Transparify to Re-Assess All Think Tanks in November

Transparify will begin re-rating think tanks worldwide on November 02, 2015. The assessment will cover all 169 think tanks that we have already rated twice for our previous flagship reports, in order to document their progress. Transparify assesses to what degree think tanks disclose who funds their research and advocacy, using a 5-star rating scale.

Transparify will this year for the first time additionally rate dozens of major think tanks in Britain and Australia. In Britain, we expect to be able to document huge progress from a low baseline. In Australia, the baseline was even lower when we last looked, but the trend there is also positive, with several think tanks reporting that they plan to disclose additional information shortly.

Our ratings process follows a strict protocol designed to ensure data reliability. To date, Transparify has released over 300 data points for think tanks and advocacy groups around the world, and has been widely endorsed. The method is replicable, and has been used by a number of external efforts inspired by Transparify's method. 

The full rating results listing all think tanks will be published in our annual flagship report in February 2016. In past years, our rating results have attracted wide media coverage, ranging from a front page story in the New York Times to the main evening television news programme in Namibia.

Over the past years, the field as a whole has taken huge strides towards greater funding transparency. We look forward to welcoming even more think tanks into the ranks of the transparent this time around!

The Transparify Team


More 5-Star Institutions - Momentum Towards Transparency Continues

Next to the 150+ institutions that Transparify rates every year, we have heard from additional policy research and advocacy organizations that are committed to transparency. These organizations either already were fully transparent about their funding, or engaged with us to update their disclosure.

We are glad to highlight the 5-star transparency of these five organizations. They set a great example for other institutions:

Please join us in congratulating these organizations on their 5-star transparency. We are glad to see that the momentum towards more transparency continues. The spread of countries – Bosnia, Canada, Georgia, United States – shows that this move towards more transparency has a global dimension.

If current trends continue, transparency will indeed soon be the norm for all quality think tanks and policy advocacy organizations. This is why it is so valuable that more organizations commit to 5-star transparency. Why is this transparency important? See what institutions themselves have to say on this issue.

Do you want to find out how to get 5-star transparency? Check here how to become fully transparent

Why Transparency Matters: the Think Tanks’ Perspective

[a previous version of this post appeared On Think Tanks]

Transparency sometimes can appear like a hard thing to do. Making information available can be an extra effort. Transparency may also invite additional scrutiny. It’s thus not obvious that institutions always welcome disclosure.

Yet Transparify’s experience over the past two years suggests otherwise. Many think tanks welcomed our work. They were enthusiastic about becoming more transparent. Several dozen think tanks engaged, increasing their disclosure, as our 2015 report highlights.

Why? Ask the think tankers themselves – they make a very powerful case in favor of transparency. Here is an overview of their contributions to our blog. 

One common theme across many of these contributions is that transparency is part of research excellence – it communicates confidence in the integrity of one’s findings. In that way, transparency contributes to an open and constructive debate.

This, too, is a reason why we think that transparency should be the default for policy research and advocacy. We hope that more think tanks will join to help set the standard. We believe journalists should routinely ask think tanks and policy experts how they are funded, and highlight when funding sources remain opaque. Also, we think that donors should nudge their grantees to become more transparent. Funding transparency by itself is not a guarantee of integrity, but it is one of the best starting points for a broader debate.

If you want to share your perspective on the importance of transparency, we would very much welcome your contribution to our blog or, as an additional step, you could connect to this theme through On Think Tanks itself.  

Interested in how to increase your transparency? Go here to find out how to get 5-star transparency

Do transparency advocacy groups practice what they preach?

Transparify so far has primarily looked at the transparency of think tanks. Yet transparency also matters in many other sectors, including policy advocacy.

Citizens should be able to find out who pays for that advocacy. 

Transparency is particularly relevant for pro-transparency organizations. In line with that idea, we assessed 34 organizations who feature prominently at the Open Data Conference (#IODC15) in Ottawa, Canada. The #IODC15 event, which runs May 28-29, 2015, brings together the leading pro-transparency organizations, experts and donors, from across the world. It thus allows an excellent assessment of the field of pro-transparency advocacy.

Using Transparify's well-established methodology, we rated the extent to which participating organizations publicly disclose through their websites where their funding comes from. 

How transparent are the pro-transparency advocates? 

