Blog

Opening up Lloyds Bank Foundation – why we’ve published open grants data and what we plan to do next

Alex van VlietEarlier this month the Lloyds Bank Foundation published data from over 4,000 grants made between 2010 and 2015 in line with 360Giving’s open data standard. It’s available as a spreadsheet to download from our website. In doing so, we have joined a growing band of grantmakers in the UK who are opening up their datasets for others to use.

Historically, the Foundation published its grantmaking data every six months in PDF reports, split by government office region. Transparent, yes, but not reusable – or, I suspect, terribly useful to our grantees, applicants or other stakeholders across the sector. When I joined the Foundation last year as the organisation’s first Research and Data Analyst, using an external data standard seemed the natural approach to improving the transparency of our giving.

Although our recent strategy has seen us make fewer, larger grants, we still have active grants with almost 1,000 charities. Our hope is that by pooling grantmaking data from our organisation with that of other major grantmakers, we can begin to use the intelligence generated to make more intelligent decisions about who and how to fund. For example, 360Giving data could be used to identify ‘cold spots’ – areas of high deprivation where funders have made relatively few grants. Equally, it could facilitate the better sharing of information between funders on geographical areas or sectors where they have expertise.

360Giving is opening up grantmaking data at a time when grants have lost momentum as a funding approach across the sector. According to figures from the NCVO’s Civil Society Almanac, the proportion of government funding for charities given as a grant has fallen by over 60% since 2004. The dynamics of government funding have shifted radically towards competitive commissioning and contract models.

The Foundation is particularly concerned with how these changes have affected small and medium-sized charities – in our main funding programmes, we only fund charities with an income between £25,000 and £1m.

Evidence from a recent literature review by IPPR North suggests that the shift to contracts has failed to create a level playing field for small and medium-sized charities, exacerbating their vulnerability. Large organisations, including some large charities, are dominating the market for providing public services, to the detriment of small and medium-sized charities and the individuals they reach.

In response, the Lloyds Bank Foundation is proud to be a founding partner of Grants for Good, a new campaign calling for a halt to the dangerous decline in grant funding by public bodies to charities and community groups. Grants for Good is run by Directory for Social Change, Charity Finance Group, Children England, NAVCA and the Foundation. We want to use our networks to gather examples of effective grantmaking and build a case for commissioners to choose grants instead of contracts where a responsive local service is needed.

By opening up our grantmaking data through 360Giving, we hope that we can support a stronger evidence base for the value of grants. We also want to encourage other independent funders to publish their data, and to speak up for grants more widely.

As Paul Streets, our Chief Executive, said: “As an independent grantmaker we know that grants are a highly effective way of funding, allowing us to choose quality but supporting those we fund to run their services to best meet need. In contrast, contracts have high transaction costs and force organisations into prescriptive ways of delivering, often focused on meeting tick-box targets over real outcomes… We [want] to make the case to central and local government that good grantmaking does work and we need more not less of it.”

Posted in Blog

Setting solid foundations for social impact

Last week we had the pleasure of presenting on the 360Giving project for an Open Data Institute Friday Lunchtime Lecture. Alice Casey and Tim Davies shared a history of the project, and the vision of supporting funders to make better decisions and seek greater impact through open sharing of grantmaking data. You can find a recording of the talk via the ODI website, and find the slides below.

As we were presenting, an issue of the GovLab Digest dropped into our inbox, pointing to initial findings from a set of case studies on Open Data Impact. Interestingly, the findings link to a number of points we explored in the lecture. GovLab find that:

