Hoover Institution advances idea exchange

Think tank is instrumental in cross-pollination of ideas of those who shape public policy landscape

Think tank is instrumental in cross-pollination of ideas of those who shape public policy landscape

Located in California, about as far away as physically possible within the continental US from the ever-frenzied politicking of Washington, DC, the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace strives to understand public policy issues from a larger, longer-term perspective.

Founded as a research library in 1919 through a $50,000 endowment given to Stanford University by future President Herbert Hoover, the Hoover Institution today continues to add to its library and archives, but also comprises more than 110 senior, research, and visiting fellows who study everything from economics to politics to education. Past fellows include Milton Friedman and Condoleezza Rice, while current fellows include historian Victor Davis Hanson and economist Michael Spence.

This research is intended not simply as knowledge for knowledge's sake, says Jeff Bliss, Hoover associate director for communications, but instead aims to contribute to the exchange of ideas among academics, journalists, politicians, businesspeople, and others who ultimately shape the laws of the land - in individual states, federally, and even around the world. Aiding this cross-pollination of ideas are Bliss and his public affairs team of about a dozen or so people.

In addition to publishing scholarly works and several journals, including Hoover Digest and the Washington-based Policy Review, Hoover disseminates its ideas through Op-Eds; speeches around the country and overseas; roundtable discussions at Stanford, Washington, and soon New York; and increasingly online. Hoover plans soon to update its Web site, Hoover.org, which already features Web videos produced by a company called FLORA.tv of seminars that Hoover hosts in the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington, where PR firm White House Writers Group helps do much of Hoover's local outreach.

As do many think tanks, Hoover strives to keep in touch with journalists seeking third-party experts for comment. To help build this relationship, Hoover throughout the year hosts "media fellows": working journalists who spend a week at Stanford to pursue whatever interests them, from interviewing other fellows or Stanford professors to doing research in the archives or meeting with other people and groups in the Bay Area.

"We've had reporters coming here talking about Iraq, and we've had [fellows] who've just come back from Iraq, and they can get together and talk about what's happening," Bliss says. "It strengthens our relationship; people understand what we're about, and they'll go back and tell colleagues: 'I had this great experience. You should sign up for it.'"

Fleishman-Hillard SVP and former congressional staffer Ralph Posner says Hoover and other well-regarded think tanks that strive to produce objective, independent research are appealing not only to media outlets, but also to advocacy groups and other coalitions that seek to partner with the public policy groups on special projects, including research and seminars.

"Think tanks have a lot of influence on their own, and as a result, we see a lot of organizations wanting to partner with them to get their messages out," Posner says. "It's everything from healthcare and Medicare reform to Middle East policy. It shows broader support because of the independent, credible, academic focus of the scholars involved."

Apart from serving as partners, Hoover and other think tanks are simply a great resource for information, says Lipman Hearne VP Patrick Riccards, who says Hoover's Education Next journal is the best there is for understanding the direction of education reform. Riccards says the fact-based, economic approach taken by a Hoover fellow he worked with on an education project several years ago added a perspective that wouldn't otherwise have been understood.

"That's where think tanks like Hoover really do their job, in bringing a voice to the table that needs to be heard, but too often isn't," Riccards says. "Yes, some think tanks may be thought of as conservative or liberal, but in the end, if they are to remain a respected third party, they have to be independent; they have to have proof behind their ideas."

Most think tanks have some sort of identity - the Heritage Foundation is very conservative, and the Center for American Progress is decidedly liberal, for example - and Hoover is usually characterized as "conservative" or "libertarian," stemming essentially from its basic mission to focus on "free-market economics" and all that it entails. But Bliss says Hoover as an institution must always stay non-partisan both because it is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group and because it is part of a university setting.

"We get people coming in all the time who'll say, 'If I'm a presidential candidate, what can I do to win?'" Bliss says. "And we're happy to talk with them; we've often done that with governors and presidential candidates, but we don't take an official stand. But we're happy to have you come in and listen to what you say. That's what it's all about: an exchange of ideas."

At a glance

Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University

John Raisian

Stanford, CA

Total endowment of $363 million; FY '06 budget of $34.2 million

Jeff Bliss, associate director for comms

White House Writers Group

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