In a world of ‘fake news’, why think tank transparency matters

[Note: This blog was written by Grace Mota, the Chief Financial Officer at the International Institute for Sustainable Development.]

Transparify—an initiative that provides a global rating of the financial transparency of major think tanks and policy-relevant non-profit organizations—has just released its latest assessment.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) has earned the maximum rating of five stars for the third year in a row, meaning we are deemed “highly transparent” about our funding sources, and that IISD lists all its donors and clearly identifies funding amounts and sources of funding for particular projects.

For IISD, this news could not come at a better time. Like other non-profit organizations, we are feeling the effects of the current, strained funding climate—with fewer potential sources of funding in our sphere of work (namely sustainable development) and much more intense competition for it.

Think tanks play an important role in shaping public policy and public opinion in many countries. The research and evidence generated by organizations like IISD is unbiased, independent-minded and rigorous. Our goal is to provide knowledge that can impact decisions that affect us all. However, if some think tanks are less transparent than others about their motives and funding sources, a shadow of doubt is cast over the entire sector.

As Transparify notes on its website: “…there are concerns that some policy advice provided by some think tanks may be driven more by the vested interests of their funders than by truly independent research and analysis.”

Given this backdrop, a five-star transparency rating matters more than ever—indeed our financial sustainability rests on it. Transparent donor recognition, along with overall financial reporting, can be a crucial criterion for a funder to consider when determining which non-profit to fund. It can really set an organization apart.

Existing and potential funders need to have quick and easy access to financial reporting, to see who else is funding our work, where their money is going, and what it is being spent on. Moreover, funders need to see how their support for our work leads to impact. They want to be able to attribute changes for the better to the dollars they have contributed.

Openly listing all who choose to fund our work is, for us, a source of great pride. These organizations and individuals have selected us over other organizations and have placed their faith in us to use their funds wisely and responsibly. We are grateful for this and afford our funders due respect and recognition, whether in an annual report, or an easily accessible listing on our website.

It is gratifying to receive this positive news as the calendar year draws to a close. We thank everyone who supported our work this year, as well as all our staff, and look forward to another five-star year in 2018.

New Transparify Report: Canadian Think Tanks Lagging Behind

Which Canadian think tanks are transparent about who funds them? Which lag behind their peers in Canada? And how do Canada’s think tanks compare to those in other countries  when it comes to funding transparency?

Transparify’s newly released report, Think Tank Transparency in Canada: Lagging behind the US and UK reveals which Canadian policy institutions are transparent and which are not. In particular, it identifies four highly opaque think tanks that between them have sought to influence the policy making process in Canada through at least 216 appearances in front of parliamentary committees, and collectively generated nearly 60,000 media mentions.

Overall, despite significant gains in transparency over the past year, Canadian think tanks still lag behind their peers in the United States and United Kingdom in terms of their funding disclosure.

Results table Canada.PNG

Previous Transparify reports have been covered widely in the media. Numerous think tanks and transparency organisations have welcomed our work. Background information on think tanks, transparency and lobbying, including many cases involving UK institutions, can be found in our four annotated bibliographies.

Read the full report, Think Tank Transparency in Canada: Lagging behind the US and UK, and the accompanying press release.

REPORT LAUNCH TUESDAY 05 DECEMBER: CANADIAN THINK TANK TRANSPARENCY

On Tuesday, 05 December 2017, Transparify will release its new report on the financial transparency of fourteen of Canada’s leading think tanks. The report provides ratings of these institutions’ funding transparency and tracks their progress over the past year.

Previous Transparify reports have been covered widely in the media, including by the New York Times, Reuters, Financial Times, and the Guardian. Journalists can contact us via Twitter to request embargoed advance copies. Background information on think tanks, transparency and lobbying can be found in our four annotated bibliographies.

To receive the report as soon as it is released, please sign up to our emailing list, or follow us on Twitter.

In the News - Middle East Institute to embrace transparency

Transparify is launching In the News, a new feature where we will rate the financial disclosure of a think tank that has recently generated media headlines. By responding to the media discussion of a think tank or its scholars, we hope to be able to further increase financial transparency in the policy research community and encourage financial disclosure by those who have substantial influence on public debates.

