Think Tanks and Transparency Reading List

20 February 2016

This Reading List presents an overview of the different discussions on think tanks transparency that have been published on On Think Tanks as well as other sources.

The importance of transparency

Why Transparency Matters: the Think Tanks’ Perspective

Although advocating for think tank transparency may seem at first like a strenuous task, Transparify’s work has been very much welcomed by many international organisations. In this post, Hans Gutbrod lists a series of responses to Transparify’s work by think tankers from across the world.

Think Tank Transparency – An Overview of Current Debates

Transparify presents this overview on current debates regarding think tank transparency. The document consists of an annotated review that includes articles, letters, blogs and opinion pieces, among others, covering questions such as ‘How transparent are think tanks?’, ‘Is transparency important?’ and ‘What are the key debates?’. On its highlight, it states that, overall, think tanks lack transparency, but since 2013 there’s been a call for more transparency in the US (which has been rightfully answered by some US funders).

A manifesto for research-policy funders: publish what you are funding and finding

There are many studies and projects being commissioned by think tank funders and think tanks themselves that aim to solve the same questions. Instead of working together they seem to be working in parallel -and in isolation from one another. In this post On Think Tanks proposes a 6-point ‘manifesto’ for funders to ‘sign’ (and commit to). It should help save lots of money, encourage more research on these issues by think tanks themselves, and nurture a culture of co-prodution of knowledge.

Transparify: Donors need to reveal their funding to think tanks abroad

Many think tanks in developing countries are predominantly or even exclusively dependent on foreign donors to carry out their work. Many critics to think tanks’ independence warn that it is impossible to discover who funds a given think tank. Far from requiring these think tanks to be transparent, some donors actively abet opacity by their non-profit grantees. Donors wishing to improve the quality and integrity of policy-making inside developing countries could disclose which think tanks they fund, with how much, and for what work, and require think tanks to be fully transparent about all the funding they receive.

Corporate interests and think tanks: an overview of current debates

How and why do corporations fund think tanks? How do think tanks manage potential conflicts of interest? How transparent and traceable is corporate funding to think tanks? Most authors suggest that many corporations fund think tanks out of strategic self-interest. The think tank community may soon face a comprehensive crisis of credibility: they will find it hard to get their findings, ideas and policy recommendations taken at face value. Think tanks committed to intellectual independence and excellence in research need a way to actively signal to policy makers and the media that they deserve their trust and respect.

Think Tanks transparency: a new opportunity thanks to Transparify

The post reflects on the first report of Transparify, a first effort to rate the transparency of think tanks around the world. Given that think tanks are inherently political and domestic, and that they take their ‘transparency culture’ from their own societies: is it really fair to compare Peru with Malawi or Indonesia or the US -like for like? National ratings and comparing think tanks funded by a single funder could be two suggested alternatives to the current methodology.

Transparency and think tanks

Transparency for think tanks: the latest fashion or an urgent reform?

This post, written by Orazio Bellettini, Executive Director of Grupo FARO in Ecuador, presents ideas and reflections generated on the panel “From Research to Impact, from Transparency to Independence” included in the Latin American Think Tanks Summit organized by the Getulio Vargas Foundation. Orazio considers some of the arguments for and against greater transparency.

Towards a global agenda on think tank transparency

Calling think tanks to join a new initiative to promote think tank transparency around the world: After hard deliberation a group of think tank leaders and thinkers have developed a call to action for think tank transparency. If you want to learn more about it and join the effort, read along and add you name!

Addressing think tank transparency: one of the elephants in the room

Think tank transparency is an issue that is here to stay. A group of funders and think tanks got together at the Think Tank Initiative’s Global Exchange in Istanbul to discuss its pros and cons and consider how to address the growing demand for transparency. This post outlines the reasons for and against it, what think tank transparency may involve, and what could think tanks and their funders do about.

Think tank accountability: are they really just hired guns or is it slightly more complicated than that?

This post talks about think tank neutrality and credibility. Although, think tanks cannot claim to be representatives of any particular group of citizens (because they position themselves within the political space as independent), their work in influencing social policy does represent somebody’s interests, which may be a funder or funders, or the interests of the community they belong to, or it may be interests and objectives of their leaders or researchers. The posts states that, in a world in which trust of all political institutions is falling, think tanks cannot expect to be left out from scrutiny, precisely because their work is based on the perception of trust.

Undue influence – On Think Tanks

Following an alert piece on think tanks being funded by foreign governments by the New York Times, this post states that this practice is an every day affair for think tanks in the developing world and provides an overview of some of the mechanisms through which foreign funders fund think tanks in developing countries. Some pose significant challenges to their credibility and independence. Looking forward, a balance of foreign versus domestic funding will have to change.

Foreign Gov’t Funding Threatens Independent Think Tanks’ Impartiality

This article from also follows up to the New York Times article, calling on the lack of transparency of some of the think tanks cited by the newspaper. The article questions the fact that think tanks who receive this kind of funding argue still remain independent, because of the difficulties of remaining independent from the influence of the funders, whether its governments or private institutions.

Will Donor Commitments Lift the Lid on Think Tank Finances?

Guest blogger Andrea Davis discusses the implications of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standard for think tank transparency, presenting the benefits for the think tanks community of think tank transparency, as well as discussing the limitations of it being a voluntary scheme.

Think tanks and corruption

How think tanks can support the fight against corruption

What is the role think tanks can have in the fight against corruption in developing countries? Till Bruckner discusses how think tanks can occupy a space left open by the disconnect between academic thinking, empirical research and aid industry’s actions on this subject, giving practical suggestions on how this can be achieved.

The On Think Tank Interview: Donald Abelson, Professor at Western University, specialized in American Politics and US foreign policy

Donald Abelson discusses with Till Bruckner the role of think tanks in democratic societies, such as the US and Canada, taking into account the scope of their influence and the ethical issues surrounding domestic and foreign funding for think tanks.

The quick and dirty Transparify-like assessment series: regions, groups and countries

A quick and dirty “Transparify-like” assessment of US think tanks

Think tank transparency promises to be one of the most important issues of 2015. In this post we present a DIY rating of some of the most popular US think tanks to accompany Transparify’s own rating and annual report.

A quick and dirty “Transparify-like” assessment of TTI think tanks

The post is a first effort to rate think tanks within the Think Tank Initiative, using Transparify’s methodology.  The most transparent group of think tanks seems to be the South Asians, followed Latin Americans and then the Africans. The post highlights the way in which funding information is provided: a dedicated place on the website, a combination of information on the website and in annual reports, only in the annual reports or financial statements, and scattered throughout the website. Finally, the post recommends some alternatives for think tanks to present their funding information.

A quick and dirty “Transparify-like” assessment of the KSI think tanks

This posts present the results of an effort to rate think tanks within the  Knowledge Sector Initiative, using Transparify’s methodology. The analysis also has a look at KSI and its main contractors. A general recommendation to think tanks is to improve their websites. Finally, the post shares a list of great examples of transparent institutions (according to the Transparify’s ranking).

Transparency and Funding of Think Tanks in France

¿How transparent are French think tanks in regards to their funding? In this post, Transparify presents a compilation of publications on think tank funding, think tank transparency, and a review of relevant websites in French language, done by Mr. Alexis Courbon Michel. His findings would suggest that French think tanks may be falling behind in this topic compared to their peers in the European Union.

How transparent are Spanish Think Tanks? A DIY rating with Transparify’s framework

Think tank transparency is emerging as a key issue for 2015. Being influential and popular is no longer enough when it comes to assessing think tanks’ value. In this post, 48 Spanish think tanks have been rated using Transparify’s method. The authors also offer useful and practical advice to the think tanks.


Think Tank Transparency: Transparify’s 2015 report

This post makes reference to Transparify’s 2015 annual report on Transparency, which lists which are the most transparent think tanks. The post also explores ways for think tanks to reach a 5 star rating.

Think Tank Transparency:Transparify’s 2014 report

This post by Transparify links to its 2014 report on Think Tank Transparency, which covers 169 think tanks across 47 countries worldwide. It states that think tanks with an excellent level of disclosure can be found in all continents and calls for availing on the momentum this creates worldwide.

Who Funds You?: Promoting open, transparent think tanks

Who Funds You? promotes funding transparency among think tanks and political campaigns with a strong public policy or research focus. It calls on organisations to publish their annual income and declare their major funders.


Transparify provides the first-ever global rating of the financial transparency of major think tanks. It has conducted two major initiatives, one in early 2014, where they visited the websites of over 150 think tanks in over 40 countries to find out whether they provide information on who funds them and how much they receive from each source, finding there was already momentum towards greater transparency. In early 2015, it was followed up with a second round of ratings of the same think tanks to see whether their transparency has improved.