The news is fairly good, but there is quite some way to go before the sector itself is a role-model. Of the 34 organizations we assessed:

  • 12 are already transparent about who funds them
  • 7 told us that they plan to become transparent in the near future
  • 15 are opaque and seem not to want to disclose more funding data. 

With an average of 2.7 stars, the pro-transparency sector still is less transparent than the leading 35 US think tanks are (3.2 stars). 

Follow us on Twitter to keep up to date about reactions to this report from #IODC15 participants.

We believe that non-profits should embrace transparency for a variety of reasons:

  • non-profits are key actors in democratic societies
  • non-profits enjoy tax free status
  • transparency builds credibility with donors, clients, policy-makers and other stakeholders
  • the sector as a whole is huge, e.g. in the United States it accounts for over 8% of GDP
  • voluntary transparency is the best way to dissuade burdensome external regulation.

We will re-assess all 34 institutions later this year to track and document their progress. To receive our follow-up report by email, sign up here.

To find out who the most transparent pro-transparency advocates are, read our MAY 2015 IODC TRANSPARENCY REPORT.

Transparency and Funding of Think Tanks in France

 A compilation of publications on think tank funding and think tank transparency and a review of relevant websites in French language published on the Transparify website today provides a snapshot of relevant debates in France and suggests that French think tank may be less transparent than their peers elsewhere in the European Union.

The literature review section shows that debates about think tanks’ influence, their financing and their intellectual independence are global in scope. Do think tanks strengthen or weaken democracy? How do funding pressures shape think tanks’ operations? How independent are policy wonks from those who fund them? Which economic sectors finance which think tanks, and why? Clearly, these questions are seen to be relevant beyond the world of “Anglo-Saxon” policy research.

The author, Alexis Courbon Michel, also visited the websites of some prominent French think tanks and reviewed their conflict of interest policies, funding strategies and available financial data. A mixed picture emerges from his review. On the one hand, French think tanks seem aware of debates about the intellectual integrity of the field. Many seek to signal their credibility by detailing how they manage donor relations, and/or by disclosing substantial amounts of financial data. On the other hand, the author was unable to find any funding information whatsoever on the websites of several prominent French think tanks.

This suggests that think tanks based in France may on average be less transparent than their peers in the European Union. Transparify’s 2015 report, released last month, showed that nearly a third of EU think tanks are transparent or highly transparent. Most other policy shops in the EU assessed by Transparify provide at least some funding information. (Only two think tanks surveyed, both in Britain, are completely opaque: the Institute of Economic Affairs and the International Institute for Strategic Studies. In addition, numerous Spanish think tanks are reportedly also keeping their books firmly shut.)

Transparify would like to thank Alexis Courbon Michel for generously sharing his research with us, and with the wider think tank community. Those interested in learning more about the policy research landscape in France should visit the website of the French Think Tank Observatory


Roundup of Reactions to Transparify’s 2015 Report

Two weeks ago, we released our 2015 REPORT documenting significant progress towards greater think tank transparency worldwide. Especially the U.S. results were encouraging – over half of think tanks there are now transparent. In contrast, results for the UK were disappointing.

The Financial Times led off its coverage with the observation that “British think-tanks are less transparent about their sources of funding than their European counterparts.” It noted that “only one of 11 British think-tanks assessed, the Institute for Public Policy Research, was rated as transparent,” while three prominent institutions including the International Institute for Strategic Studies were rated as highly opaque.

The Brussels-based EU Observer titled its article “UK and Hungarian think tanks least transparent in EU”. It noted that think tanks based in Brussels itself performed well: “Three of the thinktanks evaluated are based in Brussels: Bruegel (5 stars), International Crisis Group (4 stars), Centre for European Policy Studies (3 stars).”

One World led with the sentence that “Only three think tanks got ‘significantly more opaque’ during 2014, and one of them is Britain’s Overseas Development Institute.” The author suggested that our survey “addresses an important issue because secrecy about funding sources undermines the credibility” of many think tanks.

Broadcaster KBC in Kenya noted the 5-star performance of two Kenyan think tanks, adding that “donor funding has been a contentious issue in the not-for-profit sector with government proposing stringent laws to cap funding to ensure accountability and openness of funding sources”. The issue is also controversial in Hungary, where the government has recently been accused of orchestrating a crackdown on independent NGOs, including think tanks. Transparify’s report sparked a lively debate in Hungary that is still ongoing; we will provide a separate summary at a later point. Several media outlets in Georgia and Montenegro have also covered the story.

