Transparency Talk

Category: "Reporting Commitment" (14 posts)

Size Doesn't Matter
March 28, 2016

(Molly Talbot-Metz is vice president of programs at the Mary Black Foundation.)

Molly Talbot-MetzWhat does the Mary Black Foundation, a small private foundation in Spartanburg, SC, have in common with some of the country's biggest and most well-known foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and W.K. Kellogg Foundation?

The Mary Black Foundation is pleased to announce that we have joined 19 other U.S. foundations that have each joined the "Reporting Commitment," an initiative managed by Foundation Center. The Reporting Commitment is intended to shed light on the flow of philanthropic dollars. Housed at Foundation Center's Glasspockets, the Reporting Commitment calls for foundations to make grant information available to each other and the public at least quarterly in a common reporting format that shares the kinds of grants we fund, including the amount, duration, and purpose.

Mary Black FoundationOur decision to participate in the Reporting Commitment is a reflection of our desire to be a transparent community partner. According to Merriam-Webster, to be transparent is to be "easy to notice or understand; honest and open; and not secretive." Having been in philanthropy for almost 15 years, I know that transparency is not a word many use to describe foundations. For most people, the work of philanthropy is a mystery. There is often confusion and uncertainty about how foundations work and what they fund. They are often disconnected and isolated from the communities they serve. Slowly, this may be changing.

The Mary Black Foundation strives to be transparent in all that we do, and our participation in the Reporting Commitment was a logical addition to our existing efforts to be open and transparent with our community partners, the nonprofit sector, other foundations, and the general public. Since its inception, the Mary Black Foundation has published its grants in an annual report in print or on our website. In 2014, we redesigned our website to more clearly communicate our grantmaking process and guidelines.

"Openness requires a culture of transparency."

Now, in addition to our annual report and listing of funded organizations, you will also find on the Foundation's website its bylaws, code of ethics, financial statements for the past five years, listing of staff and board members, strategic plan, and funding logic model. It is important to the Foundation's board and staff that we go above and beyond the required IRS disclosure of funded grants. This kind of openness is not difficult for foundations of any size, but it does require a culture of transparency. 

Our commitment to transparency goes beyond openly reporting our policies and procedures and the grants we fund. The Foundation strives to be actively involved in the community and to be equal partners in community initiatives. Our public commitment to partnership is one of the reasons we were selected to lead Spartanburg's involvement in a national competition to improve health outcomes in our community. We will ensure that lessons learned and changes in health outcomes are tracked and reported. In that way, our successes and challenges both can help others as they embark on similar efforts.

We hope other foundations - big and small - will see the importance of being more transparent and engaged in the communities they serve and make the Reporting Commitment pledge. By collectively being transparent about our work, we strengthen our credibility and increase public trust, improve grantee and community relationships, facilitate collaboration among each other and reduce duplication of efforts, and build a shared community of learning.

-- Molly Talbot-Metz

Who Has Glass Pockets Now? New Transparency Indicators Added
March 9, 2016

Who Has Glass Pockets?As of today, the "Who Has Glass Pockets?" transparency and accountability self-assessment form has been expanded to a total of 25 indicators, which includes the addition of three new indicators: diversity data, open licensing, and strategic plans.

When Glasspockets launched in 2010, there were a total of 23 indicators that were developed based on an inventory of current foundation practice and on a framework designed to identify how foundations were using their websites to demonstrate transparency and accountability.

Those 23 elements were never meant to be the same indicators forever, and in fact, our hope was that they would evolve over time to reflect greater transparency at work in the field. Well that time has come, as foundation websites (for those that have them) have continued improving and some foundations are using them as a place to build awareness about their evolving strategies, or to build for scale through open licensing efforts by stating what can be done with the knowledge the foundation funds or produces, or to demonstrate their own commitment to diversity by providing demographic data about the foundation's staff and leadership.