Today, we take a look at the Middle East Institute (MEI), a U.S. think tank focusing on foreign policy and the Middle East that recently made headlines at The Intercept. Transparify decided to follow up by formally assessing MEI’s financial transparency. The rating followed Transparify’s established methodology. On September 11-12, two Transparify raters independently rated MEI’s financial transparency. They found that MEI did not provide systematic information on its website about funding sources, the purposes of donations, or the amounts donated.

Transparify then approached MEI to seek clarification on its disclosure policies. A representative of MEI responded that after looking at Transparify’s rating criteria, they have prepared a five star disclosure that will be reviewed at their next board meeting before posting to their website.

MEI shared its list of 2016 donors, with specific amounts of funding as well as the purpose of that funding. Once MEI has made that list publicly available through its website, it is likely to meet Transparify’s highest criteria for transparency.

Transparify strongly welcomes MEI’s stated commitment to transparency, and will re-rate the institution as soon as it has placed the additional funding information online. We will publish the result of that rating on this blog.

In addition to the new In the News feature, Transparify will continue to periodically publish national, sectoral and global transparency ratings of policy relevant nonprofits. We are currently finalizing a Canadian national think tank rating and will soon launch a rating of U.S. nonprofit media organizations. In addition, we have revisited websites of think tanks that lead with transparency, and will publish on this in the coming weeks.

Why accountability and transparency matters for a research centre at a publicly-funded university in South Africa

[Note: This is a guest blog post by Carina van Rooyen of the Africa Centre for Evidence, an organization which we are happy to announce that Transparify has certified as having reached five star transparency. Carina is is currently a visiting academic at ACE, and a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology and Development Studies at the University of Johannesburg. ]

The Africa Centre for Evidence (ACE) is a newly formed research centre at the University of Johannesburg, a publicly-funded comprehensive higher education institution in South Africa. Our vision at ACE is “to reduce poverty and inequality in our region by increasing the production and application of research evidence that is both useful and used”. One might rightly asks why transparency and accountability would matter so much for us.

Some of the explanation lies in our context. The realities of the South African context, both our past and present, and our commitment to our collective future, morally demands from us that we practice accountability and transparency. The apartheid history of South Africa has been recognised internationally as a crime against humanity. The effects of that violent history manifest in continued poverty, inequalities, high unemployment and widespread corruption in both the public and private sectors. For example, in the 2016 Transparency International corruption perceptions index, measuring public sector corruption, South Africa scored 45 out of 100, scarcely more than the global average of 43. Both of these scores are on the wrong end of the highly corrupt scale.

Extremely unequal and exploitative practices are very visible in the private sector when looking at the pay gap between highest and lowest paid employees. According to a recent Deloitte report the CEOs of the top 100 companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange on average are receiving a total pay package of R69 000 ($5 280) per day, yes per day! This whilst 60% of workers earn R4 200 ($321) a MONTH. Thirty years ago the ratio of executive salary to worker in South Africa was around 50:1; it is now at 500:1. The grotesqueness of the wage gap is even starker if we consider that the unemployment rate, in terms of a broad definition, is just over 36%.

As a research centre situated in South Africa we aim to make a difference to this situation through our production and promotion of the use of high quality systematic reviews, maps and other evidence syntheses. However, we realise that we should also make a difference through our own practices, and how we share information about ourselves. It is for this reason that we are transparent about our funders and the wage gap within our centre. Whilst we are hosted by the University of Johannesburg, we have to be self-sufficient in terms of funding.  As a research body, to confirm our objectivity and reflection, we already have an ethical obligation to make known who provides our funding. Additionally, as part of our commitment to nurture our young democracy in South Africa, we list on our website the organisations that we have done work for, and received funding from. We feel that such practices of transparency and accountability will model what we expect at every level in all aspects of our society. As secretariat for the Africa Evidence Network, ACE further has that commitment not only to South Africa, but also the African continent.

We also indicate on our website the pay ratio at ACE; our director earns 4.14 times what the lowest paid researcher receives. A shortcoming of this calculation is that this is based on the direct cost to ACE, and does not include the indirect cost of making use of the services of, for example, a cleaner and member of security staff, who is paid by the university. In honouring South Africa’s Constitution in its commitment to ensure social justice, as citizens and organisations we have to conduct ourselves not purely in terms of a legal imperative but rather on a principled commitment to fairness and social justice. We consider that through practising transparency and accountability, and working with others on evidence-informed decision-making, we can together build a fair and just world.

