Find Policy: Why Institutional Websites And Search Still Matter

We recently launched Find Policy, a faster and more focused way of searching for policy. Find Policy, as one person put it, is a kind of Google Scholar for policy and think tanks. The site brings together a number of search engines that target leading think tanks. One of these engines is tailored specifically to UK think tanks and several of the thematic engines include prominent UK institutions, such as the Overseas Development Institute, the Institute for Development Studies, Chatham House and others. We plan to add additional UK engines in the coming weeks.

Find Policy is part of the On Think Tanks Labs, a collective of ventures that are interested in innovation in policy research. So what hopes do we have for Find Policy? First, we hope that it will be easier to discover good policy ideas. Even people interested in policy research may not be familiar with more than a few think tanks, and thus will try general Google (which mostly returns too many results) or Google Scholar (which mostly is too academic). Find Policy targets the search specifically to policy research organizations, and thus can offer more rewarding results. Ideally we hope that we can contribute to more prominence of think tank research. It’s thus a complement to some of the issues discussed in WonkComms: in addition to highlighting particular research pieces, or the work of an institution, this search engine ideally helps make the work of the entire sector more accessible.

Second, we hope that Find Policy will give added coverage to less prominent think tanks. Let’s say you want to look at policy research on climate change. The usual suspects immediately come to mind, but you may not have heard of the World Resources Institute in Washington DC, or Ecologic, a research outfit in Berlin that has done a lot of work on the German Energiewende. The site gives you a single engine that targets many organizations that have done quality research in specific fields. Such search is particularly useful when you want to go out of area. Streaming (via Twitter) works very well on current themes within communities. Searching, however, still matters especially when you are researching topics that you have been less connected to, outside your current community.

Third, Find Policy should hopefully make faraway think tanks more visible. What do think tanks in South Asia say about urbanization or conditional cash transfers? Are policy researchers in China or Canada thinking about road pricing? Are African think tanks watching what goes on in Brazil? The region-specific search engines give you a good start on your research, and the 10+ geographic engines already target more than 140 institutions in more than a dozen countries. The engines, too, help you to identify gaps, fields in which so far little work has been done.

Find Policy obviously is not perfect, but we think it is better: faster and more focused, and maybe even fairer, in taking your search to institutions that you may not have heard about. We choose the institutions based on reputation, size, relevant output, and on free access to their research, while also looking for political diversity. To select, we work from various existing lists and ask people who are active in the fields. Where possible, we try to err on the side of inclusion, bringing in more institutions.

Here, then, also a pitch to the WonkComms group. We are looking for more contributors who want to help improve search. The idea is to develop this venture with people that care about policy. Contributing involves helping with some tough decisions, but it does not take much time. We think it’s worthwhile. As people said about Twitter, it was not so much invented but rather discovered. Arguably there is still much to discover about ways of searching and eventually spreading better policy.

It would be great if a mayor in Africa who faces a particular challenge in, say, improving road safety could easily figure out how policymakers addressed this problem in Latin America. We are a quite a way from that point but Find Policy hopefully is one step in that direction.

The link to the site is here http://www.findpolicy.org. Interested in finding out more? We’ll happily answer your comments below.

Find Policy is part of the On Think Tanks Labs, a collective of ventures that are interested in innovation in policy research. The venture involves a group that know each other from working with CRRC, a research organization in the Caucasus. Our broader network that has given generous advice on think tanks on contexts from Australia to Russia, and we are always interested in more input.

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One comment on “Find Policy: Why Institutional Websites And Search Still Matter
  1. Hans Gutbrod says:

    one item that may be relevant for Wonkcomms as well is the ability to search for think tank experts, that I had not mentioned in the blogpost above.

    This works particularly well for US experts, less so for UK. Want to know which think tanks have people that speak, say, Amharic? Or that specialize on Crimea? It’s at your fingertips, here: http://www.findpolicy.org/experts-us

    By contrast, many UK think tanks offer sparse information on their staff, when they could be making their experts much more findable, and perhaps more attractive to talk to.

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