Tuesday, February 17, 2015

New Report: Think Tanks Becoming More Transparent

The transparency organization Transparify has just published its 2015 think tank transparency report showing that a selection of the world's think tanks are becoming more transparent in terms of financial disclosure.

The new report details disclosures of 169 think tanks in 47 countries.

In the US, six think tanks scored the highest rating (5-stars).  Those think tanks are:
  • Center for Global Development (CGD)
  • World Resources Institute (WRI)
  • Pew Research Center
  • Stimson Center
  • Natural Resource Governance Institute
  • Wilson Center

A five-star rating means that donors are disclosed, clearly identifying funding amounts for, and sources of, particular projects.

As with all think tank ratings and rankings, there is lots of self-congratulations.  Here is what the Stimson Center had to say about its transparency.  Here is what Bruegel has to say in a piece entitled "Bruegel's Commitment to Transparency: The Think Tank as Fish Tank, Not Gas Tank."

A few US think tanks scored very low (i.e., 1-star) and were labeled as "highly opaque."  Those think tanks include:
  • American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
  • Earth Institute
  • Hoover Institution
  • Hudson Institute

More specifically, one-star means that the think tank lists some donors, but it is not an exhaustive or systematic list.

Open Society Foundations was the only US "think tank" to score a zero.  Interestingly, Open Society Foundations funds the work of Transparify.

A variety of think tanks are taking notice.  For example, the report notes that the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has informed Transparify that it will be disclosing all of its donors to 4-star level from February 2015.  Four-stars means that all the think tank's donors above $5,000 are listed in at least four precise funding brackets, with anonymous donors no more than 15%.

A press release about the report from Transparify can be found here.  On Think Tanks has a piece entitled "A Quick and Dirty 'Transparify-like' Assessment of US Think Tanks."

Financial Times picked up on the report, with a piece entitled "British Think-Tanks (sic) 'Less Transparent About Sources of Funding."

The EUobserver has a piece entitled "UK and Hungarian ThinkTanks (sic) Least Transparent in EU."

So, is all this disclosure good or is it essentially meaningless?

Will the think tank transparency movement move toward foundations funding think tanks?