Think tanks, evidence and policy: democratic players or clandestine lobbyists?

[Note: On February 7, 2017 Transparify released a report on think tank transparency in the United Kingdom. Till Bruckner, Transparify's Advocacy Manager also published the piece below on the LSE Impact Blog. The piece is republished below under a Creative Commons 3.0 licence.]

Depending on your perspective, think tanks either enrich the democratic space by conducting policy research and facilitating public dialogue and debate, or undermine democracy by pushing policies favoured by powerful corporate interests. Till Bruckner explains how Transparify are contributing to debate about think tanks’ role in evidence-based policymaking by assessing their levels of financial transparency. The Transparify report, released today, enables citizens, researchers, journalists, and decision-makers to distinguish between legitimate policy voices and questionable sources of ‘expertise’.

When prominent American politician Jim DeMint was asked why he gave up his seat in the Senate to become president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington DC, he replied that the new job would give him greater influence on politics and policymaking than his elected office had.

But is that influence benign or malign? Observers are divided. Professor James McGann, author of numerous books on the subject, argues that think tanks enrich the democratic space by conducting policy research, developing policy options, facilitating dialogue between diverse stakeholder groups, and stimulating public debates, regardless of whether they pursue an ideological agenda. More think tanks are better for democracy, he concludes.

In contrast, George Monbiot, a left-wing British commentator whose columns often lament the influence of think tanks, sees these organisations (or at least those whose politics he disagrees with) primarily as lobbying groups in disguise that undermine democracy by pushing policies favoured by the powerful corporate interests who bankroll them. “A few billion dollars spent on persuasion buys you all the politics you want,” he recently wrote. In a donor-driven marketplace of ideas, Monbiot warns, the think tank sector as a whole only serves to further tilt the playing field in favour of the rich.

Transparify, an initiative I work with, decided to contribute to the ongoing debate about think tanks’ role in evidence-based policymaking and democratic politics by assessing think tanks’ level of financial transparency. As On Think Tanks founder Enrique Mendizabal has argued:

“Think tanks are all about influence. They are not, as much as they pretend to be, neutral ivory towers that undertake entirely value-free research and offer value-free advice… Think tanks help their case by presenting themselves as neutral academics… Domestic or foreign [funders], nobody hands over money to think tanks without wanting anything in return…. They all want something.”

We decided to examine which think tanks voluntarily disclose who funds their work. Think tanks that lack confidence in their ability to maintain independence despite the ubiquitous donor pressures noted by Mendizabal are likely to feel defensive. They may keep their books closed in order to avoid awkward questions about why, say, their studies funded by Philip Morris always conclude that raising taxes on cigarettes is a bad idea, or why their institution only started to advocate for clean energy after it received a large grant from a solar panel manufacturer. Conversely, a policy research institute that has confidence in the quality, intellectual independence and integrity of its research and advocacy will have no problems disclosing its donors, no matter who those donors are.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) is an interesting case in point. In December 2016, leaked documents revealed that the London-based think tank had signed a multi-year funding contract worth at least £25 million with the Persian Gulf monarchy of Bahrain. The documents also revealed both sides had pledged to keep most of the donations secret. After the document had been leaked to the media, the IISS issued a statement claiming that it did “not accept any funding that may impinge on our intellectual and political independence”. But if the IISS leadership was so confident about its ability to resist donor pressures, why did it try to keep the Bahraini cash infusion – which may amount to nearly half of its overall funding – secret in the first place?

In order to measure differences in transparency, Transparify has developed a five-star rating system to allow us to compare think tanks’ disclosure levels across multiple institutions. The maximum five-star score shows that a think tank is highly transparent, revealing not only the names of its donors, but also how much each donor gave and the purpose of each donation. At the opposite end of the scale, an organisation with a zero-star rating keeps the identities of all of its donors secret. Below even this are those categorised as ‘deceptive’, which seem to disclose significant amounts of information but in reality hide major, potentially embarrassing donors from public view.

Figure 1: the Transparify ratings system, taken from the report, ‘Think Tanks in the UK 2017: Transparency, Lobbying and Fake News in Brexit Britain’, and published with permission.

Using this system, we visited the websites of 27 British think tanks to assess their transparency (more information about the methodology is available on the Transparify website and also as an appendix to its report). This is what we found:

Table 1: Transparify ratings for 27 British think tanks, taken from the report, ‘Think Tanks in the UK 2017: Transparency, Lobbying and Fake News in Brexit Britain’, and published with permission.

