Challenging ideas to inspiring visualisations

It all started with a couple of questions: how can we enhance grantmaking using open data? What can 360Giving do to support data publishers and promote the use of open grants data?

To answer, we needed to come up with an interactive, informative and creative idea that would connect the two communities that 360Giving works with: grantmakers and open data professionals. This is how our Challenge Fund project came to life, and we split it into two stages:

  1. Quest for Questions – exploring the challenges that people in the grantmaking sector encounter in their work.
  2. Digging the Data – crowdsourcing creative data-powered solutions that could answer them.

We started with an open call for questions submitted via Twitter and our forum. It was pleasing to witness how your questions sparked discussions about the use of data in grantmaking, covering themes like sector mapping, network effect, funding flows, sector health and geography. Through crowdsourcing ideas and analysing the recurring themes in the questions, we gained insights about the areas grantmakers wish to explore further.

At the end of the first phase, the questions were assessed by an expert panel to choose ones that were the most feasible to answer through visualising the data. One of the key learnings from this was the significance of involving experts in the field and benefitting from their knowledge and experience to select the most appropriate questions.

In the second phase, Digging the Data, we worked simultaneously with both micro and macro approaches that would promote the benefits of using 360Giving data:

  1. In a Data Journey we provided a small sample of grantmakers with the tools and skills to make the most efficient use of their data. This was led by data analyst Edafe Onerhime.
  2. We returned to crowdsourcing for the Data Visualisation Challenge – reaching out to skilled designers and data scientists from around the world to answer two questions. They responded! We received 35 data visualisations, demonstrating that using 360Giving data in day-to-day grantmaking work can be a playful and easy experience. To choose the winning submissions, we assembled another panel, this time consisting of data visualisation specialists.

We hope that the Challenge Fund was an inspiring journey for both open data and grantmaking communities, as much as it was for us at 360Giving. Following 10 months of work on this project, there are a number of conclusions I would like to share from the Project Coordinator’s point of view and that I hope can inform future data challenges:

  • Open up, start a discussion and crowdsource ideas as much as possible. For a data challenge to result in creating an output that will benefit a specific community, the members of that community should be involved in the process from the very beginning. Crowdsourcing is an effective way to do this.
  • Identify and approach the right experts. If you want the data challenge and its final output to be valuable, you need to ensure the quality of the inputs. There is no better way to do this than bringing in the experts early in the project.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected and adapt accordingly. We decided to extend the initial deadline for our Data Visualisation Challenge due to the low number of submissions we received at the beginning. It was a difficult decision, yet in retrospect, it was the best action we could have taken. During those additional two weeks we received the majority of our submissions.
  • Celebrate the results! As you can see from this video, our awards event was a great opportunity to see all the data visualisations come to life, a chance to see the abstract data we knew from spreadsheets change form. Hosting the event in a gallery enabled us to present data in a different dimension – as works of art. For
    me and for the rest of the 360Giving team, it was immensely satisfying to see what eventually came out of that bunch of questions we received 10 months earlier – they have now transformed into colourful, visually compelling answers.

Natalia Domagala
Project Coordinator, 360Giving
@nadomagala