracy and good governance."

BT Futurology Unit

Famous beyond the telecoms company that spawned it, and headed by Ian Pearson, the BT Futurology Unit looks into how people will live in years to come. Current buzz: Active Skin - tiny polymer screens and microchips may be grafted on to human skin, with implications for everything from television (watch the back of your hand) to the management of medicinal doses.


Unashamedly old Labour, with rhetoric rooted in pragmatism. Staff, such as the trade union chief executive Jenny Smith, have had years of experience at the coalface of policy implementation; but their aspirations remain radical. Current buzz: Decentring the Nation - replacing the London-centric view of Great Britain.

Global Ideas Bank

A website that started life as the UK-registered charity, the Nicholas Albery Foundation, now an open-source forum. Publicly fronted and edited by Nick Temple, it is used by many of the world's most creative thinkers. Current buzz: Open Source Academia - the world's governments should place all academic texts online, for free.


Full name: the Institute for Public Policy Research. It was created by Lords Hollick and Eatwell in 1988 to rejuvenate centre-left thinking. A major driver of public policy. Current buzz: the Missing Million - a creative approach to getting Britain's disabled back to work.

Henley Centre

Formerly the Henley Centre for Forecasting, now owned by the advertising and marketing giant, WPP. Offers a futures-awareness and strategy service to a wide range of clients. Current buzz: Bridging the Happiness Gap - the most successful companies of the 21st century will supply their customers' emotional needs.

Centre for European Reform

Describing itself as "pro-European but not uncritical", it discusses key issues concerning the future of the European Union. Current buzz: Expand Again - the EU should include Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria and many more. "It is the diversity of traditions that is the ultimate strength of the Europe we are trying to build."

New Economic Foundation

The New Economic Foundation is a "think-and-do tank" concerned with Britain's various social, economic and environmental "crises", that "inspires and demonstrates real and economic well-being". Current buzz: New Democratic Spaces - democracy should involve an exchange of ideas between electorate and government.

New Local Government Network

Established in 1996 by several ex-local government figures with the aim of making local government "relevant and credible" to people. The New Local Government Network was named 2004's "think tank of the year" by Prospect magazine. Current buzz: Invisible Villages - making making local government work by remote control through "techno-localism".

Oxford Research Group

An independent non-governmental body dedicated to solving military problems peacefully. Also conducts research into nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, with a focus on the UK's security. Current buzz: Britain's Nuclear Future - it would be in Britain's best interests not to replace outgoing Trident missiles, and to be entirely unarmed in a nuclear capacity.

Social Affairs Unit

Began in 1980 with Digby Anderson as director. The SAU has sparked radical debate on issues ranging from culture to economics. Distrusts anything that smacks of social engineering. Current buzz: Anti-Anti-Economics - a counter-attack lon the various forms of "anti-economics" (from the mid- 19th-Century defence of slavery to anti-globalisation).

The Do Tank

Established by the Design Council's Hilary Cottam, it takes its brief from Churchill's maxim that "we shape our buildings, and thereafter they shape us". Wants to encourage a rethinking of Britain's attitude to public buildings - and perhaps a rebuilding of some of the institutions themselves. Current buzz: Schools - Greenhouse not Factory". "In the 1950s schools were built like factories: the knowledge goes in, the bell rings, everyone moves on to the next stage of the production line." Cottam's new schools are organised with no central corridor (to discourage bullying), and around cross-age work groups.


Not-for-profit religious think tank that "promotes radical theological ideas in public life through a radical approach.' Includes influential thinkers from Christian and secular circles. The director, Jonathan Bartley, has entered the debate about homosexuality in the church, inveighing against evangelical orthodoxy. Current buzz: Prosperity With a Purpose - how can wealth be used positively, and how can Christian values be infused into modern market economics?

Centre for Future Studies

Independent think tank based in Canterbury that advises businesses about how to adapt to and plan for a set of possible futures. Not only predicts business scenarios but holds regular seminars and publishes papers on a range of future political and social issues. Current buzz: Regenerative Medicine - according to CFS's medical futurologists, in 10 years' time we will look back in horror at the things that doctors do to heal us. In future, they say, the body will heal itself.

Institute for Economic Affairs

Founded in 1955, the IEA believes in free market economics, less government and more individual freedom. Publishes about 20 books a year advancing variations on those themes. Current buzz: Globalisation - it's good. Which is pretty much what you'd expect them to say.