A new report from Transparify – an organization that provides a global rating of the financial transparency of major think tanks – has turned the lens on think tanks in Canada.
The results are bleak.
Transparify assessed how forthcoming Canadian think tanks are about where they get their money, and how much from each source. Out of 14 Canadian think tanks assessed, only six were rated as transparent (the Canada West Foundation received a four out of five star rating as “broadly transparent”).
There are legitimate concerns about the impact this may have on our democratic process. As Transparify puts it: “Transparency of funding is necessary in enabling think tanks to make a positive contribution to public debate. Without it, citizens and policy makers are unable to distinguish whether research is likely to be arguing for an evidence-based policy or a policy primarily guided by a funder’s vested interests. While not a panacea, transparency enables the public to identify potential conflicts of interest and funder bias, while also allowing think tanks to explain how they manage these relationships.”
Think tanks are non-profit organizations, so we rely on donations. We believe that we are at our best when we are funded by a variety of groups: governments, corporations, individuals, and foundations all play a role. We weren’t surprised by our high rating from Transparify. At the Canada West Foundation, we not only acknowledge our supporters as a matter of course, we are proud to do so. Through their commitment, our supporters become part of an engaged public policy community. They tell us that they contribute because they value the work of the Foundation, and want that work to continue. And, through their support, they can become part of those solutions. We think it’s pretty great that engaged citizens and organizations are willing to open their wallets in the pursuit of good public policy, and we’re happy to tell the world who they are.
Transparency is essential for think tanks because it is an important element of independence. Independent think tanks conduct research on only the important issues, and consider only the facts – not what special interests want. I know I can speak for the entire Canada West Foundation staff in saying that we are deeply proud of our commitment to independent research.
The Canada West Foundation’s independence to do our research with “no strings attached” is, quite simply, non-negotiable. Every donor knows this, every potential donor knows this, and frankly, sometimes we have had to say “No” to a potential donor because of this. We do in-depth, evidence-based research and analysis and we work hard to be good at what we do. This gives us credibility. With credibility, we have impact.
And that’s exactly what drives us – to provide real policy solutions with real impact that can make the world a better place for us all.
– Sarah Pittman is a policy analyst at the Canada West Foundation