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July 2018 (2 posts)

Illuminating Philanthropy’s Role in Strengthening Democracy
July 12, 2018

This post is part of the GlassPockets’ Democracy Funding series, designed to spotlight knowledge about ways in which philanthropy is working to strengthen American democracy. The series will highlight new research and interviews with top democracy funders and recipients. 

“Wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government.”
--
extract from Thomas Jefferson to Richard Price, Jan. 8, 1789

Democracy Collection Square Images (1)Transparency and democracy are inextricably linked. Thomas Jefferson’s many quotable quotes, including the one above, emphasize the link between a well informed electorate and a healthy democracy. And some of the earliest forms of organized philanthropy in America, which funded libraries and universities, worked to fulfill this ideal of nurturing a well-informed populous by providing access to information and education. While the Founding Fathers wrote about the need for a literate population, they could not have imagined the digital literacy needed to navigate today’s information landscape. So, what does it mean to be a funder who wants to strengthen democracy in the present day? What are the tools, strategies, and funding trends across democracy funders? And what are they learning from their work?

To be able to answer these questions, in 2015, Foundation Center launched a free web portal, Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, containing grants data, statistical information, and grantmaker profiles. This portal continues to be updated as new grants data becomes available, and currently contains more than $4 billion in grants data awarded to related topics. And last week, IssueLab debuted a new related knowledge collection on American Democracy, which includes social sector research on election and campaign administration, voting access and participation, government performance and perceptions, and the role of media in civil society. As midterm elections are nearly upon us, we are certain this will be a valuable resource for democracy-related information backed by evidence and data.

It’s in this spirit that Transparency Talk turns its attention to a new series illuminating philanthropy’s role in strengthening democracy through the body of knowledge it has commissioned or produced on the topic. Between now and the November elections, we will be highlighting selected knowledge from the collection, as well as featuring interviews with top-ranked democracy funders.  Below is our first “Staff Pick” from the American Democracy collection. It seems fitting to kick off the series with a look at how informed our electorate is when it comes to recognizing the difference between opinions and facts.


STAFF PICK

Distinguishing Between Factual and Opinion Statements in the News, by Amy Mitchell; Jeffrey Gottfried; Michael Barthel; Nami Sumida

Download the Report

PUBLISHER

Pew Research Center

FUNDERS

Ford Foundation; John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Open Society Foundations; The Pew Charitable Trust; Knight Foundation's Trust, Media and Democracy initiative.

QUICK SUMMARY

In today's fast-paced and complex information environment, news consumers must make rapid-fire judgments about how to internalize news-related statements – statements that often come in snippets and through pathways that provide little context. A new Pew Research Center survey of 5,035 U.S. adults examines a basic step in that process: whether members of the public can recognize news as factual – something that's capable of being proved or disproved by objective evidence – or as an opinion that reflects the beliefs and values of whoever expressed it reveal even this basic task presents a challenge. The main portion of the study, conducted Feb. 22 and March 8, 2018, measured the public’s ability to distinguish between five factual statements and five opinion statements.

FIELD OF PRACTICE

Journalism & Media

WHAT MAKES IT STAND OUT?

Who doesn’t love a pop quiz? To make the survey come to life, readers can put themselves to the opinion vs. fact test. Try it here to test your ability to tell opinion from fact.

Beyond assessing your own abilities, there is much to be learned from the report itself about the forces shaping public perceptions, and raises the question about whether we are experiencing a new kind of literacy divide. The main portion of the study, which measured the public’s ability to distinguish between five factual statements and five opinion statements, found that a majority of Americans correctly identified at least three of the five statements in each set. Far fewer Americans got all five correct, and roughly a quarter got most or all wrong. The study also digs into the demographics behind the data to reveal that certain Americans do far better at parsing through this content than others. Those with high political awareness, those who are very digitally savvy and those who place high levels of trust in the news media are better able than others to accurately identify news-related statements as factual or opinion.

Republicans and Democrats found common ground in this study as participants who identified with one of these political parties were more likely to think news statements were factual when they appealed to their side – even if they were opinions.

Trust in those who do the reporting also matters in how factual statements are interpreted. Almost four out of ten Americans who have a lot of trust in the information from national news organizations (39%) correctly identified all five factual statements in the quiz, compared with 18% of those who have not much or no trust.

Also, reinforcing the idea that we are in a new phase of literacy in our evolution, digitally savvy Americans were found to be much more likely to correctly identify factual and opinion statements, with the divide between the very digitally savvy and those who are not savvy standing out as “particularly stark.” The level of digital savviness was based on frequency of internet use and confidence in using digital devices. About three times as many very digitally savvy (35%) as not savvy Americans (13%) classified all five factual statements correctly, with the somewhat savvy falling in between (20%). And about twice as many classified all five opinion statements correctly (44% of the very digitally savvy versus 21% of the not digitally savvy).

