New website highlights secretive world of think tank funding

Who Funds You? news release

A new website launches today calling for think tanks and public policy campaigns to publish their annual income and name their major funders.

For its pilot project, Who Funds You? – http://WhoFundsYou.org – asked 20 leading UK-based think tanks and political campaigns to disclose their major funders and rated them on the depth of their responses.

The website awarded six organisations its top “A” rating (Compass, IPPR, New Economics Foundation, Progress, Resolution Foundation, Social Market Foundation), while three received its lowest “E” rating (Adam Smith Institute, ResPublica, TaxPayers’ Alliance).

The full results are:

A – Compass, IPPR, NEF, Progress, Resolution Foundation, Social Market Foundation
B – Demos, Fabian Society, Policy Network, Reform
C – Centre Forum, Civitas, Smith Institute
D – Centre for Policy Studies, Centre for Social Justice, Institute of Economic Affairs, Policy Exchange
E – Adam Smith Institute, ResPublica, TaxPayers’ Alliance

Who Funds You? is now inviting other think tanks and political campaigns with a strong public policy or research focus to disclose funders who give £5,000 or more in a single year. It will give a funding transparency award to those that do, and encourages funders to favour such organisations.

As think tanks increasingly take an important role in formulating government policy, it is important for a strong democracy that they are open about their own agenda and where their funding comes from. This is particularly the case in light of increased scrutiny of political party funding.

Who Funds You? co-founder Clifford Singer said:

“It’s refreshing to see an increasing number of think tanks and campaigns taking funding 
transparency seriously. We are really pleased that four of the 20 organisations we rated have placed funding information on their own websites since we first approached them [NEF, Progress, Social Market Foundation and the Fabian Society], while a fifth [IPPR] had already added details several months before.

“But seven of the organisations we approached are languishing in our D and E streams. Those who received a D rating revealed nothing beyond the size of their annual income, while those rated E won’t even disclose that. However, these ratings are not set in stone. Our aim is to encourage think tanks and campaigns to be more open, and we will review methodology and scoring regularly based upon changes they make. We are pleased that one of our trailing organisations, ResPublica, has already pledged to improve transparency, and hope that others will follow suit.

“At their best, think tanks and public policy campaigns make a valuable contribution to political life, generating new ideas and producing important research. At their worst, they can provide a neutral front while actually working on behalf of vested interests. The issue is not whether they should take this money, but that people can make up their own minds about whether this might influence their work.

“As organisations that exert influence on public life, it is right that we call think tanks to account and ask for this basic level of transparency.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

About the website

Who Funds You? takes no editorial position beyond that of promoting funding transparency. It has so far received no funding, though may seek funding to expand in the future – which it will naturally disclose.

The website came out of a discussion at the Political Innovation project – http://www.politicalinnovation.org/about/. It is independent, non-partisan and run on a voluntary basis by a steering group comprising: Clifford Singer (partner at digital design agencies Sparkloop and Social Spark), Karin Christiansen (founder of global aid transparency campaign Publish What You Fund), Paul Evans (founder of Political Innovation and editor of Local Democracy blog) and Dr Andy Williamson (independent consultant and researcher, and formerly Director of Digital Democracy at the Hansard Society).

Further details at: http://whofundsyou.org/about

About the pilot project

We wrote to 20 leading UK-based think tanks and campaigns from across the political spectrum, and asked them to supply their total income for their last reported year, and to name all funders who gave £5,000 or more (and the amount they gave).

We then rated each organisation, using the following weightings:

* Declares total annual income: 5 points.

* Names each funder who gave £5,000 or more during the year:
Lists organisational or individual funders only: 15 points.
Lists organisational and individual funders: 25 points.

* Discloses amount given by each funder: 10 points if listed by exact amount; 5-8 points if listed by band (depending on width of band).

* Where organisations gave some but not all of the information requested in each category, points were awarded proportionately.

* Up to 5 discretionary points were awarded to organisations that did not meet all our criteria but had clear plans to improve funding transparency in the next financial year.

Grades were awarded as follows:

A = 35+ points; B = 25-34 points; C = 10-24 points; D = 1-9 points; E = 0 points.

As this is a pilot project, we will review methodology and scoring on a regular basis, and invite feedback on how we run future studies, and 
which organisations to include.

Further details and a breakdown of points awarded at: http://whofundsyou.org/about/method

About Paul Evans

Living in London but working all over Britain and Ireland, Paul is the curator of the Political Innovation project. On twitter as @paul0evans1, blogging mainly at the Local Democracy blog and working mostly for Memeserver Ltd.
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  • http://twitter.com/onthinktanks Enrique Mendizabal

    This is a brilliant initiative, Paul. If you go for other think tanks here is a good list of them: https://twitter.com/#!/onthinktanks/thinktanksuk