“Pragmatic steps” have been the centerpiece of Stimson’s work since its inception. So it comes as no surprise that working with practitioners, particularly the implementers that translate policies on paper into programs, action, and outcomes, has always been central to our approach. Stimson is often at its most useful when we can bring together our independent “outsider” analysis with deep “insider” understanding the key objectives of a particular policy as well as the obstacles that can derail even well-intentioned people and policies. Yes, we are critics, but we are also partners, or even colleagues, working with government practitioners to chart more effective paths to paths toward global security.
Balancing the roles of critic and colleague can be tricky — particularly when it comes to funding. Throughout our first decade, Stimson was funded exclusively by foundations and had an absolute prohibition on government funding. Over the years, the Board of Directors debated the policy — some arguing that independence could only be assured if there was no financial dependence on government and others suggesting that partnering with government, at least in limited ways, would allow the institution to expand its impact.
After a decade of deliberation, Stimson adopted in 2000 a new policy allowing government support as long as it met two essential requirements and avoided four prohibitions. Analytic independence and freedom of expression were non-negotiable — sponsors cannot dictate our findings or constrain publication and outreach. Classified work was prohibited, along with funding relationships that might damage Stimson’s reputation, access or relationships with other donors. It was and has been a serious policy, with Stimson’s management and Board reviewing carefully each proposed government award and declining on occasion.
Over the past fifteen years, government partnerships have opened doors to new research and advanced Stimson’s mission. Our very first government funded project, the Congressional Study Group on Export Controls, developed a pragmatic reform agenda that helped shape congressional and administration positions. After 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, in partnership with the Department of Justice and later the Department of Homeland Security, Stimson was the lead analytic content provider to the nation’s first response community, analyzing and developing best practices and success stories that were shared through the U.S. government’s knowledge portal.
Stimson’s capacity to collaborate with counterparts in the global south was a core component of the Regional Voices project, conducted from 2007-2010 as a partner of the National Intelligence Council to support their Global Trends analysis. The multi-year project explored the perspectives of diverse experts from around the Indian Ocean on transnational challenges and threats. We heard their security concerns focused as much on pandemics, climate change, social conflict, migration, and water scarcity as on terrorism or radical extremism. This project gave rise to the rich research and programming on environmental security, global health, and water governance that continue to thrive at Stimson today.
As a globally engaged think tank, Stimson has always believed that our donor base should reflect our research focus. Our growing roster of government donors outside the U.S. seems to us a natural and appropriate affirmation of our approach. We partner with the Government of Finland on border control and wildlife protection issues in Kenya; with the United Kingdom and Australia on best practices for peacekeeping operations; with Norway on research on the changing security challenges in Myanmar, and Japan to explore evolving trends in East Asian security, to name just a few. Several governments and global institutions have turned to Stimson to provide an information hub for implementation of new treaties, or to promote cross-border cooperation in a conflict zone. It is a source of pride and validation to have policy makers around the world turn to our experts for their knowledge and convening power, and to help shape smart strategies for peace and security.
Throughout this 25th anniversary year, the impact of government funding, particularly from foreign governments, on the independence of U.S. think tanks has been debated. At Stimson, we have reflected on our policies and practices, and taken steps toward even greater levels of transparency. We have also worked hard to diversify our funding stream, and have put into place parallel policies for support from corporations.
We live in a very inter-connected world where institutions and individuals collaborate in informal and formal ways. A small think tank that seeks to make its contribution to peace and security can amplify its voice and expand its impact through smart partnerships. With clear thinking and careful oversight, Stimson has worked to maintain its independence and its relevance on the key issues of the day.
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