Inside: Berlin on Brexit, employing refugees, why BTECs matter. View this email in your browser
Subscribe to our weekly briefing, and check out our new website.

Lessons on policy impact from the Adam Smith Institute

For its first thirty years, the Adam Smith Institute consisted of “two directors supported by gap-year kids, recent graduates and interns, and with everyone doing everything,” writes Madsen Pirie, who back then was one of those directors and today is the organisation’s president. His book, Think Tank: The Story of the Adam Smith Institute, provides a fascinating insight into how two young libertarian academics gradually built up a low budget, high efficiency outfit that created national headlines and on several occasions significantly influenced policy formulation. Here are five things Till Bruckner learned from it.

Lesson 1: Focus on efficiency, efficiency, efficiency

In the early days, the founders of the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) had little financial backing, forcing them to become super-efficient:

“We held [weekly] lunches for eighteen to twenty people… [Thanks to a strict timetable] we were able to squeeze what was effectively a half-day conference with four speakers into a single lunchtime.”

The ASI would then collate written transcripts of the speeches into books.

Lesson 2: Systematically build credibility

Setting up an academic advisory board with prominent names on it and publishing a book was a good step.

Lesson 3: Get clear about who matters in what ways

The ASI consciously tried to broaden the Overton Window to turn radical ideas into politically feasible policy options.

“[I]deas could be discussed in public and become familiar and understood. That in turn made it easier for them to be taken up by politicians as policy initiatives, and it also meant the proposals could be improved by commentators who discussed them…”

ASI staff wrote features in newspapers and magazines, giving the think tank an extra source of income as well as free publicity.

Lesson 4: Informal alliances can easily outperform formal coalitions

ASI staff participated in regular Saturday lunch meetings with like-minded think tankers, journalists, and staff from the prime minister’s policy research unit.

“Typically we would decide how we could focus the policy agenda onto specific subjects during the coming weeks and try to coordinate our activities to make us more effective collectively than we would have been individually. One or more of the think tanks might arrange a publication; another would organize a seminar; the journalists would endeavour to have the subject covered in leader columns; while the research staff would ensure it was drawn to the attention of the appropriate members of the Shadow cabinet.”

Lesson 5: Ask the government to test your big idea on a small scale first

“We discovered that the general public is sufficiently fair-minded to go along with the notion of testing new ideas on a limited basis, and we often thereafter called for many of our proposals to be introduced on an experimental trial basis in a few trial areas…”

Quick Reads

Berlin on Brexit. The good news? No one wants a automatic reversion to WTO status. The bad news? Non-tariff barriers may be inevitable, and “passporting for the City of London will end”. Centre on Constitutional Change

Can’t blame Trump. “TTIP is a case study in how not to promote a trade deal” - Europe should study it if it wants to maintain a transatlantic consensus on free trade. Centre for European Reform

In for a penny. “If the civil service doesn’t do its job well in supporting Brexit then that will damage its reputation”, says civil service commissioner Ian Watmore. Centre for Public Impact

Who’s in charge? Does the complexity of Brexit demand a dedicated transitional agency - and a court of arbitration? Policy Network

Unhappy Mondays. “One third of employees report being afraid in some way at work”. IPPR


Making tracks. The West of England Metro Mayor inherits a strong economy, but they’ll need to build on green belt to tackle a crisis in housing affordability. How about some new rail lines too? Centre for Cities

Still got it. The UK remains the ninth largest manufacturer, but three quarters of manufacturing companies struggle to recruit. Centre for Policy Studies

Slow on the uptake. The Social Investment Tax Relief has only led to around 30 deals - but the scheme is sound, and it’s mostly state aid rules that have held it back. Centre for Public Impact

2,898. The number of Syrian refugees resettled in the UK under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement programme, which needs to be backed up by a national employment strategy for all refugees. Centre for Social Justice

Hot desks. If local authorities want to create workspaces, they should decide on what outcomes they want to see first and not simply replicate what’s worked elsewhere. Future of London

Applied learning. Why BTECs still matter (especially if you’re from a non-traditional background). Higher Education Policy Institute

Meanwhile in Stormont. In Northern Ireland, party politics have not caught up with the gradual fading of sectarian identities. Institute for Government

Cash for carriages. Why can’t Transport for the North borrow like Transport for London can? IPPR North

No quick fix. To make digital democracy work, oddly enough, a lot of traditional outreach is needed. Nesta

See also

Escalating stigma. The myth of a divide between those ‘dependent’ on social security and those who subsidise them refuses to die. LSE Politics and Policy

Balancing act. Bagehot lines up behind a plan to move the UK capital to Manchester. The Economist

Think Tanks

Evidence. Ten handy guides to using it. Nesta

So opaque. The UK’s youngest ambassador on the difficulties of finding an “entry point into government”, and why to persevere. Centre for Public Impact


Policy & External Relations Officer. British Council. London. £29k. Apply by 5 March.

Associate Director, Head of Post-16 Education and Skills. Education Policy Institute. London.  £35-£45k. Apply by 10 March.

Policy and Campaigns Support Officer - Economics and Social Affairs Department. Trades Union Congress. London. £38k. Apply by 10 March.

Senior Researcher (Creative Learning and Development). RSA. London. £39k. Apply by 13 March.

Assistant editor (part-time). openDemocracyUK. London. £22k pro rata. Apply by 15 March.

Digital Manager – Maternity Cover. Overseas Development Institute. £40-50k. London. Apply by 15 March.

Economist. Bright Blue. London. Competitive salary. Apply by 20 March.

Looking for qualified policy professionals? Email your vacancies to and we’ll list them here for free.

Spread the love for well-crafted policy. Pass this on to anyone you think would find it useful: they can subscribe here.
Compiled by Tom Jeffery
Copyright © 2017 Think Tank Review, All rights reserved.

unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences 

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp