Transparency in giving in the cultural sector – evidence to Warwick Commission on cultural value

I gave evidence to the Warwick Commission today on a range of digital issues and philanthropy. The digital stuff i cover over there but here is the section on philanthropy and transparency.  I call in particular for the Arts Council England, which publishes its grants to publish also the evidence and evaluations they hold for projects as ‘extra columns in the spreadsheet’.  This would reduce the burden for other grant makers in assessing where to make grants in the arts sector and to my mind increase their appetite for risk.

Evidence:

2. – Philanthropy and better grant making through transparency

Society will only make best use of resources, especially at times of scarcity if it has sufficient information to make informed decisions.  No financial or investment market would work without information about basic investment and performance. Yet the cultural sector as a whole seems to have only scant data on what is granted to what and how effective that grant was.  ACE is making steps in the right direction, but could go much further.

For philanthropists, grant making too often takes place in the dark – you don’t know who else has given to an organisation, what they thought of them, what happened to the money etc.  It costs substantial staff time to do due diligence on an organisation that in fact several other grant makers have already analysed and granted or not.   Grant makers generally publish lists of grant buried in the pdf of their annual reports – if they were to publish grants as an easily digestible spreadsheet to open standards this could transform understanding of who funds what in the sector.

My wife Fran and I in 2013 set up ‘360 giving’ an emerging campaign for transparency in grant making in the UK.   We both have a background in transparency and open data.  Fran, who set up The Indigo Trust is a lifelong philanthropist, frustrated by the opacity of the grant making sector.  We are both trustees of The Indigo Trust and graduates of the Institute for Philanthropy’s Philanthropy Workshop.  Fran is also Chair of ‘Publish What You Fund’ the leading in international aid transparency organisation, I am a member of two government sector transparency panels.

360 giving has a ‘moonshot’ ambition that, within 5 reporting years 80% of grants made by UK charities, foundations & other grant makers are reported as open data to agreed standards and 50% by number/volume.

We want to bring about:

A clear information landscape for grant-makers in the UK showing who has funded what, where, with how much and for what

Improved effectiveness in grant making and greater scope for informed strategic philanthropy and collaboration

Transparency for the public, taxpayers and authorities.

This can be as simple as publishing a lists of grants with basic information as a basic spreadsheet online (rather than putting them in the pdf of the annual report).  Such publication allows others to gather the data and manipulate it, perhaps combine it with others to better inform decision making.  In the US, the Foundation Center has been supporting greater openness about foundation giving for some time, but it has been slow to take hold in the UK. We are delighted that NESTA has recently come on board to help us at Indigo run the campaign with our co-founders the Nominet Trust.

ACE commendably publishes grants back to 2009 to a very basic standard on data.gov.uk.

The past year has seen several big funders beginning to publish in an open format. The Big Lottery Fund (BLF) has led the way by publishing a huge data set of their grants going back to 2004. According to Dawn Austwick, the new chief executive, data about grantmaking is

‘a resource that should be available to others to enrich our thinking and understanding of what is working’.

Nesta, too, is experimenting with how to publish its grants and the Gates Foundation has committed to publishing its grants within the year. Nominet Trust has decided to publish its grants.  We understand that the Heritage Lottery Fund is also looking at publishing its grants as open data.

When BLF published its grants data, Nominet Trust analysed common areas of funding which showed that the two have funded 20 charities in common, with one, the Alzheimer’s Society, funded 62 times. This simple comparison could lead to greater collaboration and sharing of experience between the two funders. As Dan Sutch of Nominet put it,

‘an individual grantmaking organization might not alone make a huge difference in sharing their grants data, but when they are combined across multiple grantmaking organizations, then we might generate some real insight.’

The richer the available data, the better the investment decision. According to Marcelle Speller, founder of LocalGiving.com,

‘To not share data makes it even more difficult to know if you’re making a difference.’

The arts sector is home to some quite outstanding best practice in how data can be manipulated to make art itself via http://data.culturehack.org.uk/ which benefits from ACE and other funding.

There is substantial potential for ACE itself, with its strong statistical capability to take the next logical step and link to the very basic data on grants, basic evaluation and feedback gathered from each project.  At the simplest level think of this as extra columns in the spreadsheet.  This would mark ACE out as one of the most transparent funders in the world.  But ACE at present doesn’t seem to show any appetite for doing this and recently has firmly turned down an FOI request that could have started the journey http://siwhitehouse.co.uk/blog/2014/01/15/why-is-the-answer-still-no/#more-819 to the bafflement of FOI experts.

We notice that information about ‘private’ philanthropy in the arts in the UK is sparse – trusts, foundations, individuals – particularly those giving at a local level to non-national institutions.   The Warwick Commission staff, despite trying hard were not able to turn up information that they or I felt was genuinely useful or granular (their paper is attached).   The Institute for Philanthropy similarly drew a blank in the UK, but produce some useful American research.  The American situation is of course very different, with a complex set of motivations leading to ‘more’ local giving to local cultural institutions.  In the UK local giving to local cultural activity seems underdeveloped, but I don’t have data to back this up, though that may in itself be an indicator.   I note that Turner Contemporary in Margate has made a big push for local individual patrons, with some success.

As well as grant makers, beneficiaries of grant-making waste a lot of time trying to work out who funds what.  And much of the above, mirrored, applies to them also.  There is no reason why beneficiaries couldn’t publish as open data information on where their funding comes from.

 

William Perrin

22 January 2014

E&oe

Posted in News & Updates

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