The three new indicators were selected based on a survey of Glasspockets users, from our own inventory of emerging transparency practices in the field, and on which have the greatest potential to address critical transparency gaps. As was the case when we launched, every indicator has examples of foundations that are already using their websites as a way to share this information.

As part of the evolution of the "Who Has Glass Pockets?" assessment framework, we also determined it was time to remove the indicator that focused on how economic conditions affect the foundation's grantmaking since that had greater relevance during the recession, and we can bring that back in the future, when appropriate.

"By opening up strategic plans, grantmakers can strengthen relationships with their grantees."

Open Licensing Policies

Among the new indicators, there seems to be greatest momentum around sharing information about open licensing policies in which foundations specify what can and cannot be done with intellectual property that the foundation produces and/or funds. Generally, an open license is one which grants permission to access, re-use, and redistribute a work with few or no restrictions.

For a field that focuses on investing in new solutions to complex issues, this seems a natural and necessary next step to spreading the knowledge produced from those investments, and ultimately creating a learning culture in philanthropy. In our latest review of foundations which have used the Glasspockets assessment, 13% of them now have such policy statements on their websites, and most have recently added this to their websites, so there is reason to believe that this will continue to grow.

Strategic Plans

Though nearly all of the foundations that have used the Glasspockets assessment use their websites to share information about their grantmaking priorities, only 12% share information about the strategy that led to those priorities. By opening up strategic plans, grantmakers can strengthen relationships with their grantees as well as understanding about how a particular grant fits into the overall foundation's strategy.

Diversity Data

We are continuing to track which foundations have values statements related to diversity and inclusion, which has been an indicator since the beginning of Glasspockets, and have now added a new transparency element indicating which foundations openly share diversity data about their staff and, in some cases, also their board. Currently, relatively few foundations provide diversity head counts, with only 6 out of 77 profiled foundations sharing that data publicly.

A good example of why it's important to share this information can be found in the tech industry, where public pressure pointing to the lack of diversity led many companies to issue such reports. Though the diversity gaps were known before, the act of aggregating and publicly sharing the information has led to increased and formalized efforts to diversify the industry with many leading companies now offering fellowships and other diversity pipelines. Pinterest's Inclusion Labs, Intel's Diversity in Technology Initiative, Google's NextWave program, and Toptal's Global Mentor program are just a few examples of the power transparency has to make inclusion a priority.

You can learn more about the importance of sharing diversity data from this blog series featuring California Endowment's efforts in this area.

Next Steps

The "Who Has Glass Pockets?" self-assessment form has now been updated to reflect the new indicators and framework. So, if you are currently working on your submission, please download the new form. And for those foundations that have already participated, this may be good timing to revisit the transparency indicators and discuss whether your foundation's approach to transparency would benefit from providing these added dimensions. 

Our team reviewed the websites for all 77 foundations who have publicly participated in the transparency self-assessment process, and added links to the new indicators on each profile, as appropriate. Of course, in our review, it's possible we may have missed a relevant link, so let us know if you have any links that we should add. 

So, how about it - Who has Glass Pockets now? We can't wait to find out.

-- Janet Camarena

Glasspockets Find: The Getty Foundation Launches Its New Grants Database
July 8, 2015

(Eliza Smith is the special projects associate for Glasspockets at Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

ElizaThe Getty Foundation, one of the largest philanthropies in the country, has created an online grants database covering its 30-history of grantmaking. This means that you can search every single grant the foundation has awarded since the J. Paul Getty Trust established the foundation in 1984: 6,751 grants to 3,259 grantees totaling $367,562,578, and counting. Now we can watch the count go up, and see where the money’s going.

The database has lots of filters for searching. You can explore by tags, such as grantee name, amount awarded, date of award, and location of the project. Each entry is also linked to the foundation initiative and to the grant project title/description. For data and transparency geeks like us over here at Glasspockets, this is a gold mine!

