Policy formulation is something of a frequently sited “ideal career” amongst students, especially those studying, social sciences or who are particularly politically active. However, like most “ideal careers” it tends to be a competitive field to break into. Becoming a member of a think tank or policy institute at an early stage, and becoming involved with the workings of the group can be a vital, but often unexploited stepping stone into the world of policy formulation and advocacy and even eventually, politics. As students in London, a city that contains hundreds of think tank organisations, we have an opportunity that other students might not have, that is not worth overlooking.
Think tanks, or policy institutes are usually non profit, independent organisations that conduct research and engage in advocacy to influence fields such as; political strategy, economics, military, social policy, culture and business.They produce and publish everything from reports, journals, blogs, newsletters and magazines as well as host international conferences, talks, round tables, social events and debates. Other than that think tanks tend to have quite a wide functional definition and fill a lot of roles, advocacy being one of them, engaging with political, governmental, diplomatic and corporate decision makers and leaders to do so.
1. The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI): RUSI has been selected as the number 1. London think tank because of its dedication and support for younger members. There exists a seperate under 35’s programme and provides a generous student concession on membership as well as advertising internship vacancies throughout the year. It is based in Whitehall alongside its impressive military history library.
2. Chatham House/ Royal Institute of Intenrnational affairs: One of the most respected foreign policy Think Tanks in the world. It defines itself as “A world leading source of independent analysis, informed debate, and influential ideas on how to build a prosperous and secure world for all” Contains a comfortable library although, in order to borrow books, you have provide proof that you are doing research.
3. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS): An other very active and respected military think tank located by the Victoria Embankment. It provides arguably one of the best study spots in London in its well stocked library. Events are frequent and of a high standard. It is also renowned for being the hosts of the Shangri-La Dialogue conferences. Very student friendly. http://www.iiss.org
4. Centre For Policy Studies (CPS): The website hosts a blog that students are encouraged to contribute to, allowing the opportunity to be a published writer in the policy formulation field. Also contains a good student programme.
5. Kings College London Think Tank: A completely unique Think Tank for students based on the belief that students should be able to write the policy for the world that they will inherit.
6. Bow Group: One of the leading conservative think tanks that aims to “provide an intellectual home for conservative thought.” Events and debates are frequently hosted at the British parliament in Westminster. Provides a generous concession for young people and students with membership at £20.
7. The Fabian Society: Est. 1884, the Fabian Society one of the oldest think tanks in the UK. It has stong traditional labour party and socialist links.
8. Policy Exchange: Thought of as the UK’s current leading think tank and is known for having David Cameron’s ear.
9. Strategic Society Centre (SSC): Public polict think tank that aims to examine the big strategic challenges for policy makers and society.
10. Smith Institute: Very broad issue focus think tank with close links to Gordon Brown and the Labour Party.
Catherine Smyth on membership at the IISS
I initially joined the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) motivated more by the opportunity to escape the over crowding, power socket wars, phlegming, hocking, couching, phone ringing and flooded bathrooms of the various floors of the City University library than to become involved with military policy. But I’m glad I did in the end. As much as I love the cosy wood paneled libraries, the silence, the plethora of books on my dissertation topic and the nice loos which are never flooded, the whole experience has been invaluable.
I had planned for years to join the army as an officer. Conflict and defence had always been the area of politics that seized my interest the most. I felt like I was born to be a soldier. Except, I wasn’t. A childhood allergy that no longer effects me put an instant halt to my lifetime ambition after being determined medically unfit for service. It took a long time to get over this news, I think I sobbed in my bedroom for a solid two weeks and contacted several private military companies to see what my prospects in the mercenary market were like (poor). I only really managed to feel optimistic again after becoming a member of the IISS. I knew I was still interested in security and defence, and being able to network and discuss with industry professionals allowed me to grasp a better idea of what was still available and open to me as opposed to what wasn’t.