A closer look at the highly opaque institutions on our list confirmed our hypothesis that think tanks that hide their donors usually have something to hide. For example, according to research compiled by TobaccoTactics, the Adam Smith Institute, the Centre for Policy Studies, and the Institute for Economic Affairs have all previously received undisclosed funding from tobacco companies, and all have produced research that was then used to lobby against stronger anti-smoking regulations. We found that the Adam Smith Institute has created a structure so opaque that it concealed not only who gave money, but also who took it, leaving us unable to determine where close to one million pounds given by American donors had ended up. Meanwhile, Policy Exchange has previously used evidence that appears to have been fabricated; the resulting report led to fake news headlines in several media outlets that had naively trusted “research” conducted by an opaque think tank.

Opaque ‘think tanks’ working the Westminster lobbying circuit seem to have considerable financial backing. Collectively, they spend more than £22 million of dark money every year to shape public debates and influence politics and policies in Britain. Ironically, some are registered as charities and so are indirectly subsidised by tax payers.

Table 2: Status and expenditure of those think tanks with Transparify ratings of one star and below, taken from the report, ‘Think Tanks in the UK 2017: Transparency, Lobbying and Fake News in Brexit Britain’, and published with permission.

Alarmingly, such opaque organisations not only push out their policy prescriptions via Facebook, Twitter and public events, but they also continue to receive extensive media coverage, including by the BBC. In addition, research published by think tanks regularly finds its way into the academic literature. If academics do not check the source’s funding transparency beforehand, this opens the door to idea laundering.

So, is the influence of think tanks on democratic politics benign or malign? We believe that overall, think tanks – including those that are overtly ideological – make a positive contribution to debates and decision-making in the UK. After all, 17 of the 27 think tanks we assessed are considered transparent, and many produce excellent research. At the same time, this positive contribution is undermined by a minority of opaque outfits that threaten to give think tanks as a whole a bad name.

Transparify’s ratings enable citizens, researchers, journalists, and decision-makers to distinguish legitimate policy voices from dubious sources of ‘expertise’. We hope that the report we release today will move the debate about think tanks beyond the good-versus-evil dichotomies of the past, and instead spark a nuanced debate about what kind of think tanks we want to have influence on democratic politics, and how the media in particular can avoid giving traction to soundbites and policy prescriptions produced by opaque organisations of questionable intellectual independence and integrity.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Impact Blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please review our comments policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.

About the author

Till Bruckner has over a decade of experience in the field of research-driven advocacy. His professional history spans research, campaigning, policy analysis, and journalism. He has worked in a wide variety of contexts, including the UK, Afghanistan, Georgia, North Africa and the Caribbean. Till currently works as the advocacy manager for Transparify, consults with a variety of organizations, writes for Foreign Policy and other publications, blogs with the Huffington Post, and is a regular contributor to the On Think Tanks blog. He is interested in the hidden power relationships that structure global politics and our everyday lives, and in learning new ways of using research and advocacy to produce positive outcomes. Till holds a PhD in Politics from the University of Bristol. His full professional history and list of publications can be found on his LinkedIn page.

Transparency, Lobbying and Fake News in Brexit Britain: UK Think Tanks 2017

Which think tanks are transparent about who funds them? Which take money from hidden hands behind closed doors?

Seven highly opaque and deceptive think tanks between them spend over £22 million to distort democratic debates and influence decision-making in Britain, Transparify’s new report released today shows. The track record of these opaque outfits includes lobbying for hidden paymasters’ vested interests, pushing flawed evidence into the public realm, and generating fake news.

Key findings:

  • Most British think tanks disclose who funds them. Out of 27 think tanks we assessed, 17 are transparent; only 7 are highly opaque or deceptive about their funding sources.
  • The British think tank sector now employs over a thousand people and spends over 100 million pounds per year.
  • The seven opaque players between them employ over 200 staff and spend over 22 million pounds per year.
  • At least two secretive think tanks based in London appear to receive substantial funding from foreign sources.

Transparify’s report rates think tanks' funding transparency and presents new data on their annual expenditure and staffing levels, providing a unique snapshot of Britain’s policy research and advocacy scene.

