Transparency Talk

Category: "Australia" (2 posts)

Meet Our #OpenForGood Award Winner: An Interview with Craig Connelly, Chief Executive Officer, The Ian Potter Foundation
June 12, 2019

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Craig Connelly

This post is part of the Glasspockets’ #OpenforGood series done in partnership with the Fund for Shared Insight. The series explores new tools, promising practices, and inspiring examples showing how some foundations are opening up the knowledge that they are learning for the benefit of the larger philanthropic sector. Contribute your comments on each post and share the series using #OpenForGood. View more posts in the series.

The Ian Potter Foundation is an Australian foundation that supports and promotes excellence and innovation working for a vibrant, healthy, fair, and sustainable Australia. In this interview, Craig Connelly shares insights with GlassPockets' Janet Camarena about how the foundation’s practices support learning and open knowledge.

GlassPockets: Congratulations on being one of our inaugural recipients of the #OpenForGood award! The award was designed to recognize those foundations that are working to advance the field by sharing what they are learning. Can you please share why you have prioritized knowledge sharing at the Ian Potter Foundation and how this practice has helped you to advance your work? Or put another way, what is the good that has come about as a result?

Craig Connelly: The Ian Potter Foundation decided to invest in our research and evaluation capability primarily to improve the quality of our grantmaking. We believe that evaluating our grantees and the work that we fund through measuring and evaluating outcomes enables us to understand the extent to which our funding guidelines are achieving the intended outcomes. This results in a more informed approach to our grantmaking which should improve the quality of our grantmaking over time.

A core part of this includes being completely transparent with our grantees and with the broader sector. To do anything otherwise is not being consistent with our expectations of our grantees. We are asking our grantees to be partners, to pursue a strategic relationship with them and that requires open and honest conversation. Therefore, we need to be an open, honest and transparent funder and demonstrate that in order to win the trust of the organizations we fund.

Examples of this transparency are the learnings that we glean from our grantees that we share with the broader sector. We’re getting very positive feedback from both funders and grantees on the quality of the learnings that we’re sharing and the value that they add to the thought processes that nonprofit organizations and other funders go through.

The-ian-potter-foundationGP: Increasingly we are seeing foundations move toward a structure of having staff dedicated to evaluation and learning. For those foundations that are considering adding such a unit to their teams, what advice do you have about the structures needed to create a culture of learning across the organization and avoid the creation of one more silo?

CC: Anyone in a research and evaluation role needs to be an integral part of the program management team. The research and evaluation process informs our grantmaking. It needs to assist the program managers to be better at what they do, and it needs to learn from what the program managers are doing as well. You don’t want it to be a silo, it is just another function of your program management team. It is an integral part of that team and it is in constant communication both with the program management team and with grantees from day one.

GP: As you heard during the award presentation, one of the reasons the Ian Potter Foundation was selected to receive this award is because of how you prioritize thinking about how stakeholders like grantees might benefit from the reports and knowledge you possess. We often hear that while there is a desire to share grantee reports publicly, that there are reputational concerns that prevent it or that to scrub the reports of sensitive information would be too time consuming, yet you do it for all of your portfolios. What are your tips for how to keep this a manageable process?

CC: The initial work to compile and anonymize our grantee learnings required some investment in time from our Research & Evaluation Manager and communications team. To make this task manageable, the work was tackled one program area at a time. Now that a bank of learnings has been created for each program area, new learnings are easily compiled and added on a yearly basis. This work is scheduled at less busy times for those staff involved. The Ian Potter Foundation is also looking at ways learnings can be shared directly from grantees to the wider nonprofit sector. One idea is to create a forum (e.g. a podcast) where nonprofits can share their experiences with their peers in the sector.

GP: A concern we often hear is that a funder creating a culture of learning leads to an increased burden on grantees who are then asked for robust evaluations and outcomes measures that no one is willing to pay for. Does The Ian Potter Foundation include funding for the evaluations and reporting or other technical assistance to mitigate the burden on grantees?

"...we need to be an open, honest and transparent funder and demonstrate that in order to win the trust of the organizations we fund."

CC: One of the benefits that we found at The Ian Potter Foundation of having a Research & Evaluation Manager becoming an integral part of our process is that our authorizing environment – our board and the committees responsible for program areas – have become very comfortable including funding evaluation for all of our grants. We now also understand what it costs to complete an effective evaluation. We often ask grantees to add more to their budget to ensure a good quality evaluation can be completed as part of the grant.

