How We Protect Eno’s Independence and Integrity
September 7, 2016|Robert Puentes
Last month, the New York Times ran a lengthy investigation into how non-profit organizations and think tanks are funded. There was a lot baked in to the story (some of it inaccurate and misleading) but part of the case the reporter was trying to make is that think tanks are supported by corporate donations and that ipso facto means the work produced is tainted.
This is a disturbing accusation for the organizations featured in the article including the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Atlantic Council, and the Brookings Institution where I spent the last 16 years. These groups each produce credible research, analysis, and commentary and any perceptions of impropriety damage the potential potency of the work.
But the article did highlight an important point: the way nonprofits are funded, and how and why they work with their partners, continues to evolve.
Like most non-profit organizations, Eno is funded from a variety of sources including individuals, philanthropies, corporations, and occasionally government grants. This is not happenstance. We aggressively seek advice, perspectives, and partnerships from a diverse set of actors. It is my staunch belief—and also that of Eno’s Board of Directors—that if we are to be relevant and impactful, we must work closely with a range of non-profit organizations, public officials, and private corporations because, after all, these are the experts in the field.
In this way, our donors are not just financial partners but intellectual ones as well. Do all our supporters concur with everything we research, analyze, and recommend? Of course not. If everyone agreed with everything we do that would likely be a good indication we are not addressing important issues that matter and, by extension, not having the impact we should.
You may notice we no longer refer to Eno as “neutral” preferring instead to use the term “independent.” These terms are synonymous in some instances, but not in this case. Based on our work we comfortably take firm positions and stances on a wide range of critical issues related to transportation.
The support we receive helps us tackle potentially controversial policy reforms such as spinning-off of our nation’s outmoded air traffic control system from the federal government. It enables us to come up with an idea for how to fund a national freight program through a new fee imposed on shippers. It gives us the ability to embrace the technological revolution disrupting transportation while also recognizing its potential negative impact on people and places. And we can strongly support public agencies’ efforts to grow and support their workforce while exploring partnerships with private firms.
In my five months at the helm, I can confirm that the work produced at Eno adheres to the highest goals for intellectual rigor and independence. Ethical standards are unequivocal and the desire to produce work that is impactful and relevant is appropriately high.
So we will continue to be vigilant in safeguarding our integrity in these changing times. In the short term, here are some proactive steps already underway:
- Ensure transparency in our contributions. This means being clear about who funds us and towards what the funding is allocated. That goes for both general support for Eno as well as funding that is restricted to specific projects, either by us or by the contributor.
- Use the publicly-accessible portion of our website as the primary vehicle to convey this information. The research initiative Transparify details some best practices non-profits should consider. Eno is developing a dedicated webpage detailing how we are funded, statements about how we operate, and our related guidelines such as our Conflict of Interest and Whistleblower policies.
- Reinforce our values and policies with staff and boards. There should be no ambiguity about Eno’s strict adherence to pragmatic, honest, and accurate research and analysis of the highest quality.
- Audit our policies and practices. We will review our policies periodically to ensure that Eno employs the best tools and standards of practice.
We are extremely grateful for the support we receive and literally could not function without it. As an organization, Eno values integrity, independence, objectivity, quality, and relevance. These core values are reflected in everything we do. And while a lot has changed since William Phelps Eno established a foundation to perpetuate his lifetime’s work promoting safe and efficient transportation, the core values have not.