On Think Tanks produced a great map of the global results.

Numerous think tanks released statements explaining their commitment to transparency.

“AERC endeavors to observe best global practices in everything it does, and it is encouraging that our outstanding efforts are receiving global acknowledgment,” said Prof. Lemma Senbet, the Executive Director of the African Economic Research Consortium, a think tank based in Kenya with strong global name recognition among international development experts.

Also in Kenya, Kwame Owino, the Executive Director of its Institute of Economic Affairs, tweeted that “If we fail to aim for high transparency, we reduce our ability to demand budget transparency in #Kenya".

In Sweden, Johan Kuylenstierna from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) commented that “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… Transparency is a keystone in bridging science and policy.”

Why does transparency matter to think tanks? A list of statements by think tanks on their 2015 transparency ratings, including links to the full text of each, is below.


Check also the contributions by several think tanks on our own blog, by scrolling down.  Transparify will begin re-rating think tanks in November 2016. We look forward to being able to report even more transparent institutions in our next report!

Transparency in Hungary – Political Capital

Guest blogger Péter Krekó from Political Capital, a think tank in Budapest, reacts to Transparify’s recent report, and highlights the country context in Hungary.

Political Capital’s funding transparency recently was assessed by Transparify, and the rating was not particularly flattering. Political Capital does embrace transparency and has nothing to hide about its finances. Given that our institute only receives project funding from its donors, and no core funding, we had put the list of donors on our thematic project websites, here, here and here. We also highlighted our funders with every study, in our press releases, and at our public events.

Transparify's ratings, however, offered a good reminder to make this information even more easily available, therefore we have recently published the list of our Foundation donors on our main website. Additionally, most of our donors do publish information about funding they give to us on their respective websites. We are currently in touch with our donors to ensure that they all agree to publish more information. We are committed to increase our transparency to at least a 3-star level.

At the same time, it is also important to note the regional and national context of transparency. In Hungary for example, there have been several governmental attacks against NGOs and think-tanks over their foreign funding, following the Russian model of action against NGOs. While we are still embracing transparency, as most of the NGO actors in Hungary do, the readers of the study should also understand that the “dangers” of transparency nowadays definitely are higher in some countries in Eastern Europe. 

For more information on the Political Capital Institute, see


Transparify proudly presents its 2015 think tank transparency report, detailing the levels of financial disclosure of over 160 think tanks located in 47 countries worldwide.

Good news:

·         Over 26 think tanks have disclosed significantly more data over the past year

·         A total of 31 policy research institutions are now highly transparent (5-star)

·         Over half of U.S. think tanks are now broadly or highly transparent

For more details, please see our 2015 REPORT and accompanying PRESS RELEASE with media contact details.

Over the coming two days, we will collect reactions from the media and think tankers worldwide and post a summary on this blog.

Why is think tank transparency important? Nobody can answer that question better than think tanks themselves. Scroll down to learn why three excellent institutions – the Natural Resource Governance Institute, the Social Policy and Development Centre, and the Stimson Center– chose to become fully transparent, and follow the links to their funding pages to see what full disclosure looks like in practice.



Stimson: Being Transparent Builds Trust and Boosts Impact

Guest blogger Brian Finlay from the Stimson Center, a leading U.S. think tank, explains why his institution is committed to transparency.

Since its birth in the early 1900s, the American think tank has come to occupy a unique space in American democracy and the international policy landscape: that of the collaborative ‘problem solver’. As the world grows increasingly complex, addressing the grand global challenges of our time necessitates inclusion and innovation. Meeting the threat of climate change, the scourge of terrorism, or the plague of inadequate public health cannot be achieved in isolation—aloft on the Hill or in the ivory towers of academia. Rather, transparent, trusting relationships within and between governments, with industry, and across civil society must be forged in order to evaluate, critique and implement effective policies to sustainably meet these challenges. This is the function of the modern think tank.

Stimson has continually been recognized as an innovative, creative and effective institution. Through our rigorous and non-partisan analysis, Stimson develops unique approaches to the major challenges of our time — including resource competition and scarcity and  humanitarian crises, while playing an important brokering role in debates on nuclear proliferation, arms trafficking and defense policy. 

