What we have achieved so far
Who Funds You has been established for nineteen months and has resulted in improvements to the quality of transparency in the influential world of think tanks.
During the initial information gathering process that led to the establishment of the site on the 21 June 2012, the Institute for Public Policy Research, Progress, Reform and The New Economic Foundation all contacted us and agreed improvements to their disclosures about funding in order to improve their rating on the website.
The Fabian Society started publishing institutional donors that had previously been undisclosed and Civitas published partial lists.
The Centre for Social Justice have made some positive moves and we are currently seeking clarification from them on further improvements as well as a commitment to continue to maintain current standards.
We have recognised that some think tanks had given historical assurances about privacy to funders. We have urged these organisations to encourage their funders to be more open and we are hoping to see a number of improvements in our rankings as a result.
In an ideal world, our project would be larger and more thoroughly resourced. We recognise that some funders are themselves organisations that are opaque, though some of the criticism of this (particularly from think tanks that offered no disclosure of any kind) had an element of misdirection about it.
One example is the contribution from the Network for Social Change to the New Economic Foundation. While the NfSC may not be transparent about it’s funding, we need to maintain some proportion here. It accounts for less than 5% of NEF’s income.
Nevertheless, this is an area that needs more investigation. Think tanks have grown in influence over the past four decades – they compete with elected politicians and they often provide a valuable asset to the UK’s £2bn lobbying industry.
In addition to this, journalists are increasingly reliant upon external research, as their own research budgets have collapsed. It is important that journalists can understand the provenance of the findings that they report.
Where think tanks conduct research is, in itself, a matter of public interest. It shows the public the priorities of the funders. It has been argued that a think-tank with a known ideological bent is hardly going to change its politics to chase funding.
However, it is important to know which material interests are prepared to fund ideological ones – and why.
Think tanks increase the size of the ‘Westminster Village’ economy. They are not particularly diverse or inclusive in their employment practices, with staff moving between MPs offices, journalism, lobbying companies, political parties and the civil service.
They help to cement the semi-exclusive ‘political caste’ that excludes so many sections of society. This is another part of the accountability that needs to be applied to think tanks and we are in discussion with a number of potential partners to take this project forward.
As well as the think tanks we approached, eight organisations voluntarily submitted funders’ details and received our Transparency Award.
Posted by Paul Evans on 10 February 2014