A special section investigates how deceptive and highly opaque think tanks distort democratic debates and decision-making in the UK. It provides data on these rogue players’ known funding sources, including from donors in the United States and Bahrain. In addition, Transparify documents numerous incidences in which opaque think tanks have concealed the origin of their funding, advocated policies that favoured their hidden paymasters’ commercial interests, presented flawed evidence, and generated fake news.

Previous Transparify reports have been covered widely in the media. Numerous think tanks and transparency organisations have welcomed our work. Background information on think tanks, transparency and lobbying, including many cases involving UK institutions, can be found in our four annotated bibliographies.

Click here to read the full report and press release.

Do you want to keep track of media coverage and reactions by think tanks, or participate in discussions about integrity in policy research? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter and become part of the conversation.

REPORT LAUNCH WEDNESDAY 08 FEBRUARY: FUNDING OF UK THINK TANKS

On Wednesday, 08 February 2017, Transparify will release its new report on the financial transparency and funding of over two dozen of the UK’s leading think tanks. We will rate these institutions’ funding transparency and track their progress over the past year (see here for our 2016 report). In addition, we will present new data on think tanks’ annual expenditure and staffing levels, providing a unique snapshot of Britain’s policy research and advocacy scene.

The report will feature a special section investigating how deceptive and highly opaque think tanks distort democratic debates and decision-making in the UK. It provides data on their known funding sources (including foreign donors), expenditure, and staffing levels. It also documents numerous incidences in which opaque think tanks have concealed the origin of their funding, advocated policies that favoured their hidden donors, presented flawed evidence, or generated fake news.

Previous Transparify reports have been covered widely in the media, including by the New York Times, Reuters, Financial Times, iNews, and the Guardian. Journalists can contact us via Twitter to request embargoed advance copies. Background information on think tanks, transparency and lobbying, including many cases involving UK institutions, can be found in our four annotated bibliographies.

To receive the report as soon as it is released, please sign up to our emailing list, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

COMING SOON: NEW TRANSPARIFY REPORT ON THE FUNDING OF UK THINK TANKS

Transparify will soon release a new report covering the financial transparency and funding of over two dozen of the UK’s leading think tanks. We will rate these institutions’ funding transparency and track their progress over the past year (see here for our 2016 report). In addition, we will present new data on think tanks’ annual expenditure and staffing levels, providing a unique snapshot of Britain’s policy research and advocacy scene. The report will also feature a special section on deceptive and highly opaque think tanks and their influence on UK politics and policy.

Previous Transparify reports have been covered widely in the media, including by the New York Times, Reuters, Financial Times, iNews, and the Guardian. Journalists can contact us via Twitter to request embargoed copies of the forthcoming report. Background information on think tanks, transparency and lobbying, including many cases involving UK players, can be found in our four annotated bibliographies.

To get notified of the release date, please sign up to our emailing list, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

“Highly Opaque” or “Highly Transparent”: if you want credibility, you should aim for the latter

[Note: This is a repost of a blog first published at On Think Tanks, as part of its series on Think Tanks and Transparency.]

By Erika Perez-Leon

On June 29th, Transparify put out their 2016 think tank transparency report, detailing the levels of financial disclosure of 200 think tanks located in 47 countries worldwide. All in all, there has been significant levels of transparency in the think tanks evaluated, compared to previous years: more than 60 of the 200 think tanks are now highly transparent. To see the results, download the 2016 report.

Transparency is one of the main issues discussed at On Think Tanks and, in light of Transparify’s new report, we have published a new set of articles on the topic.

In the run up to the report, Keith Burnet, Chatham House’s Director of Communications and Publishing, wrote The road to transparency is not entirely straightforward: the Chatham House experience. Keith discusses the importance of not engaging in a quid pro quo relationship with their financial backers. This, he says, is essential to their independence and credibility. However, a much good-will as there has always been for greater transparency within the institute, it’s not always an easy endeavour, particularly given the size of the organisation and the scope of their work. “In the end, our method includes an overarching rule that recognises funding as it is spent and accounted for rather than as it is received.”

In The Value of Transparency in 21st Century Think Tanks: the Stimson Center approachBrian Finlay, President and CEO of the Stimson Center, writes about the context in which think tanks emerged in the United States: “Think Tanks were more than just a business. They were born in an era of public service and were dedicated to the betterment of society as a whole.” Their place in today’s development of public policy, though, has raised some skepticism about their impartiality, “As a think tank, it is clear that progress — measured by the impact of our ideas and actions— is only possible through trust. Transparency, particularly financial transparency, is vital to ensure public trust that institutions ‘practice what they preach,’ and live up to the highest standards of integrity and independence in their work.”

