Transparency Talk

Category: "Conferences" (9 posts)

Is Big Data Like Teenage Sex?
December 3, 2014

(Sara Davis, is the director of grants management at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. She can be followed on Twitter @SaraLeeeDeee or reached via email at sdavis@hewlett.org.)

Sara_DavisThere’s a great quote about “big data” from Dan Ariely of Duke University that’s been circulating for the last couple years and is still spot on: Big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it.

This seems particularly true of the philanthropic sector—we’ve all been talking about it, but we’ve yet to find the right way to apply the rhetoric of big data to our work. In part, this is because we don’t actually have many examples that follow the original definition of BIG data. The oft-cited example of Target using big data to determine when a customer is pregnant in order to focus their marketing is an interesting story, but it’s challenging to figure out what the corollary would be in philanthropy. In reality, most of our data is pretty small or—at most—medium in nature. And even with that, we’re still learning to effectively define, collect, use, and share data within our organizations and across the sector.

Big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it.

With all this in mind, it was incredibly refreshing to attend a session at the recent TAG (Technology Affinity Group) conference in Miami that was an honest dialogue about big data and philanthropy. C. Davis Parchment, Manager of the Electronic Reporting Program at the Foundation Center and moderator of the session Managing Big Data Across Foundation Roles: Identifying New Tools for New Teams, set the stage with a much needed redefinition of big data. Rather than think of big data in its most literal definition as very high volume data sets, Davis described big data as a movement, one that focuses on analysis, rigor, metrics, and critical thinking. Big data as a movement calls on us to employ technology more effectively; to better collect, use, and share data to inform our work, make decisions, and ultimately, to create real and lasting impact through our grantmaking. If we do this well, it will change the way we work—transforming roles and processes within our organizations and redefining how we collaborate and share across the sector.

The first speaker, Kevin Rafter, gave us an example of this concept in action, focusing on creating new data about grantmaking. As Manager of Impact Assessment and Learning at the James Irvine Foundation, Rafter has designed a framework for collecting qualitative and quantitative data about grant results across Irvine’s diverse set of program areas. Irvine is implementing a new grant closing process through which staff will answer five straightforward questions about results before closing a grant. To make it easy, the user interface is elegantly built within their Foundation Connect grants management system. Collecting this information will create a new data set for analyzing their grantmaking impact and learning from grants. By collaborating together, an internal project team was also able to simplify and clarify the grant closure process overall. This is a great example of a foundation giving thoughtful attention to how they define and collect useful data. I’ll be eager to hear more from Rafter once staff has used the tool through several grant closure cycles and they’ve further developed their data set.

If we do this well, it will change the way we work—transforming roles and processes within our organizations and redefining how we collaborate and share across the sector.

We know that an important function for grantmaking data is creating transparency when it is made publicly available by foundations. Suki O’Kane, Director of Administration at the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, brought this concern to the fore by sharing her organization’s experience as the 19th member to join the Reporting Commitment Initiative, which is managed by the Foundation Center as part of Glasspockets. Foundations who join the Reporting Commitment agree to make machine-readable grant information available to the public at least four times a year and to use a common geographic coding scheme for their grants thus making timely and accurate reporting on the flow of philanthropic dollars more broadly available. Upon joining the Reporting Commitment, the Haas Fund developed an open source tool that makes it easier for other foundations to participate in the initiative. The tool, called Open hGrant, is a WordPress plug-in and is a great example of how innovative technology design can ease the sharing and use of data. As O’Kane artfully described, the contribution also embodies the spirit of collaboration: it improves data sharing practices at the Haas Fund, then takes that learning even further by advancing data sharing within the whole sector. The Open hGrant tool brings us one step closer to eliminating the barriers to better use data in our grantmaking.

We know that an important function for grantmaking data is creating transparency when it is made publicly available by foundations.

According to Patrick Collins, Chief Information Officer at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, another way to ensure better data use is through automation—which makes data activities more efficient and will ultimately transform how we do our work. Specifically, Collins talked about the use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to connect and share data across systems. By connecting with external systems via APIs, Hewlett has been able to automate many repetitive tasks and free-up staff time to focus on more substantive challenges. One example Collins shared is how Hewlett now automates simple tax status checking via an API with Guidestar’s Charity Check system, eliminating the need for data entry and administrative staff time. As the use of system interfaces is adopted more widely, it will allow real-time data sharing and will deliver data to users in the right way—and at the right time—for decision-making. This, in turn, will change how people do their jobs, share information, and collaborate.

