Transparency Talk

Category: "Innovation" (14 posts)

Smart Management: The Innovation the Grantmaking Process Needs
February 17, 2016

(Beth Simone Noveck is director of the Governance Lab and a former U.S. deputy chief technology officer.  Andrew Young is associate director of research for the Governance Lab.  A version of this blog post first appeared in Governing.)

Beth-Noveck PhotoThe way governments and many philanthropic institutions give out money to solve problems is stuck in the past.

Challenge.gov, which celebrated its fifth anniversary this fall, is a federal website that showcases requests by government agencies for the public to tackle hard problems in exchange for cash prizes and other incentives. Since its inception in 2010, agencies have run more than 450 challenges to help ameliorate problems such as decreasing the "word gap" between children from high- and low-income families or increasing the speed at which salt water can be turned into fresh water for farming in developing economies.

Andrew Young Photo

Certainly the time has come for innovation in grantmaking. Despite its importance, we have a decidedly 20th-century system in place for deciding how we make these billions of dollars of crucial public and private grant investments. To make the most of limited funding -- and help build confidence in the ability of government and foundation investments to make a positive difference -- it is essential for our government agencies and philanthropic institutions to try more innovative approaches to designing, awarding and measuring their grantmaking activities.

In most instances, grantmaking follows a familiar lifecycle: An agency describes and publicizes the grant in a public call for proposals, qualifying individuals or entities send in applications, and the agencies select the winners through internal deliberations. Members of the public -- including outside experts, past grantees and service recipients -- often have few opportunities to provide meaningful input before, during or after the granting process. And after awarding grants, the agencies themselves usually have limited continuing interactions with those they fund.

The current closed-door system, to be sure, developed to safeguard the legitimacy and fairness of the process. From application to judging, most government grantmaking has been confidential and at arm's length. For statutory, regulatory or even cultural reasons, the grantmaking process in many agencies is characterized by caution rather than by creativity. Much of this description of the grantmaking process is also true of foundation philanthropy.

But it doesn't always have to be this way, and new, more open grantmaking innovations might prove to be more effective in many contexts. Here are 10 recommendations for innovating the grantmaking process drawn from examples of how some government agencies, foundations and philanthropists are changing how they give out money:

The pre-granting process:

  • Use "ideation" challenges.Institutions can use "the crowd" to help formulate the problem a grant would be designed to solve.
  • Improve the quality of applications through matchmaking.Online tools, like the North Atlantic Tourism Association’s Project Matchmaking, can help connect grant applicants with complementary partners to strengthen applications.
  • Prioritize bottom-up participation.To break out of the traditional top-down approach, agencies may consider making bottom-up participation -- a scientist engaging non-professionals in data gathering, for example -- a condition of funding.

The granting process:

  • Create open peer review and participatory judging processes.More open judging can solicit public input at the outset to narrow a broad field or, later on, to select final winners from a shortlist.
  • Mobilize evidence-based grantmaking.Greater openness in grantmaking processes has the potential to lead to the availability of more and better evidence as to what works in practice.
  • Leverage expert networking, matching experts to opportunities.Advances in information-retrieval technology and the large-scale availability of relevant data about people's skills have made it possible to automate the process of finding the right applicants or judges.
  • Explore open alternatives to traditional grants.Through crowdfunding, micro-payments and prize-backed challenges, government can use its convening power to harness more broad-based sources of funds.

The post-granting process:

  • Open up data about grants, grantors and grantees.Allowing others to easily discover what activities are funded has the potential to avoid duplication of investment, decrease fraud and abuse, enable better analysis of impact, and create a marketplace of non-winning proposals.
  • Standardize reporting.To make open grantmaking data more useful, it is important to develop more uniform reporting standards for grantors and grantees alike.
  • Open access to grant-funded solutions.Increasing access to the work product developed as a result of a grant helps ensure that the public can benefit from the knowledge that grantees produce.

All grantmaking organizations could benefit by taking a long, hard look at their existing procedures and determining how best to modernize and improve them, especially by throwing open the doors to more and more diverse participation.

--Beth Simone Noveck and Andrew Young

Grantmaker Transparency: The Dawn of a New Age in Philanthropy
November 16, 2015

(Aaron Lester is demand generation manager at Fluxx.  This blog post first ran in PhilanTopic.)

Aaron_lester_for_PhilanTopic"People tend to be private about love and money, and in philanthropy, it's both," says Janet Camarena, director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center.

It's only natural that, traditionally, philanthropy has unfolded behind closed doors. On the one hand, the freedom to make personal funding choices gives grantmakers the ability to stay above the fray, uninfluenced by both market and political pressures. On the other hand, it doesn't allow the public to understand, learn from, or think critically about philanthropy.

"Giving and charitable acts are such private, emotional transactions," says Suki O'Kane, director of administration at the Walter and Elise Haas Fund. "How do you come from such strong traditions of privacy and intimacy, and bring that out into the open?"

Where do things stand?