GFdnLogoThe foundation’s database isn’t just a great example of transparency, it’s a great tool. Imagine the benefits for hopeful grantees: they can look at similar organizations and see if Getty has given them funding. As we’ve noticed at Foundation Center since we helped launch the Reporting Commitment (in which Getty is also a participant), when foundations share grants data in real time, the benefits are innumerable. Our sector becomes less siloed, stakeholders have a better understanding of what grantmaker priorities look like in practice, and valuable historical information is at the ready in a collective knowledge base.

--Eliza Smith

Visualizing California Philanthropy Discussion now Available on Livestream
June 29, 2015

Recently we convened a variety of foundation leaders in our San Francisco office to discuss strategies to improve data for and about California philanthropy. During the program, Visualizing the Past, Present, and Future of California Philanthropy, president of Foundation Center, Brad Smith, moderated a discussion among representatives from a diverse array of California-based foundations: Pamela H. David, executive director of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund; Sara Davis, director of grants management at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; and Peter V. Long, Ph.D., president and CEO of Blue Shield of CA Foundation. The discussion focused on transparency, and how these foundations have adopted sharing, accountability, and openness into their giving practices. The funders also related how technology has impacted and enhanced their transparency practices-including the adoption of Foundation Center’s Reporting Commitment and Get on the Map campaign.

If you missed the session, or attended and would like to view it again, you can find it here. If you would like to Get on the Map, but are unsure how to do so, check out our how-to webinar.

“Get on the Map”: Technology Fostering Collaboration and Shared Knowledge
May 4, 2015

(Sara Davis is the director of grants management at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in Menlo Park, California. She can be reach at sdavis@hewlett.org or on Twitter @SaraLeeeDeee.)

Sara will continue the conversation about foundations and collaboration on May 13, in the Visualizing the Past, Present, and Future of California Philanthropy session at our San Francisco office. If you can't attend in person, you can join virtually via live stream.

SaradavisWhy don’t Foundations collaborate more? Why isn’t philanthropy more “we’re all in this together” and less “we’ll do it our own way”? I’ve heard these questions and discussed possible answers many times during my years working in our sector. The literature pointing to the need for, and positive results arising from, effective collaboration is abundant. Yet too often, funder collaboration still remains a hope rather than a reality, and we default to going it alone. Things are beginning to shift, however, and I'm optimistic that a “collaboration-first” mindset can take hold. Over time, we’ve seen collaboration, sharing, and transparency increase in philanthropic practice. One thing fueling this shift, among many other factors, is the way technology makes sharing and interconnection more attainable, and helps swiftly cut through barriers to collaboration.

Over time, we’ve seen collaboration, sharing, and transparency increase in philanthropic practice. One thing fueling this shift is the way technology makes sharing and interconnection more attainable.

Technology’s capacity to enable collaboration makes me excited about the nationwide campaign for philanthropic organizations to “Get on the Map” and participate in collective data sharing and visualization about our grantmaking. Once we've all shared our grant data through the Foundation Center's eReporting Program and it pushes the data to the Foundation Maps tool, not only will we be able to see the flow of philanthropic dollars within the state’s social sector, we’ll also be able to put that information to work. With this new tool, we’ll finally be able to answer within a reasonable time frame some key questions that have thus far eluded us: who else funds a specific organization, what other organizations are doing, where gaps exist, and how our work fits within the full philanthropic context for our regions. This technology will give each of us the ability to see our work in a broader context, explore giving trends over time, reveal connections, see gaps, and discover new partners. It will make collaboration and impact more possible and more visible—things we all want.

As the Director of Grants Management at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, I’ve experienced first-hand the power that high-quality, timely data can bring to improve decision-making, monitoring, and overall grant practice. We frequently use and discuss data internally about our own grant practice—a good example is the project our President, Larry Kramer, described in his Annual Letter last year. Because data can inform and create change, sharing and availability of relevant data is a key strategic goal for many of our programs. The Hewlett Foundation was an inaugural participant in the Reporting Commitment, managed by the Foundation Center, and we participate in the International Aid Transparency Initiative by sharing our data. We do these things because we know that data can fuel insight and support greater impact, not only for Hewlett but for all of us. Sharing our grantmaking data as part of the “Get on the Map” campaign is just the logical next step in acting on this knowledge.