We certainly don’t have big data completely figured out in the philanthropic sector, but this session at TAG was a nice step in the right direction. I was deeply heartened by the spirit of collaboration, pragmatism, and creativity throughout the presentations and discussion afterwards. There’s big potential on the horizon for data to be used more effectively and—through that—to improve our grantmaking practice and how we all achieve impact. I’m excited by this ongoing conversation and the transformative power possible if we all collect, use and share data well.

-- Sara Davis

Managing Impact for the Long Term: A View of the Next 100 Years, from the SOCAP Conference
September 11, 2013

(Rebecca Herman is Special Projects Associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

Last week in San Francisco was the SOCAP conference, which is dedicated to increasing the flow of capital to social good by bringing together investors, philanthropists, foundations and social entrepreneurs. If you didn’t make it to the sold-out conference, SOCAP shared videos of the events via YouTube.

 

"Make sure that that those around you learn from your failure."
On the first day of the conference, the panel discussion on “Managing Impact for the Long Term” included Case Foundation CEO Jean Case, who emphasized the importance of starting with a big idea, taking risks, and accepting that failure might be an option. She commented, “If you fail, fail fast and fail forward. Make sure that those around you learn from your failure. As you’re talking about it, you’re transparent. Particularly in the philanthropic and public sector, this is much, much needed.”

 

 

Watch the video»

As part of the same discussion, Daryn Dodson of Ben and Jerry’s spoke about the importance of sharing best practices and failures: “I think that is 100 years of hard, hard work of sharing across generations.” He also noted that he would like to see more representation at the conference from those under 20 and those over 60, “with as diverse balance sheets as possible… I think the intergenerational conversation may bring about the solutions to a lot of the problems that we’re really struggling with.”

It’s great to hear people talk openly about this challenging work, so let’s continue to share ideas, success and failures to increase impact over the long haul.

-- Rebecca Herman

Glasspockets Find: A View of Transparency from the 2013 European Foundation Centre Conference
June 11, 2013

In accepting the Compass Prize at the recent closing plenary session of the European Foundation Centre’s 2013 Annual General Assembly and Conference in Copenhagen, Dr. Rien van Gendt broached the topic of transparency. In his remarks, van Gendt observed that foundations need to stop thinking of transparency as something that is being forced upon them and rather accept it as beneficial. In the meantime, however, he urged foundations not to become so fixated on compliance that their performance suffers: "If we focus on what we do instead of on who we are, we can take the sting out of the one-dimensional public discussion about transparency and compliance."

View the 4-minute video of his transparency remarks.

-- Mark Foley

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Transparent
May 20, 2013

Do you think it’s as important for foundations and nonprofits alike to be transparent? We do and we would like to make our case and share lessons learned from the field at the annual Communications Network conference. Help the Communications Network prioritize its conference planning by voting on your top picks for breakout sessions. You don’t need to be a Communications Network member to vote and there's plenty to choose from, including our own The Incredible Lightness of Being Transparent featuring Ellie Buteau, vice president, Research, Center for Effective Philanthropy; and Gabi Fitz, co-founder, Issue Lab; moderated by Janet Camarena, project lead, Glasspockets.org. Voting is live on the Communications Network web site until May 22. 

Help us send Glasspockets to New Orleans this fall to illuminate the importance of foundation transparency. Vote for the Incredible Lightness of Being Transparent session today!

Glasspockets Find: Looking Inside the Global Philanthropy Forum
April 24, 2013

The Global Philanthropy Forum’s (GPF) conference– an annual meeting of philanthropists and investors who seek to advance individual opportunity and to improve the quality of life through strategic giving and investing – wrapped up last week in Redwood City. The 2013 conference focused on the theme "The Future We Make: Outrage, Opportunity and Choice in the Digital Age."

A number of the sessions touched on issues relating to philanthropic transparency in a digital age, such as:

The Future We Make: Development in a Digital Age
 

Philanthropic Decision-Making: Open or Closed, An Art or a Science?