Indeed ­– how do we as a sector make the switch from a traditionally opaque business model to an enterprise that embraces more transparency? It all comes down to the following questions: What am I funding? Why am I funding what I'm funding? Is my funding making an impact? And perhaps most importantly, how do we improve?

How do we as a (philanthropic) sector make the switch from a traditionally opaque business model to an enterprise that embraces more transparency?

There is good news: transparency in philanthropy is happening, there's no denying it. In fact, it's well under way, with large foundations like Gates, Ford, and Getty, sharing their endeavors with the public, surveying their grantees (and sharing the results), and creating searchable grants databases. Still, transparency can be difficult.

As a grantmaker, you know that sometimes your investments fail, sometimes grantees don't perform the way you expected, and sometimes, despite your best intentions, you can't pull off a new initiative or program. "Philanthropy isn't venture capital," says Christine Maulhardt, director of communications and public affairs at the Blue Shield of California Foundation. "Big losses aren't typical in our sector. We want everything to work out perfectly."

Regardless of the perceived risks, transparency in philanthropy is here to stay. And yes, it can be scary and hard to figure out how to get started. But the rewards for embracing transparency far outweigh the risk of turning your back on it.

Time for Transparency ImageWhere are we headed?

 

As we look to the (not so distant) future, we're particularly excited about the potential for grantmakers and grantees alike to have the ability to track incoming evaluation data, to understand in real time their organization's short- and long-term impact, and to be able to respond to that data and take action to ensure continued progress.

In the past, there was no common language used to talk about impact evaluation. Now, for the first time, technology can help create that common language. It is possible for foundations to not only track their own progress toward a goal, but also to compare results with other groups working toward the same end. The intelligence learned creates a greater potential for real needle-moving impact.

Becoming Transparent: Best Practices

If your foundation is just beginning the journey toward greater transparency, Camarena has suggestions for working in league with your peers. First, there's no need to be revolutionary. "Rather than creating something custom for your foundation, really look across the field to some standard practices," she says. "When it comes to creating the application process, look at grants management systems that exist already, and look at taxonomy so that you're not inventing a language that won't make sense field-wide." Her key takeaways:

  • Look to other foundations for standard practices on transparency; don't reinvent the wheel
  • Take advantage of modern grants management systems to help guide your application process and to create a common taxonomy.
  • Join a regional association of grantmakers so you can network with your peers and share ideas, successes, failures, and best practices. If you're using a grantmaking solution, join the community of users.
  • Participate in field-wide movements like the Who Has Glasspockets initiative and Foundation Center's Get on the Map campaign.

As daunting as it may be to open your foundation's doors to the public, transparency has far more benefits than drawbacks. Not only will you be moving in step with a growing movement, you'll also be in great company. It's time we started to share the why and how of our giving. All of us stand to benefit.

--Aaron Lester

Living Up to a Legacy of Glass Pockets
November 5, 2015

(Deanna Lee is chief communications and digital strategies officer at Carnegie Corporation of New York.)

Deanna LeeWhat does a website redesign have to do with “glass pockets?” For Carnegie Corporation of New York—whose mission is to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding—it goes far beyond a general use of the Internet to transmit information. “Glass pockets” is a defining principle of who we are, and thus a defining principle that has guided our entire web redesign process.

First, some background. In the 1950s,  Carnegie Corporation chair Russell Leffingwell testified before Congress that “foundation[s] should have glass pockets,” allowing anyone to easily look inside them and understand their value to society.  A legacy of transparency connected to dissemination continued through Corporation president John Gardner, who advocated for energetic dissemination of activities, to current president Vartan Gregorian, who has emphasized our “legacy of glass pockets” as an ideal and a guidepost for “communicating as clearly and in as much depth as possible how the Corporation conceives of its mission.”

Today’s digital landscape means that we can realize this—reaching and engaging more people, with more information about what we do—as never before. We think of web channels, tools, and design, not as new, “disruptive” technologies, but rather as evolving (and exciting!) opportunities to realize a 100-plus year-old mission.

And so, the redesign process for Carnegie.org began with a largely internal branding exercise to further define our longstanding mission. With the great folks at Story Worldwide, we articulated a core narrative with “pillars” or key principles, including a sense of stewardship to the legacy of Andrew Carnegie, a focus on expert knowledge, a “selfless” emphasis on program grantees and their work, and a commitment to serving as a convener of grantees in like areas of knowledge, and of knowledge-based communities.  These organizational principles were central to how design firm Blenderbox went on to imagine and develop the website layout and user experience.

At the same time, we conducted surveys and interviews with multiple stakeholders and audiences about the old site. As Chris Cardona of the Ford Foundation has written on the Glasspockets blog, we have to be open to failure, and be willing to look at what works and what doesn’t.  Also important, as emphasized in Glasspockets’ transparency indicators, is sharing the results.

What wasn’t working? People said they did not have a clear sense of our program areas.  With information and stories ranging from international peace and security to voting rights to standards in K-16 education all “mixed together,” they found it difficult to delve into their areas of interest.  Also, grantees wanted to be able to connect with peers, and to learn about each other’s activities.

This is why the new Carnegie.org immediately presents a clear depiction of our core program areas (arranged, in homage to Andrew Carnegie, like library book spines). 

