2014 Report: How transparent are think tanks? The answer is…

…that it depends first and foremost on each individual think tank itself. Transparify today releases its report on 169 think tanks across 47 countries worldwide, and the results show that think tanks with an excellent level of disclosure can be found in all continents. The 21 “highly transparent” think tanks we identified are distributed across 16 different countries. Surprisingly, we found more highly transparent think tanks in Montenegro than in the entire United States.

Transparify also found that there is great momentum towards transparency in the think tank community as a whole, especially in the United States. We expect the number of transparent and highly transparent think tanks to grow steeply by the time we conduct our next rating at the end of the year.

This momentum towards transparency is a broader trend that our initiative at best served to catalyse and accelerate. When Transparify contacted think tanks and encouraged them to increase their level of disclosure, we often received an enthusiastic response. Our impression is that many think tanks used the occasion of our rating to implement changes that had been internally discussed for a long time beforehand.

Finally, think tank transparency is a global issue. The role of policy research institutions is growing worldwide, notably in developing countries. As Publish What You Fund have pointed out, the arguments for aid transparency that international donors subscribe to equally apply to donor support for think tanks. In this context, we strongly encourage our readers to have a look at our detailed data set, which covers all think tanks across 47 countries.

We hope that our report and data will serve as a starting point for a lively discussion within the think tank community on how we can promote excellence in research, inform democratic debates, and improve decision-making on global, national and local issues that affect us all.

Click here to access our documents:

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