  • “Open data projects are most successful when they are built not from the efforts of single organizations or government agencies, but when they emerge from partnerships across sectors (and even borders)”.360Giving is a collaboration, bringing together donors from across the philanthropy sector, along with data users and technical partners to provide core support and build innovative tools. The new indepedent 360Giving non-profit is not intended to become a single organization ‘owning’ the project, but has instead been established to harness, catalyse and take forward the energy from the different partners in the project.
  • “Several of the projects we have seen have emerged on the back of what we might think of as an open data public infrastructure – i.e., the technical backend and organizational processes necessary to enable the regular release of potentially impactful data to the public.”.360Giving is more than a data standards. Through our partnership with Open Data Services Co-operative, 360Giving is building an open data infrastructure for philanthropic data, providing the support that funders need to get their data published, and the core tools to make that data easy to use.
  • “Clear open data policies, including well-defined performance metrics, are also essential; policymakers and political leaders have an important role in creating an enabling (yet flexible) legal environment that includes mechanisms for project assessments and accountability, as well as providing the type of high-level political buy-in that can empower practitioners to work with open data.”We’re working with leaders of trusts and foundations, rather than political leaders – but the point GovLab make is key: to suceed we need to secure leadership commitment to opening up – and then to translate that into practical action to open up data. We’re working hard on improving how we manage the process of holistic support for organisations to publish and use 360Giving data.We’re also working to create an environment in which 360Giving is the platform, but not the product. Through our emerging ‘Labs’ programme, we want others to have the confidence and catalytic support they need to build upon 360Giving data, and to create tools and services that support the sector.
  • “We have also seen that the most successful open data projects tend to be those that target a well-defined problem or issue. In other words, projects with maximum impact often meet a genuine citizen need.”360Giving is addressing clear needs of funders to understand better how to use their resources for social impact. This ultimately brings benefits to citizens.

It’s encouraging to see that 360Giving is heading down the right track in these areas. However, GovLab also higlight some of the challenges that projects face, and we’re working hard to avoid these – making sure we help funders to think early about privacy and security issues, and being responsive to feedback, ready to iterate and develop our plans based on regular reflection and learning.

As GovLab note, “Although open data projects are often “hackable” and cheap to get off the ground, the most successful do require investments – of time and money – after their launch”. We’re moving from the ‘hackable’ launch stage of 360Giving, to scale up over the coming year. We hope you will be coming on the journey with us.

Posted in Blog

Open Data : From audience to participant.

360Giving is a non-profit data collaborative. Read more on our about page.

At 360Giving we help funding bodies and charities to publish and better understand the value of open data. Much of what we have been doing has therefore been around raising awareness of the project among different groups ; building an interest among the varied audiences for the idea.

360Giving has many angles which are exciting to different people for different reasons. Mostly it is about helping them do new things that have not been possible before. For example, last week, speaking to a group of regional foundations and trusts the conversation focused on their interest in collaborating on impact and evaluation; when speaking with charities earlier this month, they wanted to better understand how to improve funding applications and find collaborators on programme design, and later on today, I expect that Opentech 2015 attendees will have interest in the way the data itself is structured and converted.

It is a promising sign for our work at 360Giving that we are exciting and engaging a range of audiences because it means that the project sits at an intersection between overlapping areas of interest. This is usually a good sign that you are on to something new and useful! Realising the value of open data for the charity and voluntary sector is an emerging area, and one where we hope that a non-profit collaboration like 360Giving can make a real difference. This means bringing together the best open technology and ways of working; alongside funding bodies’ and charities’ desire to understand and make more of their own data for the people they wish to benefit.

The success of the work depends entirely upon  audiences and interested audiences becoming imaginative and enthusiastic participants. A number of those from the initial audience have over time become participants, whether publishing open data, developing tools for analysis of the data, or as users of the tools. We hope that many more will become collaborators in the future.

I have shared just a few of the questions that people have been asking us below to show the variety of interest:

  • How can foundations and trusts make better use of the data they already gather and require from their grantees?
  • In what ways can we more easily combine funding data with other data sources (such as indices of deprivation or local authority spending) to add context to decision making?
  • How can those seeking funds and developing new charitable and voluntary programmes use data tools to understand how to best shape their work with others?
  • How can we make it technically very easy for publishers to structure their data using simple spreadsheets, and for developers to easily get the JSON formats they require to make analysis tools?

These are just a few questions that we have seen coming up as themes of interest and we are at the beginning of a journey towards answering them. I expect there will be many more! We hope that we’ll be able to work with many of you reading this as participants and collaborators to develop answers and practical solutions together.