Stimson is on the cutting edge in its sector, not only in our innovative research and analysis, but also on financial transparency following the belief that think tanks must ‘practice what we preach’. With transparency and cooperation as main tenets of our theory of change, they must be prerequisites to all of the work that we do. In Transparify’s 2015 report, the Stimson Center is awarded a 5-star rating, the highest possible, in recognition for its leadership in the global think tank movement towards transparency.

Since its non-partisan founding twenty-five years ago, Stimson has worked to serve a larger purpose—taking pragmatic steps toward peace and security, and not that of partisan groups such as the US government, foreign governments, corporations or any other funder of our work. This top rating for financial transparency demonstrates Stimson’s successful commitment to the highest standards of integrity and transparency in our research and in our coalition-building: openly identifying our supporters and ensuring the highest standards of scholarly independence and freedom of expression.

Stimson’s dedication to the transparency movement echoes the pride we take in our partnerships and in our research.  Full disclosure about funding and partnerships enhances trust within and outside of our organization, strengthens our recommendations and findings, and ultimately facilitates the organization’s ability to effect change according to our mission of providing pragmatic solutions to the global security threats of our time.

Brian Finlay is the Vice President at Stimson and also directs the Center's Managing Across Boundaries initiative. Stimson’s website features its annual funding report and the think tank’s internal guidelines on corporate and government funding.


Transparency as a Public Good: Why SPDC Publishes Who Funds Us

Guest blogger Muhammad AsifIqbal from the Social Policy and Development Centre, a leading think tank in Pakistan that is highly transparent, explains why his organization posts detailed donor information online.

Being a civil society organization, the Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC) considers its own financial transparency an obligation towards society as a whole and towards its stakeholders in particular.  SPDC is non-profit research think tank established in 1995 with the mission to contribute to national economic and social development policies and programmes in Pakistan to make them more accountable, pro-poor, engendered and equitable.

Under Pakistani law, financial statements must be provided to the corporate regulating authority, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan.Although any citizen can request this body to provide audit reports of public and non-profit companies, public awareness in this regard is generally lacking.

Almost four years ago, SPDC’s management committee (which comprises the managing director and senior research staff) decided that in order to manifest our commitment toward transparency, we should make our financial information public and place it on the website. The debate in the management committee revolved around the issues of public good and organizational integrity.

Since civil society organizations are meant to work for public good, citizens have the right to know about their work and financial sources. Unfortunately, development NGOs in Pakistan have a very limited (or almost non-existent) constituency of local donors such as indigenous philanthropy or government support; they have to rely on the international donor community. The attitude of government and media (and sometimes of the general public) towards these organizations is not always positive. Their integrity is frequently questioned on the grounds of transparency.

We at SPDC felt a need to improve the communication between civil society organisations and their stakeholders in order to deal effectively with the prevailing misconceptions. Making financial information easily accessible to the public is very important in this regard. Therefore, SPDC decided to upload its audited accounts on the website.

Later, after communicating with Transparify, we felt that the information provided on our website could be made more ‘reader friendly’ since the financial statements are in a format that can be difficult for some people to understand. Consequently, we also shared our annual reports (detailing activities) and a summary of donors’ grants on SPDC’s website. We are committed to maintaining and further improving the communication with our stakeholders and citizens.

Muhammad AsifIqbal is SPDC’s Principal Economist. The think tank’s funding page can be found here.

Seeing Stars: How and Why NRGI Improved Its Financial Reporting

Guest blogger Daniel Kaufmann from the Natural Resource Governance Institute looks back on his organization’s journey towards full financial disclosure.

“Walking the talk.”“Practicing what you preach.” These oft-invoked metaphors speak to the importance of matching actions to words. Another cliché is “pulling back the curtain”—showing the world that you have nothing to hide. At the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI), we assumed we were doing all of these things—until Transparify rang our bell.

Let me explain: Over the years we have conducted much research, policy analysis and technical assistance on transparency around the globe.  The evidence clearly suggests that transparency matters, whether with regard to socioeconomic development in general, or in key sectors like the extractive industries.

So it’s no surprise that we at NRGI are deeply committed to the principles of transparency, accountability and good governance in the oil, gas and mining sectors. We’re passionate about those principles—without information, citizens can’t hold their governments accountable for the proceeds from natural resources that should fund human and economic development.

Shining a light in dark corners, where information valuable to citizens is often hidden, is one of the pillars of our work. Yet, we had never really turned our critical gaze inward to determine whether we were observing the very disclosure practices we advocate.