KEY QUOTE

“At this point, then, the U.S. is not completely detached from what is factual and what is not. But with the vast majority of Americans getting at least some news online, gaps across population groups in the ability to sort news correctly raise caution. Amid the massive array of content that flows through the digital space hourly, the brief dips into and out of news and the country’s heightened political divisiveness, the ability and motivation to quickly sort news correctly is all the more critical.”

If your organization commissions or produces related literature, we welcome you to add to our collection here.

--Janet Camarena

What Philanthropy Can Learn from Open Government Data Efforts
July 5, 2018

Daniela Pineda, Ph.D., is vice president of integration and learning at First 5 LA, an independent public agency created by voters to advocate for programs and polices benefiting young children. A version of this post also appears in the GOVERNING blog.

Daniela Pineda Photo 2Statistics-packed spreadsheets and lengthy, jargon-filled reports can be enough to make anybody feel dizzy. It's natural. That makes it the responsibility for those of us involved in government and its related institutions to find more creative ways to share the breadth of information we have with those who can benefit from it.

Government agencies, foundations and nonprofits can find ways to make data, outcomes and reports more user-friendly and accessible. In meeting the goal of transparency, we must go beyond inviting people to wade through dense piles of data and instead make them feel welcome using it, so they gain insights and understanding.

How can this be done? We need to make our data less wonky, if you will.

This might sound silly, and being transparent might sound as easy as simply releasing documents. But while leaders of public agencies and officeholders are compelled to comply with requests under freedom-of-information and public-records laws, genuine transparency requires a commitment to making the information being shared easy to understand and useful.

“…genuine transparency requires a commitment to making the information being shared easy to understand and useful.”

Things to consider include how your intended audience prefers to access and consume information. For instance, there are generational differences in the accessing of information on tablets and mobile devices as opposed to traditional websites. Consider all the platforms your audience uses to view information, such as smartphone apps, news websites and social media platforms, to constantly evolve based on their feedback.

Spreadsheets just won't work here. You need to invest in data visualization techniques and content writing to explain data, no matter how it is accessed.

The second annual Equipt to Innovate survey, published by Governing in partnership with Living Cities, found several cities not only using data consistently to drive decision-making but also embracing ways to make data digestible for the publics they serve.

Los Angeles' DataLA portal, for example, offers more than 1,000 data sets for all to use along with trainings and tutorials on how to make charts, maps and other visualization. The portal's blog offers a robust discussion of the issues and challenges faced with using existing data to meet common requests. Louisville, Ky., went the proverbial extra mile, putting a lot of thought into what data would be of interest to residents and sharing the best examples of free online services that have been built using the metro government's open data.

Louisville's efforts point up the seemingly obvious but critical strategy of making sure you know what information your target audience actually needs. Have you asked? Perhaps not. The answers should guide you, but also remember to be flexible about what you are asking. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District is set to launch a new portal later this summer to provide parents with data, and is still learning how to supply information that parents find useful. District officials are listening to feedback throughout the process, and they are willing to adjust. One important strategy for this is to make your audience -- or a sampling of them -- part of your beta testing. Ask what information they found useful and what else would have been helpful.

“When you share, you are inviting others to engage with you about how to improve your work.”

Remember, the first time you allow a glimpse into your data and processes, it's inevitable your information will have gaps and kinks that you can't foresee. And if you are lucky to get feedback about what didn't work so well, it may even seem harsh. Don't take it personally. It's an opportunity to ask your audience what could be done better and commit to doing so. It may take weeks, months or maybe longer to package information for release, making it usable and accessible, but this is an investment worth making. You might miss the mark the first time, but make a commitment to keep trying.

And don't be daunted by the reality that anytime you share information you expose yourself to criticism. Sharing with the public that a project didn't meet expectations or failed completely is a challenge no matter how you look at it. But sharing, even when it is sharing your weaknesses, is a strength your organization can use to build its reputation and gain influence in the long term.

When you share, you are inviting others to engage with you about how to improve your work. You also are modeling the importance of being open about failure. This openness is what helps others feel like partners in the work, and they will feel more comfortable opening up about their own struggles. You might be surprised at who will reach out and what type of partnerships can come from sharing.

Through this process, you will build your reputation and credibility, helping your organization advance its goals. Ultimately, it's about helping those you serve by giving them the opportunity to help you.

--Daniela Pineda

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About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

    Questions and comments may be
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
    Director, Transparency Initiatives
    Foundation Center

    If you are interested in being a
    guest contributor, contact:
    glasspockets@foundationcenter.org

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