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

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.