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

Full-On Transparency in Georgia

Guest blogger Eka Gigauri from Transparency International Georgia explains how her organization uses financial transparency to boost its credibility. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author alone, and may not reflect the views of Transparify.

Transparency International (TI) Georgia is the Georgian chapter of the global anti-corruption movement Transparency International. In all of its operations, TI Georgia is and acts as an independent local nongovernmental organization which has been using in-depth analysis and targeted advocacy to promote accountability and transparency in Georgia over the last 14 years.

Much of our research is related to revealing the power relationships in areas where important decisions are made that affect the lives of citizens. We have been a pioneer think tank in Georgia that identifies and brings to public attention the corruption risks in a number of areas, including government-business relations, public procurement, media, and political party financing. Moreover, based on the findings of our studies, we have been able to advance a great deal of progressive reforms in various areas of public policy and have successfully advocated for changes in legislation and practice. One of our current advocacy campaigns, conducted with a number of partner organizations, aims to change the secret surveillance status quo in Georgia.

In Georgia, probably as in many places nowadays, there is a growing distrust towards influential think-tanks as some parts of the society believe that these organizations receive money from ‘suspicious’ sources and are therefore working for the benefit of anonymous donors rather than for the good of society. We understand that, in order to maintain the high credibility that we currently enjoy, we must keep our profile transparent and available for public scrutiny. After all, in an empowered society, which we are trying to build, public scrutiny is an important tool for achieving accountability.

At TI Georgia, we believe that we need to contribute to establishing and reinforcing the culture of accountability. This is part of our organization’s culture and representing the global Transparency International movement in Georgia involves the responsibility to be transparent. Through internal regulations, such as the procurement policy and annual independent financial audits, we ensure that integrity is at the heart of all financial decisions.

We therefore disclose all the information about our financing through the ‘Our Funding’ section of our website which provides the full list of our donors and the exact amounts that we have received from them, as well as all private donations above EUR 1,000.

We have recently started accepting donations online. We have made it our policy not to accept donations above EUR 50 if they come from an anonymous source (it is impossible for us to control where the micro-donations come from). Even if this implies losing some potential donors, we would rather face that loss than risk our reputation.

Politicians and public officials in Georgia often respond to critical statements of civil society organizations by questioning the integrity of those organizations and saying that they would be interested to know the sources of their funding. We are proud to be able to reply to every statement of this sort by directing them to our website where all the relevant information is available for public scrutiny.

Eka Gigauri is the Executive Director of TI Georgia, which forms part of the Transparency International network. Full disclosure: A member of Transparify’s team was a TI Georgia employee during 2008-2009. TI Georgia was included in our data set based on a list provided by Transparify’s donor, the Think Tank Fund, rather than on our own initiative. The former TI Georgia employee had no role in selecting TI Georgia for inclusion in Transparify’s global ratings, and had no role in rating its website.