Contemporary Canadian Government & Politics:
A Practical Research Guide

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4. Finding and Evaluating Substantive Information
Finding Information Evaluating Information

Finding Information: Research from Policy Institutes, Think Tanks, and other Organizations

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Research publications produced by organizations such as policy institutes, research institutes, think tanks, and other such groups are excellent sources of information on specific policy issues and on government and politics in general.

These organizations play an important role in Canada by conducting serious research and analysis and providing government and the public with alternative views, interpretations and ideas on issues concerning government and government policies. There is no one definition of these kinds of groups, but they are generally non-profit, nonpartisan groups that study public policy and are committed to increasing public awareness of policy issues. They differ from interest or lobby groups by not speaking on behalf of a particular constituency, by their mandate being an emphasis on scholarly research, and by not engaging in political activity. (They cannot maintain non-profit, tax exempt status if they publicly endorse or oppose a political party or candidate, or devote more than a specified minimum of their budgets to lobbying government.)

They range in size from just a few researchers to hundreds, with budgets that vary from a few hundreds of dollars to millions. Some are funded by universities, some by government, individuals, public donations, or a combination of all of these. Most have a specific area of specialization. (See Special Topics for a listing of research organizations specializing in these areas.)

NOTE: Be aware that some of these groups may have their own agenda and their research and interpretations may be heavily slanted towards this bias. You should evaluate these sources as you would any other book. (See To Evaluate a Book)

Additional tips on evaluating information from think tanks, policy institutes, etc.:

- Investigate the group's mandate: See their web site for this.
- Skim the titles in their publications list: The list may show many titles in the same vein or from the same ideological viewpoint.
- Read the information describing the organization on their web site: This should include how the group is funded and by whom. Note that some groups may get special funding, or be contracted by government or others to carry out specific research projects. This should be stated in the publication reporting on that research.

Finding Research from Organizations
Library Catalogues / Indexes & Bibliographies / New Publications / Links to Web Sites

Library Catalogues:

If your library collects these publications, they should be listed in the library catalogue as books or book series. If you don't know a specific title or author, use the institute name as author or keyword to see what is available by that organization.

Indexes and Bibliographies:

Some research organizations publish their own journals, or their researchers have articles published in established academic and other journals. To find these articles, search the indexes and bibliographies listed in this guide. The Canadian Research Index is one that is particularly known to include publications and articles from Canadian research organizations.

New Publications:

New publications by a few research institutes such as the C.D. Howe Institute, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Public Policy Forum, etc. are made available by the Renouf book store. Titles can be browsed by organization on the Renouf Books web site. When an institute is affiliated with a university its publication list may be included in the university press catalogue, as the publications of the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, the School of Policy Studies and the John Deutsch Institute for the Study of Economic Policy are in the McGill-Queen's University Press. Otherwise, each institute's web site is the best place to check for new publications. Some of these sites include e-mail subscription lists you can sign up for to be updated automatically when a new publication comes out.

Links to Web Sites:

Most think tanks have their own publication catalogues or lists on their web sites and may have selected publications available in full text online. There is presently no comprehensive directory or web site that lists or links to all Canadian policy institutes or research organizations. A 1995 estimate is that there are around 50 think tanks in Canada. (Murray Campbell, "Wonks", The Globe and Mail, Dec. 2, 1995, p. D1). The following are sources that link to many:

Canadian Research Institutes. By Institute for Research on Public Policy.
http://www.irpp.org/links/index.htm
Annotated list of links to Canadian research institutes that may publish on issues of public policy.
Research Centers Directory. Detroit, MI: Gale Group, 1965 - . Also available online via Dialog as Research Centers and Services Directory.
Briefly lists the research programs, publications, and contact information of North American non-profit research institutes. Has a subject and geographic index.
Scholarly Societies Project by University of Waterloo Libraries
http://www.lib.uwaterloo.ca/society/polisci_soc.html
A collection of links to Canadian and international societies in political science.
Think Tanks: A Directory of Canadian & International Think Tanks by Hillwatch.com
http://www.hillwatch.com/PPRC/Think_Tanks.aspx
An unannotated list of links to Canadian and international think tanks.

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