Last year, Transparify assessed more than 150 think tanks in over 40 countries, focusing on the extent to which organizations disclose information about who funds their work. NRGI was rated above average, receiving three out of five stars. But what is above average for some,was worse than mediocre for us; the rating was a real wake-up call. It served as an important impetus to our efforts to immediately improve our own transparency, so we did the homework and took concrete action.  We are pleased that this year we have been given a five-star rating by Transparify—signaling that our disclosure of donor funds is now “highly transparent.”

In the spirit of our multi-stakeholder approach, our review involved consultation with our board, staff, donor partners, Transparify, and organizations previously awarded five stars, like the Center for Global Development and the World Resources Institute. Within a few months of our 2014 rating, we disclosed additional financial information, going beyond what is traditionally made available in annual financial statements and IRS tax forms. Specifically, we published donor names, total grant amounts, annual grant amounts, grant periods and short descriptions of how funds are being used. We provided this data for contributions and grants of $100,000 or more, which account for more than 90 percent of NRGI’s annual funding.

Transparify’s work in the think tank sphere complements initiatives to improve the transparency of official development aid funding, such as Publish What You Fund (PWYF) and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), with which I have collaborated. We at NRGI appreciate Transparify’s initiative to make transparency organizations more transparent. Its efforts have nudged us to ensure that we are fully in sync with our own policy prescriptions and open to the scrutiny that we—and all who work in the public interest—deserve. But we will not rest on these five-star laurels—instead we strive to continue improving on all facets of transparency.

Daniel Kaufmann is the president of the Natural Resource Governance Institute, which discloses comprehensive and detailed funding data online. 

Transparify to Launch 2015 Report on 17 February – Embargoed Copies Available

Transparify will release its 2015 report on the financial transparency of think tanks on Tuesday, 17 February 2015.

Transparify’s 2015 report will cover 169 think tanks across dozens of countries worldwide, and will for the first time display full rating results for every single think tank. We expect strong coverage by various U.S. media outlets, and additional coverage by British, Spanish, and Brussels-based media.

The report will be released at 02:01 EST (08:01 Berlin time) via the Transparify website.

To receive the report straight into your inbox when we release it sign up here. Alternatively, you can follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

To request an embargoed copy of the report in advance, or to schedule a phone interview, please contact our advocacy manager. Our D.C. representative will be available for radio and TV interviews.

A Debate Worth Having: Anonymity & Remaining Opacity

As think tanks, especially in the United States, have been putting more information online, their disclosure has invited scrutiny and public debate. In the last days there were several items, see Greg Sargent for the Washington Post and Dan Berman in the National Journal

We welcome the debate and attention to think tank funding. Greg Sargent quotes our statement on this debate in detail, and we are reposting it here once more: 

Transparify strongly welcomes the Center for American Progress' recent shift towards greater transparency. While we have not formally assessed and rated CAP's new disclosure level yet, it is clear that it represents a substantial improvement over CAP's previous level of disclosure. CAP's move reflects a broad and significant shift by the American think tank community as a whole towards greater transparency over the past year. 

Some commentators have highlighted the fact that CAP, like some other think tanks, has not disclosed the names of some of its donors. Transparify obviously encourages full disclosure, but at the same time realizes that large institutions in particular may need to take one step towards transparency at a time. CAP is definitely moving into the right direction. 

Should there be anonymous donors at all? As Transparify has documented, there are various sides to the debate. Some donors do not want to be named. While we prefer as much transparency as possible, our ratings at this point make allowance for up to 15% of donations being anonymous. The rationale is that sensible organizations typically will not risk their reputations for a small portion of their funding. This rule-of-thumb is not meant to settle the discussion on anonymous funding. It is intended to make it possible to have a constructive debate on such funding, in the first place.

Meanwhile, a small (and rapidly shrinking) minority of American think tanks continue to dig their heels in and refuse to open their books. It's understandable and legitimate that the public is focusing on the funding makeup of institutions who are opening their books.  However, in terms of research integrity, what is far more worrying is what is completely unknown -- the funding makeup of opaque think tanks. 

It's important to ask who is funding 3% of a more transparent think tank's operations. But it's even more important to ask opaque think tanks who do not disclose who their main donors are why they continue to keep their books closed while their peers are progressively disclosing more data.

[one typo amended from original statement]

We will soon be releasing our transparency rating of 150+ think tanks from around the world. To be notified, follow us on Facebook, sign up to our mailing list or follow us on Twitter