Transparency Talk

Category: "SDG Framework" (2 posts)

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

Trend to Watch: Using SDGs to Improve Foundation Transparency
September 19, 2017

(Janet Camarena is director of transparency initiatives at Foundation Center. )

Janet Camarena PhotoAs Foundation Center's director of transparency initiatives, one of the most interesting parts of my job is having the opportunity to play "transparency scout," regularly reviewing foundation websites for signs of openness in what is too often a closed universe. Some of this scouting leads to lifting up practices that can be examples for others on our Transparency Talk blog, sometimes it leads to a new transparency indicator on our assessment framework, and sometimes we just file it internally as a "trend to watch. "

Today, it's a combination of all three; we are using this blog post to announce the launch of a new, "Trend to Watch" indicator that signals an emerging practice: the use of the Sustainable Development Goals to improve how foundations open up their work to the world.

Sustainable Development GoalsThe United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. There are a total of 17 goals, such as ending poverty, zero hunger, reduced inequalities, and climate action. Written deliberately broad to serve as a collective playbook that governments and private sector alike can use, they can also serve as a much needed shared language across philanthropy and across sectors to signal areas of common interest, and measure shared progress.

And let's face it, as foundation strategies become increasingly specialized and strategic, explaining the objectives and the nuances can become a jargon-laden minefield that can make it difficult and time consuming for those on the outside to fully understand the intended goal of a new program or initiative. The simplicity of the SDG iconography cuts through the jargon so foundation website visitors can quickly identify alignment with the goals or not, and then more easily determine whether they should devote time to reading further. The SDG framework also provides a clear visual framework to display grants and outcomes data in a way that is meaningful beyond the four walls of the foundation.

Let's take a look at how some foundation websites are using the SDGs to more clearly explain their work:

Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF)

One of my favorite examples is from a simple chart the Silicon Valley Community Foundation shared on its blog, because it specifically opens up the work of its donor-advised funds using the SDGs. Donor-advised funds are typically not the most transparent vehicles, so using the SDGs as a framework to tally how SVCF's donor-advised funds are making an impact is particularly clever, refreshing, and offers a new window into a fast-growth area of philanthropy.

A quick glance at the chart reveals that quality education, good health and well-being, and sustainable cities and communities are the most common priorities among Silicon Valley donors.

GHR Foundation

A good example of how the SDGs can be used as a shared language to explain the intended impact of a grant portfolio is from GHR Foundation in Minnesota. I also like this example because it shows how the SDGs can be effectively used in both global and domestic grant portfolios. GHR uses the SDG iconography across all of its portfolios, as sidebars on the pages that describe foundation strategies. GHR's "Children in Families" is a core foundation grantmaking strategy that addresses children and families in need on a global scale. The portfolio name is a broad one, but by including the SDG iconography, web visitors can quickly understand that GHR is using this program area to address poverty, hunger, as well as lead to outcomes tied to health and well-being:

GHR is also able to use the SDG framework to create similar understanding of its domestic work. Below is an example from its Catholic Schools program serving the Twin Cities:

Through the visual cues the icons provide, I can quickly determine that in addition to aligning with the quality education goal, that this part of GHR's portfolio also addresses hunger and economically disadvantaged populations through its education grantmaking. This could also signal that the grantmaker interprets education broadly and supports the provision of wrap-around services to address the needs of low-income children as a holistic way of addressing the achievement gap. That's a lot of information conveyed with three small icons!

Tableau Foundation

The most sophisticated example comes to us from the tech and corporate grantmaking worlds--the Tableau Foundation. Tableau makes data visualization software, so using technology as a means to improve transparency is a core approach, and they are using their own grantmaking as an example of how you can use data to tell a compelling visual story. Through the interactive "Living Annual Report" on its website, Tableau regularly updates its grantmaking tallies and grantee data so web visitors have near real-time information. One of the tabs on the report reveals the SDG indicators, providing a quick snapshot of how Tableau's grantmaking, software donations, and corporate volunteering align with the SDGs.

As you mouse over any bar on the left, near real-time data appears, tallying how much of Tableau's funding has gone to support each goal. The interactive bar chart on the right lists Tableau's grantees, and visitors can quickly see the grantee list in the context of the SDGs as well as know the specific scale of its grantmaking to each recipient.

If you're inspired by these examples, but aren't sure how to begin connecting your portfolio to the Global Goals, you can use the SDG Indicator Wizard to help you get started. All you need to do is copy and paste your program descriptions or the descriptive language of a sample grant into the Wizard and its machine-learning tools let you know where your grantmaking lands on the SDG matrix. It's a lot of fun – and great place to start learning about the SDGs. And, because it transforms your program language into the relevant SDG goals, indicator, and targets, it may just provide a shortcut to that new strategy you were thinking of developing!

What more examples? The good news is we're also tracking SDGs as a transparency indicator at "Who Has Glasspockets?" You can view them all here. Is your foundation using the SDGs to help tell the story of your work? We're always on the lookout for new examples, so let us know and your foundation can be the next trend setter in our new Trend to Watch.

-- Janet Camarena

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About Transparency Talk

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

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

    Questions and comments may be
    directed to:

    Janet Camarena
    Director, Transparency Initiatives
    Foundation Center

    If you are interested in being a
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    glasspockets@foundationcenter.org

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