While attendance at the conference is by invitation, GPF provided a live-stream of all sessions during the conference while also recording each session in order to provide archival access later. As a GPF partner, Glasspockets is proud to host the conference recordings on our web site. You can find them all on Glasspockets.

Watch the videos»

The Global Philanthropy Forum: 2013 Conference
April 15, 2013

A project of the World Affairs Council of Northern California, the Global Philanthropy Forum (GPF) aims to build a community of donors and social investors committed to international causes, and to inform, enable and enhance the strategic nature of their work. Each year, GPF hosts a conference for individuals who have made a significant commitment to international philanthropy, donors who have established family foundations and executives of corporate, private or public foundations based in the U.S. and overseas.

This year’s conference kicks off today and features a program agenda that includes topics that put transparency, technology, and open data center stage, such as “The Future We Make: Development in the Digital Age,” “Decision-Making in Philanthropy: A Science or an Art?,” and “Building an Information Infrastructure: Unlocking Data for Philanthropy.” Although attendance at the conference is by invitation only, GPF provides access, via live stream, to conference sessions as they happen, and via recorded video, once the programs have concluded. Access this year’s conference here.

Glasspockets Find: The Annual Conference Goes Digital
May 23, 2012

COF annual conference 2012
The explosion of social media is having a multiplier effect on the reach of the traditional annual conference.  Long gone are the days when only those lucky enough to travel to the host city were able to attend a few sessions, network with peers, and grab as many handouts as possible to share with the folks back home.  With today’s social media, everyone in attendance can be a virtual fly on the wall, able to connect with everyone on the outside—in real-time—via text, audio and video.  A new window—transparency—is coming of age, bringing with it the potential for increased participation.

As a case in point, take the 2012 Annual Conference of the Council on Foundations that concluded in Los Angeles earlier this month.  Here are some of the topics of discussion that have emerged which you can explore, or even add to the dialogue:

A rich media archive of tweets, blogs, recordings, and images is now available, opening up new possibilities for more and more people to learn and interact than ever before.  As one of two Strategic Partners for the 2012 conference, The James Irvine Foundation asked three of its grantees who participated in panel discussions to share some of their thoughts.  It’s yet another example of our world becoming ever more transparent, with multiple points of entry.

-- Mark Foley

Glasspockets Find: Net-Centric Grantmaking - Increasing Social Impact in a Networked World
October 17, 2011

Foundation leaders met in San Francisco on October 17 to discuss their experiences with embracing a network mindset, supporting and catalyzing networks, and sharing and investing in network learning.

Part of a conference on networking convened by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations and Monitor Institute, this interactive panel discussion looked at both the challenges and opportunities for taking on more open and collaborative approaches to grantmaking. The panel included Chris van Bergeijk (Hawaii Community Foundation), Steve Downs (the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), Stephanie McAuliffe (the David and Lucile Packard Foundation), and Rafael Lopez (the Annie E. Casey Foundation).

How has your organization embraced a network mindset? How has it changed the way you work?

-- Daniel Matz

Philanthropy on Trial at the Council on Foundations Annual Conference
April 26, 2011

Gara Lamarche


Ralph Smith

At the closing plenary to the 2011 Council on Foundations Annual Conference, a mock trial was held to consider the question: "Is philanthropy meeting its mission of fulfilling the public good?"  In the current tax and budget reform climate, are foundations at risk of losing their tax-exempt status if they are unwilling to be accountable to the communities they serve and unable to demonstrate their value to society?

Serving as the prosecution, Gara LaMarche, president and CEO of the Atlantic Philanthropies, called on the philanthropic community to hold itself to a higher standard of transparency and accountabiliity when demonstrating its impact on the common good.  "Our sector," he cautioned, "has eroded its moral authority through self-interest."

In defense of institutional philanthropy, Ralph Smith, executive vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, noted that foundations already make an enormous effort to show what they do and how they do it. Speaking of the diversity of the sector and the innumerable risks and successes of foundations and philanthropists "that benefitted all of society" he concluded, "we have been persistent and engaged, not missing in action."

The trial ended in a hung jury, heavily weighted to the prosecution arguments, but this debate will surely continue.  Visit the COF site to read LaMarche and Smith’s remarks. Do you think foundations succeed at both benefitting society and demonstrating that benefit?  In what ways can foundations do better?

-- Daniel Matz

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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."

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