[Note: CIDOB is an independent, plural think tank without dominant partisan or ideological agendas that seeks to influence global political thought and action from its local reality in Barcelona. Since its foundation in 1973, CIDOB’s aim has been to serve the public and citizens while maintaining strong links to civil society. This post is from Jordi Bacaria, the Director of CIDOB. CIDOB is one of a number of organizations to become newly transparent in 2018.]
Globalisation and new information technologies have changed the operating conditions for think tanks. Among the new challenges is the disconnect between governments and citizens – one of the reasons democracies we believed were firmly consolidated now appear weak. Think tanks today must be inclusive and commit to citizens as the catalysts for change, connect with governments, and contribute to solving the problems citizens cannot resolve by themselves.
Fulfilling these objectives requires accountability to society and the institution's funders. An institution achieves prestige through the quality and independence of its output and transparency in its accounts. Both society and funders should know how the annual budget is spent and the details of its multiannual strategic plan. Specifically, the sources of its funding and how it is used to achieve the foundation's goals should be clear.
Independence in research is entirely linked to transparency. A think tank must establish strategic goals for complying with transparency that go beyond even what is established by legal regulations. In addition to the legal requirements for transparency and accountability, the CIDOB Foundation has designed a strategy of publishing all information on its website in order to achieve the highest levels of public recognition and corporate prestige for its research, publication, activities and dissemination of opinion, as well as its transparency.
The problem for think tanks today is not only competition in generating thought, it is access to funding. Reputation and prestige are key elements in securing this funding. So it should be restated that think tanks' most important challenges relate to the reputation and prestige associated with the quality of their research teams and their independence in strategic planning and decision-making.
Think tanks are not consultancies. They do not compete among themselves to produce private goods to attract clients, but compete over reputation, producing public goods for the benefit of all. Some think tanks’ lack of transparency may negatively affect the public image and reputation of the sector. The positive effects of recognition make organisations that assess think tank transparency highly necessary: Transparify does this in the international field.
CIDOB acknowledges and supports Transparify’s initiative of assessing the transparency of think tanks as a way of advancing good practices, prestige, and social recognition in the sector.
After all, transparency is central to what think tanks, including CIDOB, do.