One of Tony Blair's favourite think tanks has won a groundbreaking policy formation role at the heart of the coalition government.
The Institute for Public Policy Policy Research will be the first outside group to be allowed to develop policy alongside civil servants.
The move is part of Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude's plan to shake-up Whitehall.
Think tanks normally come up with policy ideas separately from ministers.
There are dozens of such groups based at Westminster, employing academics and policy experts from across the political spectrum.
The IPPR, which was formed in the late 1980s by left-leaning academics and was highly influential on government policy during the Blair years, will receive £50,000 to look at how the civil service works in other countries, particularly New Zealand.
It will report back to ministers with recommendations on future reform.
The government said the IPPR's contract was the first step to their goal of making "open policy making" the default.
The think tank will look at the organisation of the civil service in a number of countries including Australia, Singapore and Sweden.
Ministers are particularly keen to examine administrations where officials are politically appointed by the government of the day - like in the US and France - rather than permanent as is the case in the UK.
And the system in New Zealand, where officials have a contractual responsibility to their ministers to deliver policies, is seen as something that could improve how policies are implemented.
Mr Maude denied the IPPR had been chosen to provide political cover for any controversial changes, insisting there was a cross-party feeling that reform was necessary.
"I have always said that, although our civil service has many strengths, it would be arrogant to assume that there is nothing that we can learn from other countries," he said.
The think tank is expected to provide a "menu" of options for reform by the end of Autumn.
Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood said: "This is very important for the Civil Service.
"I know how good civil servants are at policy making, and I also know how powerful opening the process up to new ideas and challenges can be."
The fund for commissioning external policy research is available to all departments and is worth up to £1m a year.