This technology will give each of us the ability to see our work in a broader context. It will make collaboration and impact more possible and more visible—things we all want.

The “Get on the Map” campaign is itself an example of effective collaboration in action. The campaign is a joint effort led by the regional associations across the country in partnership with the Foundation Center and the Forum for Regional Association of Grantmakers.  As a member of the committee working on the California-wide effort through our regional associations - Northern California Grantmakers, Southern California Grantmakers and San Diego Grantmakers and supported by the James Irvine Foundation- I’ve already experienced effective collaboration across the state of California. As a supporter of the campaign it’s been heartening to see, and support, a true spirit of excitement, encouragement, and optimism for this project across the state. It’s a great example of how building in infrastructure together makes better grantmaking and more sharing possible. The campaign tagline, “Doing Good, Done Better,” rings true for me, and I encourage all of us in our various regions to participate and "Get on the Map." We can do better together.

--Sara Davis

“Plugging In” to the Power of Philanthropy’s Big Data: Building a path for foundations to join the Reporting Commitment
September 30, 2014

(Suki O'Kane is the director of administration at the Walter and Elise Haas Fund.)

Okane-150The Walter & Elise Haas Fund (W&EHF)  clocks in as the 19th member of Foundation Center’s Reporting Commitment. The journey there was filled with creativity, innovation, collaboration, and some clever lines of code. Along the way, we reaffirmed our commitment to philanthropic transparency, began reporting  real-time grants data, raised the profile of our grantmaking with communication to big data initiatives, and — now — want to make the same possible for  our peers: the technology we developed to accomplish these good things has been published as a free, open source plug-in for WordPress called Open hGrant. This source code provides a way for foundations to share their grantmaking activity with the world, in real time, while also allowing the funder to publish it in searchable form on its own web site.  That’s right, you can have a searchable database of your grants activity, and a reporting mechanism all in one.

What motivated our foundation to do these things?

We reaffirmed our commitment to philanthropic transparency, began reporting real-time grants data, raised the profile of our grantmaking with communication to big data initiatives, and — now — want to make the same possible for our peers.

To a large degree, sharing what we do and know while learning from others is simply a habit of mind at W&EHF. Our executive director Pam David champions cross-sector work and community cooperation. Our grantmaking leverages public-private partnerships and collaborations to produce results that no single actor could accomplish alone.

Initiatives like the Reporting Commitment attract us for their ability to help us make sense of the philanthropic landscape. They help us answer perennial questions about who is doing what, where. We coupled this habit with our intent to increase the transparency of our work — among our teams and trustees, with the communities we serve, and with our peers.

Hearts and minds we had. All we were missing were bits and bytes. Oh, that.

How did we get it done?

It might not be a surprise to hear that the technological solutions for publishing grant data to the web are, to put it mildly, diverse. Even when we find a searchable grants index on the web, we can be fairly sure it’s not presented in an easily accessed format. Our taxonomies differ from those of our peers. Our websites are developed on different platforms. We focus on different data outcomes. These factors made a common, off-the-shelf solution seem out of reach.

When we sat down with our long-term partners at Mission Minded to brainstorm how to grapple with this, one thing became clear: whatever we found to crack the techno-nut of real-time grants data reporting should be simple and shareable.  We were well aware of the tendency in our field to develop solutions to common challenges in isolation, with proprietary tools. Brad Smith’s post to the PhilanTopic blog takes this on directly, a “data dilemma” by his reckoning, with some bold recommendations for philanthropy.