1-600px
 

Each program folds out into a preview of a mini-site, with separate subdomains or “hubs” for Education…Democracy…International Peace and Security…and Higher Education and Research in Africa. 

2-600px


Enter a program hub, and a simple layout shows the overarching goal of the program and its focus areas (or, in terms of Glasspockets indicators, grantmaking priorities).

Beyond that, each program boasts its own flavor and kinds of content that emphasize those mission pillars—expert knowledge, convening, an emphasis on grantees, and stewardship of our history:

3-600pxInternational Peace and Security currently features commentary on this policy question of the day: Should the U.S. cooperate with Russia on Syria and ISIS? Answers are “convened” as a compendium of multiple grantee experts, scholars, and policymakers—a forum bringing together leading worldwide thinkers and opinions. 

Education features an interactive, multimedia presentation (we call it a Fable) on STEM education—showcasing our historical work on math and science education, including Carnegie Commission reports that set the framework for today’s Next Generation Science Standards, and visual case studies of grantees like Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

Democracy’s Fable takes an extensive look at the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Plus, at a time when nearly one in four Americans is not registered to vote, we wanted to convene communities and engage the public with our grantees’ work.

4-600px“Your Vote—Your Voice” showcases tiles of leaders of the New Americans Campaign weighing in on why it's important for recently naturalized citizens to vote. 

Good digital strategy also employs community, in the form of partnerships. We’re pleased to have worked with TINT to convene live social media compilations, including the feeds of more than 40 partners of National Voter Registration Day. And, a Genius version of the Voting Rights Act allows for annotations by experts at the Brennan Center for Justice and others.

Finally, we at the Corporation are, first and foremost, stewards of Andrew Carnegie’s legacy. Nearly 10 percent of visitors to our old site came for biographical information about him. To meet their needs more fully and to meet our mission, our Andrew Carnegie Fable includes embeddable elements key for students preparing multimedia presentations, with timelines, quotations, audio and film of Carnegie, infographics on his wealth, and connections to our family of 26 Carnegie institutions worldwide.

This is just the beginning. We’ll soon unveil features allowing program officers to share their experiences, video forums, and more.  It all comes down to glass pockets—using information and the presentation of information to openly share how we meet our mission responsibilities of serving as convener and champion of expert knowledge and change-making grantees. Carnegie.org aims to clearly present our intent, our priorities, and our work, and most of all to be a living—and evolving—expression of our mission to advance and diffuse knowledge and understanding.

--Deanna Lee

Cutting-Edge Philanthropy
October 13, 2014

(Our Glasspockets team is thrilled to be included on NPC’s list of 10 innovations in global philanthropy and touted as philanthropic pioneers with ideas worth spreading. Plum Lomax is the deputy head of the funders team at UK-based NPC. NPC consults with foundations, strategizing their giving to maximize social impact. This post originally appeared on the NPC blog.)

Plum-new-150x150Well-known economist, Thomas Piketty, says wealth inequality is at its highest point for 100 years. Needs are rising, the problems we are trying to solve are getting more complex—and yet giving levels have remained relatively static.

Cutting-edge thinking is being applied to all areas of our lives, and giving is no exception. It’s astonishing to think that at the start of my working life (and I’m not that old!), there was no internet, no email, no networked computers. We are continuously changing the way we shop, catch up on the news, book a holiday, listen to music, find a new partner—all of these new methods supposedly improving our lives in some ways.

But is the evolution in giving keeping pace with other areas? And more to the point, are resources being better used as a result: to help more people, to solve complex problems, to improve the world in which we live?

NPC is excited to launch 10 innovations in global philanthropy, a new report on the most pioneering approaches to philanthropy worldwide.

Maximising social impact is at the heart of NPC’s mission—deriving the greatest value from limited resources. But this requires constant innovation on the part of both charities (in the way they approach issues they want to tackle), and donors and funders (in the way they spend their money).

That’s why today we’re excited to launch 10 innovations in global philanthropy, a new report on the most pioneering approaches to philanthropy worldwide. The aim was to discover what could be brought back to or scaled up in the UK, and now, after months of desk research and interviews with experts from every continent, we hope it kick-starts more innovative action in this field.

We found some fascinating developments—new uses of data, greater sharing of information, different types of collaboration between funders, better ways of investing for impact and more. From an initial list of 42 initiatives, we narrowed down our selection to ten concepts we believe have significant potential for transforming philanthropy in the UK, as shown in the table below.

10-innovations-table

We at NPC hope to take some of these concepts forward ourselves; in particular, research-based giving circles, based on Dasra’s model in India, and knowledge sharing within sectors, looking at whether the water and sanitation sector’s online portal—WASHfunders.org—can be adapted to other sectors. But we hope the report also inspires others to try these and other approaches, so that ten years from now we can look back and confidently say that giving has been transformed as much as other areas to great effect.

Over the next few weeks, NPC will be writing a series of blogs on innovation within philanthropy, highlighting some key examples from the report. We welcome all your comments.

-- Plum Lomax

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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