For the next two months, as official Washington empties out into the hinterlands, D.C.-based think tanks should do the same.
While members of Congress and their staffs switch into full-on campaign mode and President Trump himself hits the midterm trail as well, the thinkers of Washington’s other establishment community would be well served by some listening tours.
Traditional think tanks have become as enmeshed in Beltway culture as any career bureaucrat, and the spirit of civic engagement that should mark the democratic campaign process could help reinvigorate the think tanks as much as the politicians they work to influence.
While various think tanks have experimented getting out to ‘real America’ to varying degrees of success, the Center for New American Security stands out for its efforts of the past year.
One Think Tank’s Ticket Out of Town
In the summer of 2017, working with funding from the German government and the Robert Bosch Stiftung, CNAS launched a 12-city tour that goes beyond the norm of think tank travel.
“It became clear there was a growing disconnect between those of us here and those of us outside the Beltway,” said Julie Smith, CNAS former senior fellow and director of the Transatlantic Security Program, who headed the program.
Where others have seen their work beyond the Beltway as a chance to share their research (for a fee) to an inviting community, CNAS invested time and resources to listen to everyday Americans in everyday towns.
“People are really eager to engage,” Smith said after visits to Grand Rapids, Mich., and Salt Lake City, Utah. CNAS has also gone to Pittsburgh and Tampa and is scheduled to visit Boise this fall.
For each stop, CNAS builds a two-day program to engage business leaders, high school and college students, local government leaders and the public at large. Each city shapes the topics.
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