In, Assefa Admassie, Principal Research Fellow at the Ethiopian Economic Association,Open Policy Research’s founder, Jaime Gonzalez-Capitel, interviews Assefa Admassie, the Executive Director of the Ethiopian Economic Association and Ethiopian Economic Policy Research Institute (EEA/EEPRI), which has made one of the largest improvements in financial disclosure of any think tank worldwide this year. In the interview, Assefa shares information about the institute, their work, and their funding model. As to their approach to greater transparency, Assefa says, “EEA strongly believes that it should have prudent financial management systems. We have an external audit every 6 months, not just annually. So every December and every June we make sure the rest of the world can know we’re not hiding anything.” In Transparify’s 2014 rating, the organisation had only earned one star- a disappointment to them. Although they had never intended to be opaque about their finances, they had not published them. This changed for the 2016 report, when they obtained 5 stars and the status of “highly transparent.”

CEDOS, a Ukranian think tank, also scored highly on Transparify’s report. CEDOS works under the believe that in the age of information only information about processes and rules and the active participation of citizens can bring about change. As for leading by example, Yrina Shevchenko, Communications director at CEDOS, writes– “we cannot demand transparency and accountability from institutions and government without being transparent and accountable ourselves.”

Regarding current events, Tom Jeffery writes UK think tanks are transparent, but they need to show leadership during Brexit. In this post, Tom frames the importance of transparency in light of the UK’s recent decision to leave the EU. To avoid their alliances being questioned, think tanks must be able to proof that they remain independent and do not act as lobbyist for their funding partners. He quotes Dr Hans Gutbrod, Transparify’s Executive Director: “Transparency is a core democratic value. Taking money from hidden hands behind closed doors raises concerns about possible stealth lobbying, and is simply not acceptable in a modern democracy.”

As to the urgency of transparency today, Steve Goodrich, Transparency International UK’s Senior Researcher Officer, comments on the role of think tanks in today’s society and the responsibility that is attached to them. For this, he argues “[think tanks’] impartiality and expertise gives them an authority – entrusted soft power, if you will – that can be abused to favour private interests. Therefore, as with all parts of our democracy from government to business, think tanks need to be open and transparent about whose interests they are representing.”

As for reasons to embrace transparency, Assefa says:  “Organizations that want to be credible and faithful to their cause, they need to be transparent. Transparency is one of the elements, one of the variables in the equation. In order to build  trust among stakeholders, to create a proper and credible institutional image, think tanks should take transparency and accountability very seriously.”

More Think Tanks Embrace Transparency in the wake of Transparify’s 2016 Report

In the month since we published our 2016 report rating the financial transparency of 200 think tanks around the world, several think tanks have already moved their transparency forward or committed to greater financial disclosure in the near future.

The Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa has become the first think tank in Nigeria to implement 5-star financial disclosure. CSEA was established in 2008 by Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Managing Director of the World Bank who also served two terms as Nigeria’s Minister of Finance. CSEA’s embrace of full transparency is important globally, regionally and nationally:

  • Globally, because it once again demonstrates that weak national governance structures and fragile security environments do not preclude full disclosure of funding by policy relevant NGOs working in such environments;
  • Regionally, because Nigeria as a country is a political, economic, demographic and intellectual heavyweight in anglophone Africa, so innovations and successes there reverberate far beyond its borders;
  • Nationally, because other think tanks in Nigeria now have a domestic institution modeling the gold standard for financial transparency, which raises the bar for all other players.

CSEA’s new funding page discloses all its donors, the precise amount received from each, and the purpose of each donation.

The Macedonian Center for European Training has become the third Macedonian think tank to achieve 5-star disclosure by uploading an annual report that includes extensive financial information to its website. The overall picture nationally in Macedonia remains mixed, with think tanks spanning the entire spectrum from highly transparent to highly opaque.

The Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies has committed itself to achieving 5-star transparency by November 2016. GFSIS is one of the longest established and best known think tanks in Georgia, a country that emerged this year as the world leader in policy research transparency.