Foundation Center also had a critical resource to share with us: the hGrant microformat. One of the critical engines of Foundation Center’s data initiatives, this way of marking up grants data on the web is open to any individual or institution seeking to collect, catalog, map, and analyze giving. We welcomed Foundation Center to the project team and set about creating a technology tool that allowed any other grantmaker of any size to openly publish giving data to the web in a searchable, standardized way.  

The result is Open hGrant for WordPress, a simple plug-in for philanthropy’s Big Data that is spurring a new community of funders to participate in transparency and open data initiatives. We encourage our peers to investigate this free tool or to watch a recent demo from the Grants Managers Network.

To learn how your organization can help build a richer data set that drives effective collaboration, strategic decision making, and a more engaged philanthropy sector, contact Foundation Center for more information about the Reporting Commitment or reach out to the growing community of hGrant users for support.

-- Suki O'Kane

The Foundation Center and MacArthur Foundation Join IATI – Open Philanthropy Meets Open Global Development
December 23, 2013

(Jeff Falkenstein is vice president of data architecture at the Foundation Center.)

FalkensteinThe Reporting Commitment, an initiative by 15 of the largest foundations in the United States to be more transparent in how they share data on their grantmaking, launched a year ago in October. Since then, those 15 foundations have been joined by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the VNA Foundation. These organizations have committed to a level of transparency and scrutiny never before seen in the philanthropic sector. But why? Some foundations are interested in communicating out what good works they are doing and sharing lessons learned; some are hoping to improve their organizational intelligence through the sharing of better and more timely data, and others are hoping to be more effective, efficient and targeted in both their grantmaking and collaboration efforts. Not that these ideas are mutually exclusive.

At the heart of the Reporting Commitment is a set of standards by which the participating foundations have agreed to report their data. 1) The grant data must be reported at least quarterly; 2) the grant data must include the details of the geographic area being served using the Foundation Center’s geographic taxonomy--the Geotree--so the data can be reported consistently; and 3) the foundations must all report their data using the Foundation Center’s html-based reporting standard, hGrant.

Egrant_reporterhGrant is just one approach to joining the Foundation Center’s eReporting program; another part of the program is eGrant Reporting wherein nearly 1,000 foundations provide data in an Excel format through standard report queries via one of the Center’s grants management software partners. We are working closely with many of our partners to include hGrant as a reporting output option as well.

IATIGiven our experience with data standards, the Center was invited to join the Technical Advisory Group of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), an initiative to create an XML-based data standard to capture data on global development flows, primarily those of governments and international agencies. The goal of this work was to bring together organizations committed to working together to increase the transparency of capital flows benefitting aid on a global scale. In developing this standard, IATI has been careful not to duplicate the great work already being done by other organizations such as the Organization for Economic Co-Operative Development, which produces statistics about past aid flows. Instead, the IATI standard builds on this foundational work and tries to improve the timeliness and accessibility of such data.

Realizing that government and multilateral/bilateral data does not tell the whole story of aid flows, many NGOs have also joined the IATI community. Additionally, two foundations have joined the initiative, including early adopter the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and, most recently, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Foundation Center is very excited to report that we are officially the 200th organization to join IATI, through the help of the John
D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
. The MacArthur Foundation, one of the original participants of the Reporting Commitment, realized that it wanted to have a voice in international global development, as did the Hewlett Foundation and Gates Foundation. Rather than MacArthur reporting directly to IATI, creating redundancy in their workflows, the Foundation Center worked to enable MacArthur’s Reporting Commitment hGrant feed to be simultaneously converted into the IATI XML standard and, as a result, it is now reported on the IATI registry. We are pleased to be able to help the MacArthur Foundation more fully engage in the global development conversation, and this is just one of the ways the Foundation Center is working to help philanthropy open up its data.

