Is there a word/term/phrase that specifically describes people who work in think tanks or policy institutes (doing socioeconomic research)? "Researchers" don't work for me since academics and government employees can also be researchers.

I am trying to distinguish between the different groups of people who attended a specific conference (one that broadly applied to all groups).

The attendees included academics (meaning profs, PhD candidates, etc.), students, public policy analysts (meaning government policy makers), and think tanks / policy institutes.

The parts in italics are just for the purposes of this post.

As you can see, the last element is an odd one - it is basically referring to policy researchers in the private sector. But it doesn't fit. The first three elements are people but the last one is a body/organization?

  • 1
    I presume that the conference is broadly about socioeconomic issues, and all of the attendees will be working in that area, so you could just use the term 'independents' to describe people who work for, for example, the Adam Smith Institute. At the other end of the market, you might have 'lobbyists', who are anything but independent.
    – JavaLatte
    Aug 8, 2021 at 12:16
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    I call them policy wonks, myself. You can check the dictionaries, it's in them. Bear in mind that public policy analysts work for think tanks/policy institutes. So, basically, you're looking at redundancy in your sentence.
    – Lambie
    Aug 8, 2021 at 16:34
  • @Lambie By "public policy analysts" I meant to refer to people who work in the government and are responsible for anything policy related (e.g., Ministry of Finance - tax policies). These people are full-time government workers and they don't work for any other organizations. Maybe the problem is my use of "public policy"?
    – AIQ
    Aug 9, 2021 at 8:38
  • @Lambie Is this better now: "... government policy analysts and think-tank researchers"?
    – AIQ
    Aug 9, 2021 at 10:34
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    OK, so: government and think tank public policy analysts. OR: Public policy analysts from government and think tanks.
    – Lambie
    Aug 9, 2021 at 14:36

2 Answers 2


The phrase I'd use is "Research fellows at think tanks and policy institutes".

The job title "Research fellow" is current, but ambiguous, since a research fellow could be working at a university. So I clarify it with "at think tanks...". As Michael suggests, that could be shortened to "Think-tank researchers".

As an alternative, you could say "... public and independent policy analysts". Or "... and policy analysts from the public and private sectors".

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    "Think Tank Researcher Think tanks are public policy research institutions. The research fields are varied, encompassing areas such as social policy, political strategy, the economy, the environment, science and technology and defence. " - Southampton University (UK) Aug 8, 2021 at 13:45
  • Note that a research fellow is a specific position and not everyone working at a think tank as a researcher will be a research fellow. The title implies a specific kind of contract and position within the institute.
    – terdon
    Aug 9, 2021 at 16:25

An informal (and possibly mildly derogatory) word is wonk, particularly used in the idiom policy wonk:

a person preoccupied with arcane details or procedures in a specialized field

broadly : nerd


  • this was going to be my suggestion. I would second the suggestion that it's derogatory, but not to any particularly strong extent. Certainly less than calling a police officer a "pig" (for comparison with another derogatory term for a certain profession)
    – Tristan
    Aug 9, 2021 at 9:00
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    Agreed - it's probably on the same level as "nerd", which which it's almost synonymous (as shown in the quote). Aug 9, 2021 at 10:22
  • I wouldn't use this word in this context - not because it's wrong, but because it may equally apply to all the other categories of attendee mentioned :)
    – psmears
    Aug 9, 2021 at 11:27
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    @Tristan I disagree that it's derogatory.
    – RonJohn
    Aug 9, 2021 at 13:18
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    I agree that it's informal, but I've heard it many times on the news in non-derogatory ways.
    – Barmar
    Aug 9, 2021 at 15:21

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