GP: Learning is a two-way street and foundations are both producers and consumers of knowledge. Let’s close this interview with hearing about a noteworthy piece of knowledge you recently learned thanks to another foundation or organization sharing it, and how it helped inform your own work.

CC: Yes, we have a couple of examples I can point to. The first comes from our Education Program Manager, Rikki Andrews, who points to the creation of the Early Childhood Impact Alliance (ECIA) through a grant to the University of Melbourne. The purpose of the ECIA is to convene, connect and increase understanding of research and policy among early childhood philanthropic funders, to ensure there is more strategic and concerted philanthropic support of research and its application.

Additionally, the Foundation’s Senior Program Manager, Dr. Alberto Furlan, explains, ‘We are in the process of learning from organizations we partner with all the time. In the last few years, program managers have been prioritizing extensive site visits to shortlisted applicants to discuss and see the projects in situ. In a ‘big country’ such as Australia, this takes a considerable amount of time and resources, but it invariably pays off. Such visits highlight the importance of relationship building deep and honest listening when partnering with not-for-profits. The Foundation prides itself in being open and approachable and site visits greatly contribute to understanding the reality of the day-to-day challenges, and successes, of the organizations working on the ground.’

--Craig Connelly & Janet Camarena

How the Sustainable Development Goals Can Focus Outcomes Measurement
April 25, 2019

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GlassPockets Road to 100

Dr. Squirrel Main is the Research and Evaluation Manager at The Ian Potter Foundation in Australia.

This post is part of our "Road to 100 & Beyond" series, in which we are featuring the foundations that have helped GlassPockets reach the milestone of 100 published profiles by publicly participating in the "Who Has GlassPockets?" self-assessment. This blog series highlights reflections on why transparency is important, how openness evolves inside foundations, helpful examples, and lessons learned.

We all can play a small part in broader global movements, both in our grantmaking and our outcomes measurement. As such, The Ian Potter Foundation is beginning to encourage grantees to learn more about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As the Foundation's research and evaluation manager, I have found grantees often have difficulty pitching their progress and successes in a manner that readily translates across contexts and stakeholders. For example, a grantee may be trying for ongoing funding from local, state and Commonwealth governments and reaching out to an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health organization. The SDGs, especially when contextualized at a local level can speak to all four stakeholders and more.

In terms of outcomes measurement, as a foundation we support the global goals and, as such, are increasingly offering the option to use the global indicators behind these goals. Tracking these SDGs can assist grantees in increasing the sophistication of their measurements: the previous "all of our children are doing well" is now a more clear "we know that 85% of our 112 participants are now developmentally on track (up from 44%) as measured by their AEDC scores." It's easy to see how the latter sentence translates readily into government dollars—and as we know, leverage is the currency of philanthropy.

In addition to increasing grantees' leverage potential, our foundation can better focus the way in which we track and achieve outcomes. Having such clear outcomes is much easier—dare I say "more fun"?—when placed in the context of a global measurement movement. The Ian Potter Foundation was proud to join the GlassPockets movement last year because we believe transparency can benefit the philanthropic sector, particularly given the benefits of shared frameworks for learning. Along that vein, here's what we are learning from our experimentation with using the SDGs.

The Process of Integrating SDGs into Foundation Work

How do we encourage grantees and applicants to use SDGs to measure their outcomes? On a very practical note, it meant adding the relevant SDGs to our application via a drop-down menu in our grants management software (some databases now have add-on modules you can purchase to do this job). While grantees are free to select outcomes measurements that are best suited to their stakeholder needs, since mid-2016 105 out of 379 final-stage applicants have voluntarily opted to select SDGs as potential outcomes. To assist this process, we have specifically color-indicated SDGs on our help sheets, with the goal number listed in parentheses (see, for example, our Environment and Conservation help sheet).

In terms of process specifics, we are gradually transitioning from open-form to suggested goals to SDGs, and have produced documents which outline suggested goals and example metrics for grants in each program area. In Q3 of 2019, we will further narrow the outcomes, which will likely mean that over 85% of outcomes listed on our application will be SDG indicators.

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Squirrel Main


How the SDGs Appear Across the Foundation's Work

The SDGs manifest themselves in very different ways across our broad portfolio. Currently direct outcome measurement, SDG-aligned research and strategic initiatives are the most common approaches where we are finding alignment with SDG work.

