I know that we were supposed to select a think tank that fit into one of the three types, but I found the Urban Institute to be too interesting to ignore. Focusing on topics that range from ‘crime and justice’ to ‘retirement and older Americans,’ it’s no wonder that the Urban Institute is always working on over 200 different projects at any given time.
Based in Washington D.C., their website states that their mission statement is: “Our mission: the Urban Institute gathers data, conducts research, evaluates programs, offers technical assistance overseas, and educates Americans on social and economic issues — to foster sound public policy and effective government.” In other words, the Urban Institute serves a number of functions: to observe and identify social and economic issues in American society; to assess the effectiveness of current public policy and programs; and to educate the public on key domestic issues.
The Urban Institute was established in 1968 by Lyndon B. Johnson in an effort to study to the urban problems and evaluate the effectiveness of the Great Society programs. The Institute was comprised of well-known economists and civil leaders to create the non-partisan, independent research organization. Now, the federal government accounts for a little more than half of the funding, with foundations, state and local governments, and private individuals funding the rest.
On their website, the Urban Institute enumerates their top 42 accomplishments over the last 42 years since they have been in operation. If you don’t want to look through the entire list, a few of their main accomplishments include, facilitating the adoption of an evaluation system of social programs by four cabinet-level agencies; fostering the introduction of “block grants” to states; concluding that the economic contributions of immigrants exceed the amount of assistance they receive from the government; among others. Currently, a few of their projects involve state implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the impact of federal expenditures on children, and the reintegration of prisoners in society.
If I were to work for a think tank, I would want to work for a think tank that focused primarily on government issues. There are so many different areas that the federal government has to deal with that I don’t think that each issue gets enough attention. Therefore, I think it’s important to have these think tanks to put in the time and effort that the federal government doesn’t have to conduct research, evaluate the current policies and programs, and identify where the problems and successes lie.
If I had the resources to create a think tank, I think the issue I would focus on is the wrongful convictions of individuals. There is already something called The Innocence Project that is a “national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice,” but I wasn’t really sure if it would be considered a “think tank.” The think tank would not only be responsible for exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals, but it would go into conducting research to see the context in which the cases went wrong, i.e., was the case racially motivated, did witnesses get pressured into changing their statements, and so on. Lately, there has been so much criticism of the justice system, particularly with the Trayvon Martin case, that I believe that more efforts need to focused on identifying and repairing the holes in the legal system.