A public policy institution, also known as a public policy institute or, more informally, as a think tank, is typically a research institution that studies government and the effects of public policy on particular social areas. Beyond that basic function, public policy institutes vary widely in their focus, goals, and leadership. These organizations may be public or private, partisan or non-partisan, local or national. While nearly all these institutions produce well-researched studies on public policy, the target audience for these studies is different for each institute.
The general goal of a public policy institution is to study governmental involvement in public and social concerns, and to educate both the public and policy makers about the issues. This broad definition allows for much variety in research topics. Some institutes focus on one public policy area, such as the environment, while others have a wide scope and study policy issues ranging from economics to criminal justice to education. Some institutions focus not on one particular topic, but on any issue affecting a specific region or locale.
The studies provided by a public policy institution can take a variety of forms. They may range from single-page fact sheets to comprehensive reports that detail issues more fully. Other reports may resemble academic journal articles, complete with in-depth scholarly research. These publications are often made available to the public on the institutes’ websites, or they may be published in books or pamphlets.
The scope of these reports also differs widely. For example, policy research may discuss whether a new public policy initiative has succeeded in accomplishing its purpose, or it may predict possible results of proposed policy changes. Depending on the goals of the institution itself, the report may suggest proposals with the hope of persuading policy makers to adopt the proposed changes.
One category of public policy institution in the United States is the state institute. These organizations study the laws and policies that apply to particular state governments. They are usually independent and non-partisan.
Another example of a public policy institution is one that is sponsored by a special interest group. Institutes like these may perform research related to the groups' public policy concerns. They may also seek to educate lawmakers and the public about these issues. Some institutes like these may use their research to try to influence policy makers to adopt the group's position on a particular policy issue.