If you are interested in finding out more about 360Giving contact alice.casey [at] nesta.org.uk or say hello on twitter @cased.

Posted in Blog

Activity report – pipeline, firming up the 360giving data model and a registry

It’s been a while since I wrote here – we have been very busy working with grant makers to help foundations publish to the 360 data standard and, as part of that process understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the technical bits.  We’ve done a lot, mainly behind the scenes and there’s still lots to do.  It’s been great to receive such a strongly positive response as we talk to people about 360giving.

We have strengthened our core team with generous support from NESTA both in cash and kind, Indigo Trust and in kind from Dulverton.  This has allowed us to anchor the project securely and put a proper structure around it.

We now have a good pipeline of of grant makers publishing to the 360 standard, people who are preparing to do so and people who are interested.  We have 14 grant makers actively publishing in the 360 standard, varying from small family foundations to major charitable institutions.  One group of foundations is publishing grants in near real time from their in house database.  And we have roughly the same amount again in the pipeline.

Now we have grant makers publishing, we need somewhere to put the links to the data being published – known as a registry. We have engaged Practical Participation to map out a path to deliver a registry, which we shall populate and launch shortly, hopefully in early March.  When we do that we shall write more about the pipeline.

The early work with grant makers has thrown up some fascinating issues with the bare bones technical standard.  Practical Participation is also working on this to produce a more robust data model.  You can follow some of the work on the registry and data standard here.

Posted in Blog

GrantNav beta – powered by 360giving data

Using 360giving standardised data we have worked with developers Aptivate to produce a grant navigator – GrantNav – that allows searching, charting and mapping of UK grant data from a dozen or more major grant makers.

360giving is about helping people publish data – we provide support, advice and a data standard that enables data to be compared.  If you can use a spreadsheet, you can publish to 360giving.  Having a common standard allows data from different grant makers to be compared, contrasted, searched and analysed far more easily.  It’s a bit like people speaking in the same language and using the same alphabets and numbering systems – you can understand a lot more.

Now we have lots of 360giving-standardised data (see our Summer 2014 update) people can build things with it and start to use the data to tell stories.  As part of our testing of 360giving, we thought we would get the ball rolling with a simple 360-powered demonstrator, GrantNav.

We began by using the rudimentary grant data published by the lottery distributors and some statutory grant makers, often in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.  The technology for development NGO Aptivate converted this data to the 360giving standard we found some grant maker’s data online, which we also converted and we began to gather more comprehensive data published to the 360standard by early-adopting private grant makers.

Aptivate then worked with us to create a prototype searchable database of about 240,000 grants worth some £16 billion over 20 years from over a dozen grant makers.  The GrantNav beta also allows comparative charts to be drawn of grants over time.  Where grant makers have provided good location data, Aptivate have also mapped the grants.

GrantNav is deliberately rough and ready – we want 360giving to be about the publishing of data for others to analyse, visualise or search (we are talking to researchers and sector analysts all the time). GrantNav is also a ‘beta’ – which means it is testing and development, will contain errors and things will go wrong – and we are adding new data as it arises.  But we thought we would set the ball rolling and see if this database woudl help people make better grants.  And what the wealth of data talent in and around the sector can come up with using the data we have standardised.

Posted in Blog

360giving – summer update 2014

With our 360 partners NESTA, BIG Lottery, Nominet Trust and Practical Participation and we have been working quietly with leading grant makers, grant recipients and technologists for the last few months on publication of data to the 360giving standard.

For grant makers this means helping them get data from their grant management systems into the 360 standard for publication, working through the issues that arise and then discussing online publication.  We have given number of briefings and talks to spread the word in trade groups special interest groups and donor collectives.  And we have funded the services of a data scientist to help people publish.


 

We have been delighted by the support and constructive challenge we have received.  We are particularly pleased to see Paul Hamlyn Foundation publishing its grants to the 360 standard.  We have commitment to publish from a number of other leading grant makers too, on which more soon.  It’s good to see Nominet Trust starting to publish richer data and doing interesting things such as mapping it with links through to recipient and grant details.

