Transparify Launches Blog on Think Tank Transparency

Who funds think tanks? Where does the money come from? We have dug through the websites of over 150 think tanks worldwide in an effort to find out, and are currently double-checking the results. Today, we launch the Transparify blog to share some of our preliminary findings.

Our compilation of media articles on think tank transparency shows that citizens around the world increasingly expect think tanks to reveal where their money comes from. Last year, outside calls for more transparency prompted two American think tanks, the Center for American Progress and the Atlantic Council, to disclose who funded them. Donors too have been challenged to open their books. Most recently, Senator Elizabeth Warren called on major financial sector players in the US to disclose their payments to think tanks.

Think tanks often fail to meet even minimal standards of financial transparency. We have reviewed previous research from the United States, Britain and continental Europe, and discovered that fellow data sleuths have frequently struggled to follow the money trail. In many cases, they found no financial information at all. Following in these pioneers’ footsteps, our own raters too have often returned empty handed from their online treasure hunts among think tanks in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania. It seems that many think tanks still fail the transparency test.

Does it matter? We think it matters a lot (and so does at least one Nobel Prize winner). As citizens, we want to know who finances the policy recommendations that shape public debates and influence how our societies are governed and run. As researchers, we believe that being open about research agendas and funding is good practice – which is why you can find our project details online. And being former think tank wonks ourselves, we are worried that the appearance or actuality of hidden agendas is increasingly undermining the credibility of the think tank community as a whole.

We will soon release our ratings of 150+ think tanks. Until then, the Transparify blog will:

  • provide regular updates on our preliminary rating results
  • feature news, analyses and opinion pieces by experts in the field
  • release three more bibliographies on issues around think tank funding
  • provide a forum for you to share your views with other think tank wonks worldwide

We look forward to a lively debate – be part of it! Post a comment below or on future blog posts.

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Till Bruckner, Advocacy Manager, Transparify