Transparency from a Southern Think Tank’s Point of View

Guest blogger Natalia Aquilino of the Argentinian think tank CIPPEC discusses transparency from a Latin American perspective. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author alone, and may not reflect the views of Transparify.

A discussion on think tanks’ transparency and accountability, as well as one about the evaluation function, is still pending within Latin American.

From CIPPEC’s point of view as a southern think tank, we believe it is very relevant to strengthen the debate on think tank legitimacy not only in the northern part of the world, but also in Latin America.

However, both the context and the reasons why it matters are different over here.

First, it’s a matter of values: transparency builds credibility. We believe the current lack of transparency undermines think tanks’ reputation and weakens our position as an independent, nonpartisan organization. In our case, letting everyone knows where the money comes from allows us to enhance the “research to policy” link.

Second, in our political context, where increasing polarization has been a key feature over the last 10 years, it definitely matters who finances you. This shapes the research agenda, but also conditions the fundraising strategy. For instance, it is getting harder to work with some donors that have different interpretations on how democracy should work in our countries from the interpretations of our governments. The risk here is not only not to get funded but also to become irrelevant to the local context.

Third, technology and digital resources facilitate the accountability function in our institutions. Given appropriate software for think tank management, information systematization and publicity becomes easy and smooth. Customization can also be provided via web sites as you may find in the section on donors on our website.

Last but not least, accountability and transparency needs to be a part of the think tank impact equation. Being accountable as an organization is a smart way of complementing the so-called "think tanks impact assessment" which most of the time just concentrates on resources management, reputation, media coverage, output quality or research uptake (as for instance in the Go To Think Tanks Index). 

Transparency completes the ‘policy impact’and ‘research to policy’ concepts by bringing in the issue of who supports your work. And of course, it can help to present a good accountability report in an innovative format. But we’ll discuss the usefulness of being transparent for think tank management in another post!

Natalia Aquilino is Director of the Influence, Monitoring and Evaluation Programme at the Centro de Implementación de Políticas Públicas para la Equidad y el Crecimiento (CIPPEC), a leading Argentinian think tank.