(CIGI Courtyard / Tom Arban)
(CIGI Courtyard / Tom Arban)

CIGI is the top think tank in Canada, according to the results of a U.S. survey of international relations academics in Canada, the Open Canada website reports.

The 2014 survey, with 276 Canadian respondents among 611 approached, was conducted by the Teaching, Research and International Policy (TRIP) project at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. TRIP “has been surveying scholars of international relations for over 10 years to find out what they are teaching, what they are researching, how they look at policy oriented work compared to basic research, and more,” writes Prof. Steven Saideman, a professor at Carleton University and one of the Canadian partners in the survey, in his report for Open Canada. 

Saideman’s article focuses on the survey’s results ranking international relations schools, but naturally I find the think tank ratings even more interesting. Here is what respondents said when asked to rate the top three think tanks in Canada:

1Centre for International Governance Innovation 29%
2Canadian International Council 21%
3Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute 11%
4Munk Centre, University of Toronto 8%
5North-South Institute 8%
6Fraser Institute 7%
7Institute for Research on Public Policy 5%
8C. D. Howe Institute 5%
9Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives 4%
10Centre for International Policy Studies, University of Ottawa 3%


It is interesting to compare these results with those of the Global Go-To Think Tank Index, published in January this year. That index is produced annually by the Think Tanks & Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) at the University of Pennsylvania; it is the brainchild of James G. McGann, a senior lecturer in international studies and U Penn and director of the TTCSP.

This year, CIGI ranked 7th in the index’s 2015 rankings for think tanks in Canada and Mexico, down from 3rd place the prior year. Setting aside the Mexican outfits in that list, one can say that CIGI placed 4th  in Canada, behind Fraser, Institute for Research on Public Policy and C.D. Howe. In the prior year, however, only the right-leaning Fraser ranked higher in Canada than CIGI, making CIGI number 2. (CIGI, incidentally, has no political leanings; it is so notably non-partisan as an institution that one can sometimes find two CIGI fellows – who do have their own personal opinions – quoted on opposites of issues in the same news articles).

The newest TTCPS index results surprised a few of us here at CIGI, given that this think tank had a banner year in 2014, expanding with the launch of a new law program, moving into a new building, introducing many new fellows, launching a new Global Commission on Internet Governance led by Carl Bildt, becoming the first think tank in history to brief the IMF executive board and publishing a record high number of research papers and books; social media followings climbed by double digits, as did website traffic, and we hit new records in global media mentions. So it’s not clear what if anything moved CIGI’s “Canada and Mexico” index ranking downward in one year – could it be a blip?

But also in the TTCPS 2015 index, CIGI continued to hold 43rd spot in the much larger list of top 150 think tanks in the world (that’s the cream of a massive, total pool of 6,600 institutions, the lion’s share of them in the U.S.). That puts CIGI in the top 1% of all think tanks globally, by reputation.

The TRIP and TTCPS offerings are clearly different surveys, not just in results, but in method. The TRIP survey publishes its methodology, here, and claims a margin of error of +/- 1.13% in the global result, though individual country results would have a higher margin. The TTCPS survey, meanwhile, includes five pages of information about the index methodology in its report, here, but it is still not entirely clear, to me at least, how the 1,950 members of the “expert panels” filter or amend the voting results of the original 3,572 participants in the survey.

More rankings may be on the way. At this time, a sub-unit of the sprawling Chinese Academy of Social Sciences is conducting its own evaluation of think tanks, globally. Rather than using the “popularity vote” methods of other surveys, it is asking think tanks to fill out a lengthy questionnaire stating 2013 levels and sources of funding, numbers of staff and publications, and many other factual indicators. It is not clear how this newest beauty contest will produce an evaluation or ranking, if any, but it will be one more result to compare with the others. Think tankers will have to resist any temptation to vote, in informal polls at the water cooler, for “best evaluation of think tanks” based on their own particular standing in each. 

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.