The Foundation Center is dedicated to increasing knowledge on philanthropy through the timeliness and transparency of data, as can be seen via our recent efforts around:

Much like the MacArthur Foundation wanting to get its information out to both peer foundations and the global development community, the Foundation Center is looking for ways to help other foundations be more strategic, gain access to more timely data, better understand where they sit in the sector in relation to their peers, and create opportunities for knowledge sharing and learning.  We'll be announcing some new foundations joining the Reporting Commitment soon. Our work with hGrant and IATI is just another step down that road to helping foundations become a part of the open data movement. Come join us!

If you want to learn more about the Foundation Center’s eReporting program, IATI or anything else in this blog, please contact me at JAF@foundationcenter.org.

-- Jeff Falkenstein


 

Meet the New Glasspockets Web Site
November 14, 2013

(Janet Camarena is the director of the Foundation Center's San Francisco office and leads the Center's Glasspockets effort.)

Janet CamarenaToday we are launching a redesigned and enhanced Glasspockets web site that I hope readers to this blog will enjoy exploring or rediscovering. Our goal remains the same as when the site launched in 2010: to champion greater philanthropic transparency in an online world. But the site today is a very different one, much improved by walking the transparency and accountability talk — thanks to our efforts to create a user experience that responds to direct feedback from our stakeholders.

You might be wondering if we really still need Glasspockets to champion transparency at all. And to that I would respond with a resounding "yes." It may be surprising to people to learn that — despite the digital age in which all knowledge seems available at the swipe of a finger on a mobile device — according to our latest data, fewer than 10% of foundations even have a web presence. Many assume that this is probably due to the large quantity of small, unstaffed family foundations that comprise many of the nation's foundations. However, even when we just looked at foundations with assets greater than $100 million, nearly 30% of those also did not have web sites. 

We recognize it's hard for grantmakers to know where to begin with transparency, so with the redesign, grantmakers will more easily be able to find tools they can use and steps they can take to increase their level of transparency in an online world.

So, it is clear, that many who practice institutional philanthropy prefer to do so in "stealth mode," which makes it very challenging from a field-building perspective since it is impossible to comprehensively map the ecosystem for fields and sub-fields. This makes life difficult for grantmakers and grantseekers alike, who then must rely on personal networks rather than complete data sources to connect with colleagues, compare notes, and identify potential solutions that are not replicating someone else's experimentation.

We recognize it's hard for grantmakers to know where to begin with transparency, so with the redesign, grantmakers will more easily be able to find tools they can use and steps they can take to increase their level of transparency in an online world.

Earlier this spring we conducted a user survey, asking questions about the impact of the Glasspockets initiative as well as questions pertaining to the site's content and navigation. We specifically invited the 50 foundations that had used and shared publically our "Who Has Glass Pockets?" assessment tool, our Glasspockets partners, as well as those who had served as guest bloggers to Transparency Talk to give us their input. What we learned from the helpful feedback of the respondents was very encouraging:

  • 100% of respondents believed that it was either somewhat or very important that foundations move toward greater transparency and openness
  • Strengthening credibility and public trust were the most popular reasons grantmakers cited for increasing transparency
  • Nearly 60% reported that Glasspockets had spurred them to increase their level of online transparency by sharing more content
  • More than half of survey takers told us that Glasspockets had helped them make transparency a priority with their staff or board.

We also received helpful feedback in terms of how to think about reorganizing the site, including requests to:

  • Streamline the site so users could more easily find tools to help them with transparency
  • Make the definition of and steps to transparency clearer
  • Offer webinars aimed at how to approach transparency
  • Offer more case studies of how foundations are using new technology platforms to increase openness.

As you explore the new site you will see that this feedback very much informed our approach. For example, we are now presenting Glasspockets with a framework that helps foundations easily chart their transparency course, with a clearer path to participate in and learn from our "Who Has Glass Pockets?" profiles, a helpful step-by-step approach to transparency, recorded webinar content, and greater use of infographics to make the data more accessible and fun.

