Reinventing the Think Tank

Photo: New America

The twenty-first century think tank has an opportunity to do more than just think. Our mission is instead to play a transformative role in the latest wave of American renewal of social, economic, and political opportunity. We have begun renewing and reinventing ourselves by bringing an innovative energy and approach to solving public problems.

Accordingly, we are developing a new model of civic enterprise: “civic” because it engages and empowers citizen efficacy, and “enterprise” to reflect that energy and innovation are required to move from policy idea to policy implementation. While think tanks connect government to ideas and solutions through policy proposals, civic enterprise connects ideas to action, experimenting with ideas and solutions to public problems in communities, either through direct action, collaborative policy processes, or artistic expression. Civic enterprise also seeks to connect citizens to government by building broad conversations, convening a wide variety of perspectives, and publishing ideas and stories that spark debate and encourage readers to keep reading, clicking, and ultimately responding.

Megan Garcia
Megan Garcia opened New America California in 2015 (New America)

Rather than solely focusing our efforts on solving federal policy problems in Washington, D.C., New America will extend its physical network—expanding our hub in New York and establishing local operations in San Francisco, Chicago, and eventually a variety of mid-size cities across the country. Many government officials, neighborhood leaders, activists, community groups, social entrepreneurs, and corporate leaders are already working to solve problems from the ground up. By embedding locally, New America will be ideally placed to find these civic entrepreneurs solving problems at a local, municipal, and state level, connect them to each other other, and highlight their solutions to public problems by helping them tell their stories locally and nationally, test, iterate, and scale policy solutions, and engage citizens on the issues that matter to them through creative events and local media.

Equally, New America’s national network and blended approach to multidisciplinary problem solving can help civic entrepreneurs share ideas across the country, and help create a positive narrative that challenges the endless stories of federal dysfunction. At our most ambitious, we seek to redress the inequality of current power relations by helping empower individuals, communities, and regions, combining our nation’s deep commitment to self-governance with the insatiable spirit of private enterprise to invent solutions without waiting for permission or help.

By building a network and a narrative of national renewal, New America plans to tell a story, backed by evidence, of a country where government works with the people to create solutions for the people, to challenge national pessimism and channel rage into actual change.

These are grand, visionary plans. But the appetite for New America’s blend of big ideas, policy, technology, storytelling, and community action is evident wherever we go. New America’s National Network can play an important role  as an updated component of the local, state, and national ecosystem for solving public problems.