Why I want to know who’s funding our think tanks
The reaction to ‘Who funds you?’ has been hugely positive and encouraging. We created the project because we believe that think tanks should be transparent. Quite simply: if you’re trying to influence policy, I want to know who’s trying to influence you!
Who Funds You? matters because the public sees government as out of touch. It is an elitist closed-shop, run by people who are nothing like them. And this includes the people trying to influence government or using a stint in a think tank as a jumping off point for a career in public office.
The Adam Smith Institute’s response (the original tweet is here) is not just a fascinating case of how not to use social media, it seems to directly contradict their own thinking. Claiming that a low score is a positive for donor privacy is beyond perverse. They could learn a lot from the Taxpayers Alliance. Who just don’t engage. They remain as enigmatically unaccountable on who funds them as they are vocal on how to destroy public services.
The peacock and the ostrich: both miss the point.
I don’t see what we’ve done as a league table. More a call for improvement. I don’t see much value in simply criticising anyone for the funding model that they use, I want to encourage them make it better. Rather, I want to create the momentum and pressure so that they have to make it better. A success for me would be all ‘A’s. The best model is an open and transparent one. Hopefully, this project will encourage think tanks to look at their funding models and ask questions about how they improve transparency. It’s a catalyst for self-improvement.
But I want it to do more. I want funders to ask questions of the organisations that they fund. Yes, you have a right to privacy but in an effectively functioning democratic system we have a right to know too. There’s a balance.
And I want other people to start asking questions. We don’t have the resources* to look under every rock or paving slab and, even if we did, I don’t want this to be punitive but positive. We have asked think tanks who funds them but when the answer is another black box, like the Network for Social Change, I really want to encourage others to pick up the torch and start asking where their money is coming from. Again, this isn’t to challenge the motives of any particular organisation, which might be hugely positive, but if I don’t know who you are I don’t know this. Think about it.
As the site beds-in we’re going to refine our methodology and there’s a strong argument for instances where transparency at the next level of funding is going to have to play a part in the score. Let’s light up not just the think tanks but the whole food chain. Let’s make democracy more accessible and relevant by ensuring there’s no space for shady influencers and the buying of policy. The only part of democracy that should happen in private is your individual vote, after that, it needs to be open.
* By way of disclosure, our funding comes from… no one, it’s just our free time.