Better impacts with open grantfunding data

ODI Belfast recently hosted a networking event at NICVA looking at the potential for grantfunders and charities to improve their impact with open data. For grantmakers, making an positive impact with the funding that they distribute is the number one priority. For applicants, being able to access funding suited to the funder’s requirements forms part delivering successful projects.

Deciding on how and where to award funding is, without a doubt, the first step for successful grantmaking. At the other end of the process, collecting information and data to inform evaluation and impact studies are also important for the success and evolution of funding programmes. Throughout the whole process, transparency and accountability can also be very important to funders, especially those backed with public money (where legal requirements and freedom of information responsibilities may also apply).

Data already plays a large part in all of this. In supporting projects and developing funding programmes, Funds and Trusts create and consume data from numerous sources, such as national statistics, their own research and impact studies. Then, of course, in selecting successful applicants and distributing funds through the lifetime of a programme or project, more data is created and retained.

Grantfunders are already creating and using data, but what about open data? It’s clear that some funders already do share their philanthropic data openly, so that it can be used for the public good. The Big Lottery, for example, publishes grants data along with data from research projects. This is of great benefit to others – government, other funders, charities and community groups who are thinking of applying for grants, down to individuals interested in Big Lottery Fund projects in their local area. (Detail Data, which NICVA is a partner in, is a BIG NI funded project.)

With the potential benefits of open grants data to Northern Ireland in mind, we met up with Alice Casey from Nesta. Alice is involved in the 360 Giving project, which provides support to grantmakers wanting to open and make use of their data.

Open data allows questions to be answered. So what sort of questions might we want to answer with open grantfunding data?

Which questions can be answered might depend on how the data is published. Are the right entries present, is it up-to-date and does it present a complete picture to enable what we want asked to be answered?

With grantfunding data, this is tricky. For a start, there are multiple grantfunders contributing to the pool of data and knowledge. Naturally, funders have different processes and publish their grants data (if they do so) in different ways. However, we did manage to demonstrate one way in which open grants data, already available for Northern Ireland, can be used.

So, in order to achieve the maximum impact and benefit of funded programmes, not only does data need to be made open, but some level of coordination and collaboration is required to align purposes and processes.

The background to 360 Giving’s principles and standards come from international aid, which can be broadly applied to grantfunding at the national, regional and local scale. This also includes a requirement for collaboration: aid transparency wouldn’t be achievable if the donor countries involved were publishing data differently, and so the same goes for Northern Ireland’s grantfunders.

This is why 360 have established a data standard for grantfunders who want to publish their data. This makes it detailed, easy to access and understand, and – most importantly – useable.

Being based at NICVA, ODI Belfast are well placed to work with those who want to make their philanthropy data open. At our event, we got some great positive feedback from the grantfunders and charities present on the potential for data-driven grantmaking. Having met the 360 Giving team, we’re eager to get this project working in Northern Ireland and see the best use of open grants data being made. If you’d like to be involved, please let us know.

Click here to view the slides from the event.

Photo credits: Luke PetersonCC-BY-SA-2.0

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