The Hudson Institute became a 4-star (broadly transparent) institution earlier this year, in the time period between our annual assessment and publication of the 2016 report. Their disclosure of additional information means that only four institutions in our United States sample still remain highly opaque: American Enterprise Institute, Earth Institute, Hoover Institution, and Open Society Foundations. A clear majority of large U.S. think tanks are now transparent.

Interested in increasing your own institution’s transparency? Check our brief how-to guide or get in touch with us.

Want to get updates on transparency and integrity in policy research and advocacy? Follow us on Twitter, and sign up to our mailing list.

Why Transparency Matters, according to the think tanks

While a number of media outlets reported on the release of Transparify’s 2016 report, numerous think tanks also released statements in response.

Chatham House’s Keith Burnet stated, “Think tanks can have an important role to play in providing objective analysis in the current political climate of change general instability, the rise of populist movements and a backlash against mainstream politics. At the same time, they have rightfully been subject to increasing public scrutiny. Indeed, it would be disingenuous and wrong of think tanks to promote their ideas without being open about the sources of the funding that supported their development and dissemination in the first place. The institute is required by its 1926 Royal Charter to maintain rigorous impartiality and objectivity across all activities and outputs. Transparify’s aim of encouraging greater financial transparency in the think tank sector is helping think tanks to put this goal into practice proactively.”

Transparency International UK’s Steve Goodrich stated, “The Transparify initiative evaluates and promotes financial openness amongst think tanks from all across the political spectrum...In a time when the public have little trust in their political parties and politicians, we all need to do everything we can to help provide confidence in the democratic process. It’s time we all embraced [openness] instead of hiding away in the shadows.”

SEI Executive Director Johan L. Kuylenstierna stated, “We believe transparency is essential for building trust and credibility. We provide full disclosure of our funding and invite our partners and stakeholders to assess our objectivity and hold us accountable to our mission.”

Maya Grigolia, Research Director at PMC Research stated, “We believe that transparency and accountability is not something unique but should be an inseparable part of every organizations nature. We are more than sure that it is the only way to progress and contribute to development.” 

Why does transparency matter to think tanks? A list of statements by think tanks on their transparency ratings, including links to the full text of each, is below.

THINK TANK REACTIONS

Also check out the contributions of several think tanks on our own blog, by scrolling down.  Transparify will begin re-rating think tanks in November 2017, and we look forward to being able to report even more transparent institutions in our next report!

Being more transparent is closely related to being better at communicating

By Iryna Shevchenko, Communications Director at CEDOS, Ukraine

CEDOS has always praised the principles of transparency and accountability, even though they have been long overlooked in Ukraine. In fact, these values were one of the driving forces behind CEDOS’s creation.

Fed up with inefficient decisions, a lack of evidence and high-quality research in Ukraine, we formed CEDOS believing that in the age of information only information about processes and rules and the active participation of citizens can bring about change. To understand this point, a short dive into CEDOS’s history is needed.

We rose to our feet only in 2013 but with institutional support we managed to complete a fair many projects shedding light on the previously opaque operations of institutions, bringing attention to violations of the law, fighting for effective government spending, highlighting the problems of different social groups, and exposing the transparency and lack thereof of in universities.

Clearly, as an organization, we cannot demand transparency and accountability from institutions and government without being transparent and accountable ourselves.  Hence, starting from 2014 CEDOS has published an annual public report on its web-site. The report includes a short overview of the organization’s main news, changes and obstacles, a short description of completed projects and accomplishments, and importantly funding for institutional development and for each project from each donor.

However, we overlooked one small issue – almost everything we did was published only in Ukrainian. Drunk with the ecstasy of new activities and opportunities for change, CEDOS forgot about the English speaking audience and was only concerned about the Ukrainian one.

With development and growth, we started paying more attention to the details. In a way, we settled down, became a more mature organization, and are now working on presenting our activities to a broader audience. Hence, we have rebranded, broadened our presence in social media, and launched our own media, watch-dog, open data and open source projects. In this process, we have started to translate our materials into English, and are currently working on a web-site redesign including its English translation. Notably, this year we have published our annual report both in Ukrainian and English. Given that 85% of CEDOS audience is from Ukraine, we had thought this would be a rather small step.

As it turned out, it wasn’t.

We were surprised and very glad to find out that our efforts were noticed and recognized by Transparify this year. For us, Transparify’s acknowledgement of our transparency is a good sign that we are moving in the right direction, and it is nice to know that we on the right side of history.