Direct measurement can be relatively straightforward. For instance, our science grantmaking focuses predominantly on environmental restoration and conservation, so most grantees find it easy to align their outcomes with goals 13 (Climate), 14 (Water) and 15 (Land). One example is a grant we continued last year to Professor Jessica Meeuwig at the Marine Futures Lab at the University of Western Australia to increase protection, monitoring and reporting of marine reserves around the Australian coastline. Professor Meeuwig selected "Proportion of important sites for terrestrial, freshwater and marine biodiversity that are covered by protected areas, by ecosystem type (SDG 15.1.2)" as one of her long-term metrics. Easy. Watch this space and we will know the results.

In terms of research, we are attempting to go beyond direct goal accomplishment. For instance, we have engaged in some blue-sky thinking in this area and are supporting Deakin University researcher Brett Bryan to bring the SDGs to a local level. So, for example, one of the project's goals reads: "Derive detailed local sustainability pathways for the Goulburn-Murray study area … assessing the range and viability of options (e.g. irrigation reconfiguration, ecosystem services markets, renewable energy) … to ensure a just transition to a more sustainable future…" In short, these researchers are bringing sophisticated mathematical models to old-fashioned community meetings to determine the best way to help communities meet goals aligned with the SDGs that are most important to that community. In his six-month face-to-face check-in, Professor Bryan observed that the Victorian State Government recently decided to use SDGs as THE framework for future environmental reports. This move further underscores the need for communities and smaller grantees to be fluent in "SDGese" in order to remain salient in the political realm over the next decade. To put a spin on the old adage, when government sneezes, grantees catch cold!

Lastly, some grantees apply SDGs beyond research to strategic policy work. To facilitate measuring this type of work, we divide long-term outcomes into technical (outcomes for an immediate group/project/organization) and strategic (large policy/systemic change). The SDGs are very nimble and can be applied to both types of outcomes. For example, a grantee focusing on technical success–like our grant to expand Youthworx's capacity to build its social enterprise–might choose to select indicator (8.6.1) Proportion/number of youth (aged 15-24 years) engaged in education, employment or training for their hands-on training programs, whereas other projects—even by the same organisation—(one example that has been funded by others is Youthworx's National Youth Commission project) focus on more ‘strategic' outcomes such as (8.b.1) Existence of a developed and operationalized national strategy for youth employment as a distinct strategy or as part of a national employment strategy. We encourage grantees to pick what's right for them—and remind them that it's OK to just do solid service delivery, if that's their main modus operandi.

Do the SDGs work neatly for every area of our funding? To be honest, no. Unlike other areas, the arts are much trickier to align with the SDGs. We acknowledge the distinction between vibrancy and sustainability. And, while some arts-focused foundations choose to measure progress based on sub-goals related to culture (e.g., Goal 3 (well-being), 4 (education) and 11 (cities and communities)), we have chosen—for now—to espouse the outcomes listed by Australia's Cultural Development Network and offer those options in our drop-down menus. Out of our seven major funding areas, the arts are the only program area for which we do not have SDGs as outcome measurement options.

Our Role in Building SDG Capacity

In addition to encouraging applicants to select (and measure) SDG-related outcomes on the application, we convene Welcome Workshops after every Board meeting in which grantees gather to learn about our foundation and priorities. These workshops are also an opportunity for grantees within the same program area to discuss dissemination, goal setting and outcomes measurement. To this end, part of our presentation specifically references the SDGs and encourages grantees to consider how their measurements are aligned. We also conduct face-to-face, post-award evaluation site visits with the majority of grantees, and these visits present another opportunity to consider how they will collect data and reflect on learnings related to their long-term outcomes' measurement. We have found that in the last few funding rounds, grantees are very knowledgeable about the SDGs and enthusiastic to collaborate and learn more about existing models of measurement within their field. No one wants to reinvent wheels when shared frameworks already exist.

Measuring the Difference

And, of course we, like you, wonder if the focus on SDGs will make a tangible difference to our foundation's outcomes. Our current active grants have an average duration of 2 years, 9 months (and that average is lengthening), so we have yet to analyse our progress—or, more importantly, learn and improve the trajectory of our progress towards the SDGs. However, in preparation for measuring this new outcome's framework, we have a baseline benchmark to use as a comparison. Presently, for the 833 grants closed (since January 2010—our foundation is 50 years old but our outcomes measurement is relatively new!) for which we have been able to gather long-term outcomes, we are achieving a 71% success rate. Within the next year, as we review final reports, we will begin to encounter the results from the SDGs—which will help us measure and learn from our progress towards these global goals. And ideally—although we acknowledge that 100% success is not the holy grail of philanthropy—we will be able to show how focusing on the SDGs (and the collective learnings and wisdoms associated with progress towards those goals) has assisted us in striving towards a more vibrant, fair, healthy and sustainable Australia.

-- Squirrel Main

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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

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