New features include an interactive knowledge base of "Who Has Glass Pockets?" transparency profiles, an easy to share PDF of the transparency Heat Map, and an infographic presentation providing an overview of how philanthropy is harnessing social media for greater participation and transparency. Have you ever wondered which foundations have the most Twitter or Facebook activity, or the most YouTube subscribers? Take a look and find out. 

A forthcoming how-to foundation transparency guide done in collaboration with GrantCraft will further help users navigate improving foundation transparency practices. 

You will also find important staples from the original site:

  • Eye on the Giving Pledge offers an in-depth picture of how more than 100 of the world's wealthiest people are participating in the Giving Pledge, in which they have promised to give the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.
  • Foundation Transparency 2.0 returns in a streamlined format and lets visitors explore the online communications tools that foundations use and provides direct access to foundation blogs, Twitter feeds, YouTube channels, Facebook pages, and many other digital platforms.
  • The Reporting Commitment shows how America's leading foundations are meeting the challenges of our time. Users can track grants information in near-real-time through interactive maps and download data in open, machine-readable form.

Foundations and their grantees are tackling some of the world’s most complex issues that have no easy answers.  This is good news since it means that foundations are not shying away from the big issues of our time such as climate change, poverty, access to water, and attempting to cure currently incurable diseases. Through the redesigned Glasspockets our hope is that foundations will come to realize transparency is not a burden, but a helpful strategy that serves to accelerate the change they are trying to bring about in the world.

So, have a look around and then leave a comment or send out a tweet. Let us know what you think.

-- Janet Camarena

How the Reporting Commitment Leverages Philanthropy's Efforts to Solve Pressing Social Problems
August 26, 2013

(Leila Walsh is director of communications for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, a private foundation with investments in criminal justice, education, public accountability, and research integrity.)

Walsh-200When the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) evaluates its grants, we measure our success against a variety of metrics designed to answer one fundamental question: Are we actually making a difference? When the answer is "yes," we are eager to do more of what's working and share our successes. If the answer is "no," we must learn from the experience and tell others about the results so they can learn from our failures. The Reporting Commitment is an important part of that process. It provides a forum to share grant information openly, transparently, and in real time. Along with the 16 other participating foundations, we will report our grants on a regular basis. You will see the groups that we are supporting as well as the amount, duration, and purpose of the grants.

We joined the effort because we believe the Reporting Commitment is helping to accelerate and better leverage philanthropy's efforts to address some of society's most persistent problems. It makes it easier to track overlapping interests and allows us to find ways to collaborate as part of a thorough and systemic effort.

We joined the effort because we believe the Reporting Commitment is helping to accelerate and better leverage philanthropy's efforts to address some of society's most persistent problems. It makes it easier to track overlapping interests and allows us to find ways to collaborate as part of a thorough and systemic effort. The Reporting Commitment also provides an opportunity to identify funding gaps, which is also critical because it gives us a better understanding of what hasn't been tried. When we discover ideas that are untested, we examine them through a rigorous evaluation process and then scale them if they prove to be effective. By examining all angles of a problem and all possible solutions, we are able to maximize opportunities for impact.

The Wall Street Journal recently called LJAF's entrepreneurial, data-driven approach to philanthropy "The New Science of Giving." We harness data and promote open access to information through each of our initiative areas. Here are a few examples of such projects:

  • LJAF's Criminal Justice team has developed and is piloting a risk assessment tool that uses data and analytics to help predict whether an individual will come back to court, whether he or she will commit a new crime, and whether he or she will commit a new crime of violence.
  • LJAF's Public Accountability team is supporting low-cost, randomized controlled trial evaluations of social programs that help government better compare and contrast among competing policy options and concentrate resources on what works.
  • LJAF's Research Integrity initiative is improving the reliability and validity of scientific evidence by investing in organizations that are committed to improving openness, transparency, and quality of research.

Because we recognize the power of data and measurable outcomes, we support the Reporting Commitment and encourage other foundations to join it. By collectively being transparent about our work and impact, we have a greater chance of producing innovative, effective solutions that will indeed make a difference and improve the lives of individuals and society as a whole.