We are starting to see how having something as mundane as a data standard for grants  enables, makes easier or augments other projects that join grant makers up.  The 360 standard provides a common thread for Dulverton Trust’s work on a common grants management system in Salesforce.com and we are talking with Marcelle Spellar at Localgiving about how standarised data could contribute to their work, such as on a clearing house for applications.  We shall write some more on this.

On the technology side, we have taken large quantities of grant data and tested standardising it to the 360 giving data standard.  We used for testing the rudimentary grant data published by the lottery distributers and some statutory grant makers, often in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.  Working with the technology for development NGO Aptivate, we created a prototype searchable database of about 240,000 grants worth some £16 billion over 20 years from over a dozen grant makers.  Because the grant data is standardised, comparisons can be made between different grant makers.  The 360 prototype also allows comparative charts to be drawn of grants over time.

We are now adding into this prototype the more comprehensive data from early-adopting private grant makers.  Aptivate have also mapped the grants of two major grant makers over time allowing a fascinating comparison of grant making geography.  We shall release it online shortly warts and all – watch out for a blog post here.

Looking ahead to the Autumn working with partners we are now starting to think through how to create a registry of where 360giving data is published, building on but separate to the work of Open Spending.  And we are coming up with a plan for support of the 360 initiative going forwards.  We shall continue to work with grant makers to help them publish their data – we try to be discreet and supportive in our approach – a hectoring, regulatory-led approach is unlikely to succeed in this sector.  I shall blog some more about the pipeline for helping people publish and the common issues that they raise.

Posted in Blog

Giving Trends – Top 300 Foundations 2014 report

Fascinating morning at the launch of the Association of Charitable Foundations and CASS Business School report on the Top 300 UK Foundations Giving Trends.  It’s an excellent piece of work, but we were struck how much richer and easier the work would be if grant makers published their grants to an open data standard along the lines of #360giving.  A number of speakers from the floor and the platform said that the grant making sector desperately needed more information.  As Jon Cracknell put it:

‘We can’t do our grant making any worse if we know what each other is doing, surely?’

Professor Cathy Pharoah, said:

“Better data on philanthropy is increasingly vital. It helps provide a realistic context for assessing the feasibility of political aspirations for the role of private philanthropy in public welfare provision. We also need to know whether philanthropy is growing at a time of increasing private wealth, but continuing social inequality.”

It was good to hear from Anna de Pulford from Dulverton Trust who is doing some fascinating work on Salesforce for grant management and building a plug in to allow that to export data in the 360giving format.

The report, great work largely by Cathy Pharoah of Cass will be online here shortly.  Here’s a round up of the tweets: 

Posted in Blog

Aptivate engaged by #360giving to build data demonstrators and road test data standard

We are going to build some demonstrators to show what can be done with open data about grant making.  Indigo Trust has engaged Aptivate an NGO expert in data manipulation and visualisation to build some demonstrators and in so doing test the draft data standard. Aptivate will use as a base load the hundreds of thousands of grants we have obtained by FOI from Lottery Distributers.

The work will be carried out in two sprints the first sprint will broadly look at gathering the data and converting it into the 360Giving data standard  in a database to learn how well the data standard works. And sharing the experience through blog posts.  Any scripts (small programs) that are written to convert data into the standard will be published so that others might use them, as will the database.

One of the issues we expect to arise from the first sprint is that the rough data we have gathered so far, largely through FOI is often lacking useful fields – eg precise location of grantee, their company number etc.  This will inform our work to help people publish more useful data and influence some aspects of the second sprint.

The second sprint, depending on the first will roughly look at what can be done with that database of standardised grants that will be useful to grant makers.  With Nominet Trust, NESTA and BIG Lottery, Indigo will give Aptivate purposeful, task orientated things to demonstrate with the data that will be genuinely useful to grant makers.

We shall write more about that soon, but suggestions are always welcome – what would you want to know from a database of around 200,000 grants from Lottery distributors, Wellcome, Technology Strategy Board and others covering the length and breadth of the UK?

Posted in Blog