--Leila Walsh

Explore grants by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation
and the 16 other participating foundations»

What’s The Story, Data?
July 10, 2013

(Kyle Reis, after twenty-five years at the Ford Foundation, has just joined the nonprofit social enterprise TechSoup Global as Senior Director of Global Data Services and East Coast Representative. When not busy raising three daughters or reading Emily Dickinson poems, he spends his time thinking about the intersection of data, design, and social change.)

Reis-100Data are not sexy.

There, I’ve said it. The sentence proves the point. Data are. Data is. Data, hmm. Personally, I love data. But we all know what invariably happens when the ‘D’ word comes up in conversation other than at a hackathon or Google staff party. Our eyes glaze over, we nod that, yes, this is indeed the era of Big Data, and then excuse ourselves to freshen our drink.

But let me clarify. It’s not that I love data per se. The data point, ‘New Jersey,’ does not, thankfully, excite me. What I do love, however, is what can come of data, particularly when it gets big and varied. Often, a surprising thing happens: the data get interesting. Really interesting. Even more importantly, the data become meaningful. Individual data points begin morphing into larger concepts like, say, The Law of Large Numbers. Now we’re talking sexy. I would even go so far as to call the Law of Large Numbers awesome! See for yourself:

Law of Large Numbers

OK. So, formulas aren’t sexy either. But, in layman’s terms, what this tells us is that, as we get more and more data (e.g., rolls of a die, Google “flu” searches, grants approved by foundations), the data become more predictable and informative. Data points bond together and in so doing undergo a kind of metamorphosis in our perception. They begin to reveal previously hidden truths, to show surprising patterns and correlations, and to surface anomalies. If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers or studied the concept of positive deviance, you know how much we can learn from that which deviates from the norm. Here’s a quote from the Positive Deviance Initiative that touches on this topic, and sounds a lot like something that would be of interest to foundations:

“Positive Deviance is based on the observation that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges.”

When cultivated and well-presented, this “data metamorphosis” takes on a new resonance for one simple reason: it begins to reveal stories.

We all love stories. Stories resonate. Stories delight. Stories move us. For foundations, stories are vital to our work. Stories of need or injustice, of action or inaction. Not only can stories help us decide who to fund, but also what results from our funding. However, for philanthropy’s stories to move others to action, they must have data.

Data help us unearth facts that, in turn, help us learn about organizations and the impact their work has on the communities they serve.

Why data, you might ask. Isn’t the folksy anecdote that moves us to action good enough? In the past, the answer might have been yes because supporting an organization that’s doing good is better than not supporting one. But this is no longer sufficient. The needs are too big for us to be funding all but the best organizations. So how do we find these organizations? Using data. Data matter. Data help us unearth facts that, in turn, help us learn about organizations and the impact their work has on the communities they serve.

And that’s why initiatives like the Reporting Commitment are so important. Though it might seem small that sixteen foundations – including some of the largest in the country – have begun publishing their grants data in an open, accessible fashion - the truth is this is big news. Here’s what these records look like:

RWJF
In just nine months these 16 foundations have made available to the public more than 10,000 grants totaling $9 billion. Now imagine what this data set could look like in two or three years’ time, with several hundred foundations contributing tens of thousands of grants totaling tens of billions of dollars. Then imagine these same foundations and others working to improve people’s lives downloading this data and mashing it up with Census, World Bank, or other information. Or using word clouds and other visual tools to reveal beautiful patterns. Or mapping the geographic-area-served data to see if funding is reaching the places of greatest need. And then, if you will, imagine this data being used in ways we can’t yet dream. This metamorphosis of data could be spectacular, and the impact of what we do with this knowledge would be tangible.

So here is my call to all funders: join the Reporting Commitment. Send in your data so that you and others can use it to tell the stories that are out there waiting for the data to find them. Do this and you, too, will come to love data as I do.

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

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